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Reviewed by:
  • Feminist Perspectives on Contemporary International Law: Between Resistance and Compliance?
  • Doris Buss (bio)
Feminist Perspectives on Contemporary International Law: Between Resistance and Compliance? Edited by Sari Kouvo and Zoe Pearson (Oxford: Hart, 2011).

When I was travelling in the Irish countryside a few years ago, I was entranced by the way-marker signs at road junctions, indicating the direction and travelling distance to various towns in the vicinity. Each sign was a tall, black-and-white-banded pole, with various arrow-shaped plaques naming the towns one might visit: Limerick, nine kilometres, Sligo, six kilometres, Galway, only three kilometres. These signposts, and their location at the junction of small, twisting roads deep in the countryside, struck me as harbingers of future possibility. At each junction, a traveller could choose from an array of options: if we head south, Tipperary awaits, but if we take a right turn Ballybofey-Stranolar lies in our path. Which to choose from? All of them, in their equalizing white backgrounds and black lettering, beckoned.

Feminist Perspectives on Contemporary International Law, edited by Sari Kouvo and Zoe Pearson, reminds me of these road signs from the Irish countryside.1 The ten substantive chapters assembled in this volume offer different directions and themes one might find, or perhaps seek out, in feminist engagements with international law. The substantive chapters span theoretical traditions, from psychoanalysis to feminist geography, and subject matters, from transitional justice to trafficking. I read these various chapters as offering a look into the possible directions or destinations that feminist scholars could explore as they head in this direction or as they travel along that road.

It may be that my reading of this book is not quite what the editors intended. There is a definite bent in this collection—suggested by the book title—to exploring questions and debates internal to the feminist community of scholars working within the international law academy. Kouvo and Pearson, in their introductory chapter, describe this edited book as a "'stock-take' of where feminist perspectives on international law are today vis-à-vis women of the world and the mainstream of international legal scholarship and practice."2 The book is divided into three parts: "Feminist Theory and Method in International Law"; "Feminist Perspectives on [End Page 476] National and International Security"; and "Feminist Perspectives on Global and Local Justice." Each section is preceded by a short essay written by, respectively, Vanessa Munro, Anna Grear, and Alice Edwards, which distill the cross-cutting themes of the chapters in that section.3

The framing of this project as a "stock take" is set alongside a theme central to the book, which is the "seemingly intractable pull between the Scylla of 'resistance' and the Charybdis of 'compliance,'"4 which the editors see as "built into the heart of the feminist project within international law."5 The editors note that feminist scholarship began self-consciously at the margins of international law, challenging the "foundations" of the discipline that systematically excluded women, and their lived experiences, from scholarly and practical consideration. However, as feminist analysis became more "accepted" into the mainstream of international legal scholarship, according to the editors, "feminists were asked to be the 'women's voice,' but not to challenge the foundations of international law and its institutions," which just might hold some potential in advancing women's equality.6 The editors suggest that an exploration of this space between resistance and compliance offers a basis from which to reflect upon feminist international scholarship.

At this point, I need to disclose my own interest and engagement with the theme of resistance and compliance and the "stock-take" work of this volume of essays. In 2005, I co-edited a similar volume—International Law: Modern Feminist Approaches (also published by Hart)—and several of the authors in this collection also wrote chapters in that earlier volume.7 Like Kouvo and Pearson, I and my co-editor (Ambreena Manji) saw our collection as a "stock-taking" exercise for feminists engaged in international law. And like some of the chapters in this current volume, several authors raised questions then about the possible compliance— and co-optation—of feminist engagement in a post-9...


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