A (Un)Dead Letter?: Zombies, Feminist Theory and the IR Classroom

25 July 2016, 1343 EDT

It’s always exciting to see articles on pop culture gracing the pages of mainstream political science journals. And it’s always good to see international relations scholars being encouraged to engage more deeply with questions of gender in the course of their teaching. This issue of PS: Political Science and Politics gives us both: an article by Rebecca Susan Evans, taking Daniel Drezner to task for excluding feminist theories of international politics from his 2011 Theory of International Politics and Zombies:

[Drezner’s] light-hearted use of popular culture appeals to students, who appreciate his concise and witty summaries. Yet Drezner dismisses feminist perspectives on international relations theory in a way that indicates he does not understand them. Consequently, students are trained without any knowledge of feminism and with the impression that they do not need feminism.

If we were living in 2011, I’d be the first to say it’s a fair argument.

There’s just one massive problem however: Drezner already fixed this mistake a full two years ago in TIPZ: Revived Edition (2014) which already does everything Evans is criticizing him for not doing. 

Indeed, both the revised product and the process of scholarly engagement behind it actually demonstrate best feminist-friendly practice by a conventional mainstream scholar, not the reverse! First, Dan Drezner not only heard but actually listened to these arguments way back in 2011, at his ISA book panel and around the blogosphere. Unlike the sort of dismissive “IR male-stream” of which Evans fictitiously considers Drezner a prime example, real-world Dan took stock of these critiques, engaged humbly with the scholars who made them, and through those dialogues wrote a far better second edition of the book.

The Revived Edition of TIPZ incorporates a full-fledged chapter on feminist perspectives in IR, one Dan honed after reaching out to multiple feminists for feedback on the draft. Therein, Dan not only summarizes a typology of liberal, critical and post-structuralist feminist arguments for an undergraduate audience, but makes many of the same interpretive readings of the zombie canon that Evans now suggests.  As Dan writes, for example, circa p. 76:

In particular, one can posit that a feminist approach to international relations is best suited to assess and evaluate the effect of the living dead…  Only by decomposing and deprivileging mainstream paradigms can a feminist approach reveal the myriad ways that modern international relations reifies gender and commits violence against women… Confronted with this formidable array of analytical tools, the living dead clearly do not stand a chance…

Of course, Drezner’s parody of feminist IR is just as tongue in cheek as his other chapters and rightly so – his book is satire. If you want to really push conversations about pedagogy, pop culture and critical perspectives forward (as Rodger Payne does here), you can certainly engage with Drezner’s interpretation of feminist theory, or critique him further for insufficiently incorporating race and post-colonial perspectives (as Vikash Yadav did here), or any number of other strategies for productive scholarly dialogue.

But what you can not do with any credibility is use Dan Drezner as a whipping boy for feminist IR’s otherwise wholly legitimate frustrations with the pervasive gender-blindness of the field of international relations, or for (some but not all) male-stream scholars’ unwillingess to listen and engage. Like many other conventionally trained but feminist-friendly male political scientists I know, Dan epitomizes the opposite on both counts.

In fact, if anything, Drezner has done more with Theories of International Politics and Zombies: Revived Edition to engage / incorporate / acknowledge / popularize critical perspectives than any other conventionally-educated, male, mainstream, rationalist-leaning security studies scholar in our field. IR feminists should be hailing him as the ally he is and pointing to him as an example of best practice that other mainstream scholars should follow. And zombie scholars should be building creatively on his feminist-friendly work.