Day: October 23, 2013

The Duck of Minerva is blocked in China


I was just in China for a work thing, when I checked the Duck for something. Turns out the Duck is screened out by the Great Firewall. Even if you go to Google Search Hong Kong, it’s still blocked.

Wow. Who knew even nerdy IR theory and pop culture references posed a threat to CCP rule? Lame. Even more lame – my own website, which gets way less traffic, is blocked too. For sites as small as mine, that’s almost a complement – hah. If only I had readers similarly interested enough to even bother…


Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Femme-Bots?

[Note: This is a guest post by Lauren Wilcox, Lecturer in Gender Studies at University of Cambridge, and author of “Machines that Matter: The Politics and Ethics of ‘Unnatural’ Bodies” in Iver Neumann and Nicholas Kiersey eds, Battlestar Galactica and International Relations, Routledge 2012]

caprica6In a recent blog post on the Monkey Cage, Heather Roff-Perkins is concerned that military robots are being built with masculine characteristics. She is correct that gender is one of many pertinent issues surrounding contemporary military technologies but in my opinion she doesn’t go far enough in considering the nuances of gender and what gender embodiment entails in an age of artificial intelligence and war-fighting.

If militaries were to rely upon gendered tropes to embody ‘robots’ or ‘autonomous machines’ such as those that have populated the imagination of science fiction, there is no easy delineation between war-fighting ‘masculine’ robots that look like Terminators and feminine caring robots. In fact, there may well be ‘robots’ that rely upon other gendered assumptions about women and violence. The science fiction and noir genre and literature/media provides us with a counter-narrative: the femme fatale. See, for example, Battlestar Galactica’s “6” played by Tricia Helfer, a cylon whose seduces Baltar, a computer scientist, into giving her access to the defense computer mainframe which enables the cylon fleet to destroy the Twelve Colonies. The figure of the femme fatale is of a beautiful woman who uses men’s attraction to her in order to carry out some subterfuge or other nefarious plan. This kind of violent women is both ‘monster’ and ‘whore’ according to the two of the dominant representations of violent women. Female suicide bombers are often represented in similar way.  In term of the creation of nonhuman warfighters, it is not clear that only robots that contain masculine characteristics would fit gendered narratives of violence.  Moreover, it is not clear, if we are not talking about ascribed characteristics of bodies that are sexed as male or female, what exactly is meant by gender.  The machinic bodies of ‘robots’ pose an interesting theoretical challenge here.

Roff-Perkins is concerned with the gendering of humanoid robots, and she argues that making humanoid robots in ways that reproduce typically masculine or typically feminine characteristics engages in gender essentialism and reaffirms traditional gender roles:

In one fell swoop, roboticists and engineers undermine years of fighting for equal rights and opportunities and it reaffirms the notions that ‘masculinity’ equates with power and if femininity is even constructed, it is done so by its absence or its ‘role’.

However, there is an element of essentialism in Roff-Perkins’s own argument. Roff-Perkins seems to assume that the relationship between masculinity and technology is stable and unambiguous when it is in fact much more ambiguous.

Continue reading


Advancing Global Environmental Governance

93552865-environmental-pollution[Note: This is a guest post by Peter M. Haas of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst]

Transboundary and global environmental threats require collection action.  Concretely, this means developing forms of governance that apply common rules, norms and decision making procedures.  Ideally, such governance should be resilient in the sense that it is able to persist over time and respond quickly and accurately to new threats.

Yet the record of international environmental governance is mixed, at best. According to a recent UNEP overview of global environmental governance, some regimes have effectively addressed the problems at hand, many haven’t, and we still don’t know about the effectiveness of a surprisingly large number of regimes. 

A recent collective project on international environmental governance (here and here) raises the questions of what configurations of actors can constructively promote better environmental management.

This post reports on some of the findings. Continue reading


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