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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Catherine Guisan at Political Theory Colloquium Friday Nov. 9th

This Friday, November 9th, the Political Theory Colloquium is proud to present Professor Catherine Guisan of the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. Professor Guisan will present her paper, "The Transatlantic Relationship: Of Natality, Gender and Midwifery," as part of our ongoing series on Empire and Other Global Designs. The abstract is below and the paper will be distributed later this week. Please note that this week the colloquium will be meeting in Social Sciences Building 614 at 1:30. Coffee will be served. All are welcome.

US influence on the beginnings of European integration is widely acknowledged and well documented, but under theorized; and remembrance of the actual practices that constituted this strange partnership is all but lost. This essay argues that the IR state-centered categories of Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Realism and Constructivism cannot easily account for this complex relationship, which calls for an interpretation rooted in practices more usually associated with the feminine. Indeed, accounts of the American and European founders, and of scholars also, used metaphors of birth giving and natality quite unselfconsciously. It is the least feminist of great women scholars, Hannah Arendt, who offers the most compelling discussion of natality in politics, a highly relevant concept to interpret the post WWII transatlantic relationship. A second (non-Arendtian) concept, midwifery, is helpful to think through the politics of aid and assistance, which Arendt left unexamined. Finally, feminist theory's focus on individual agency and friendship provides another analytical resource to probe the political meaning of personal relationships among transatlantic actors. Indeed US influences were conveyed not only through large public programs such as the Marshall Plan, but also individuals such as Jean Monnet, Robert Marjolin, and Max Kohnstamm who spent years in the US.
The second part of the essay contrasts the post WWII discourses on natality with the emergence of deliberately gendered metaphors in US-EU security debates after 9/11. Robert Kagan argued famously that power and the capacity for international responsibility are Martian categories whereas the "European paradise" is Venus-like. Sadly these discourses are no longer about life and natality, but about power over or strength (the US) as opposed to power with or weakness (the EU). It is, of course, dubious whether war-making should be considered masculine and peace-making feminine; but the 2003 EU Security Strategy can be interpreted as a move by the Venus-like EU to imitate the US model of masculine strength. Arendt's notions of natality and power as action in concert transcend gender differences, but at the cost of overlooking the body's need. American feminist scholar Judith Butler offers some ways to think through precarious life and natality across the Atlantic and beyond in the 21st century.