Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Erica Burman, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK - Gender and security: some recent twists and turns

Erica Burman describes her "discursive history" as one of critical/feminist psychology (hence a tactical engagement, also often sidelined away from methodological contributions). She is critiquing the discipline of psychology and how we now live in a psychological culture. She has no secure disciplinary position and her work can be described as a critique of psychology, rather than a subdiscipline, thus the critique is theoretical and political as much as it is also methodological. She describes her method as "tactical discourse analysis." She is less concerned with the types of debates and discussions that are predominant within discourse analysis in general, since she describes her theoretical and methodological background as an "eclectic mix." Her routes into discourse analysis were linguistic, philosophical and literary antecedents, since (critical) discourse analysis did not exist at that point in time. The discourse unit is an ironic self description and their original resources were marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis and Foucault. Now they are interested in post-colonial theory, Bakhtin, Deleuze etc.

Burman moves on to her current research topic: Gender and security. She points to the emancipation of women (cynically?) mobilised as rationale for invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Gender is a key trope around which the relation between national and international turns (c.f. Shepherd, 2008). Violence against women vs gender violence vs violent reproduction of gender. Each has different focus about the nature of gender. Each presumes different kinds of subjects: sovereign, constructed. International relations issues centering on gender and security. The subordinate position of women and children as a part of colonial invasion is an old theme (c.f. McClintock, (1995:45). The father ruling benignly over the wife and children. Familialism and colonialism inform the international discourse.

Feminisation is linked with emotionalisation agendas within industry and politics (relationality, outplacement councelling etc). In order to function in our society we need to have social skills, react nicely etc. Emotions are linked to femininity within the traditional gendering of reason and passion, but part of the intensification of strategies of individualisation and maximisation becomes an incitement to work on oneself even more, to be flexible and adaptable. "Are you employable?" Key concerns: Ward off elision between feminisation and femininity and between feminisation and feminism. The interests to conflate these concepts are very strong.

She shows and analyses five different ads. Nagging Nora. War as sex work. White women's sexual freedom as signifier of western democratic values. Gendered heterosexual difference including conflicts that distracts from war (a couple quarreling etc). Made in Britain. BAE as a company. Flag signaling patriotism, but it's fading colours can indicate rejuvenation. The small print shows the intention: achievement, improvement, good, pride. No gender differentiation. We/our. Gender divide? A mounting pressure for a public investigation of BAE which includes accusations of illegal deals etc. British Army Gender and professionalisation. Specialist/knowledge society. The RAF isn't just for action men Barbie as an air fighter. MI6/SIS "Where else could you travel the world and witness history in the making?" SIS - feminised. Focus on individual career. Appeal: to be different. Incomparable, but you can't tell anyone. History as a story of personal discovery and learning. It sounds like a "gap year" not very dangerous work. Anxiety, fear, and danger is normalised as lifelong learning. The image of the oriental door opening to new world. The way is lit but the end of the passage is not in view. Personal development narrative. Old theme in a new modern guise: women as the mysterious other.

Burman's conclusion is that gender is always about more. Gender as difference, absent gender as collectivity, androgynised gender as combined forces, normalisation of feminity/feminisation as friendly/less contestable version of colonialism. How the topicalisation of gender works to maintain other agendas.


Martijn Kleppe said...

Hi Maria,
Nice to read your reports on the lectures and interesting to see how they are made real-time.
Makes life a bit easier...
I advertised your blog on my Twitter-account http://twitter.com/martijnkleppe ;)
Take care,

Mia said...

Thanks, Martijn! I'm really happy to hear that you like my notes. :) I probably need to go through them correcting things later on, but that's for later. Thanks for mentioning me on your twitter as well.

Take care you too!