The Queer in/of International Relations

Laura Sjoberg, Anna Weissman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The term queer theory came into being in academia as the name of a 1990 conference hosted by Teresa de Lauretis at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a follow-up special issue of the journal differences. In that sense, queer theory is newer to the social sciences and humanities than many of the ideas that are included in this bibliographic collection (e.g., realism or liberalism), both native to International Relations (IR) and outside of it. At the same time, queer theory is newer to IR than it is to the social sciences and humanities more broadly—becoming recognizable as an approach to IR very recently. Like many other critical approaches to IR, queer theory existed and was developed outside of the discipline in intricate ways before versions of it were imported into IR. While early proponents of queer theory, including de Lauretis, Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Lauren Berlant, had different ideas of what was included in queer theory and what its objectives were, they agreed that it included the rejection of heterosexuality as the standard for understanding sexuality, recognizing the heterogeneity of sex and gender figurations, and the co-constitution of racialized and sexualized subjectivities. Many scholars saw these realizations as a direction not only for rethinking sexuality, and for rethinking theory itself—where “queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant,” as Halperin has described in Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Halperin 1995, cited under Queer As a Concept, p. 62). A few scholars at the time, and more now, have expressed skepticism in the face of enthusiasm about a queer theory revolution—arguing that “the appeal of ‘queer theory’ has outstripped anyone’s sense of what exactly it means” (Michael Warner, cited in Jagose’s Queer Theory: An Introduction [Jagose 1997, cited under Textbooks, p. 1]) and that the appeal of the notion of queer theory (“queer is hot”) has overshadowed any intellectual payoff it might have, as explored in the article “What Does Queer Theory Teach Us about X?” (Berlant and Warner 1995, cited under Queer As a Concept). Were this bibliography attempting to capture the history and controversies of queer theory generally, it would be outdated and repetitive. Instead, it focuses on the ways that queer theory has been imported into, and engaged with, in disciplinary IR—looking, along the way, to provide enough information from queer theory generally to make the origins and intellectual foundations of “queer IR” intelligible. In IR, the recognition of queer theory is relatively new, as Weber has highlighted in her article “Why Is There No Queer International Theory?” (Weber 2015, cited under From IR/Queer to Queer IR). The utilization of queer theory in IR scholarship is not new, however. Scholars like Cynthia Weber and Spike Peterson were viewing IR through queer lenses in the 1990s—but that queer theorizing was rendered discursively impossible by assemblages on mainstream/gender IR. This annotated bibliography traces (visible and invisible) contributions to “queer IR,” with links to work in queer theory that informs those moves. After discussing in some detail “queer” as a concept, this essay situates queer theorizing within both social and political theory broadly defined first by engaging aspects of queer global studies including nationalism, global citizenship, homonormativity, and the violence of inclusion, and second by examining the theoretical and empirical contributions of a body of scholarship coming to be known as “queer IR.”
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Bibliographies for International Relations
EditorsPatrick James
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


  • queer
  • gender
  • queer theory
  • queer IR
  • feminist IR

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