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Research Areas of the IK

The IK will focus on the following four major research areas:

  • Constructing and deconstructing borders;
  • Cultural diversity and fundamentalist responses;
  • Transforming state power and violence;
  • Bodies in conflict.


1. Constructing and Deconstructing Borders

Globalization processes challenge the legal foundation, the institutional organization and the territorial boundaries of nation-states that have been based on imagining territorially-fixed communities. Borders have been demarcation lines, which allow or reject access to a society by the legally-legitimated execution of power. Increasingly diverse processes of crossing national borders challenge nation-states' monopoly of violence within historically-fixed geopolitical borders. A major topic in this research area is the gendered structure of legal, institutionalized, as well as personally experienced violence and the different forms of agency to protect against and to find new ways of dealing with violence. Therefore, the IK will promote projects that investigate gendered dynamics of international care chains, transnational marriages, trafficking in women.
Furthermore, the division between citizens and non-citizens creates zones where the law does not adequately protect non-citizens against violence. This becomes especially apparent in the informal employment of domestic labor and sex workers that expose migrant women to exploitation, male violence and deportation. An additional focus will be the question of how agency under such restricted legal conditions is realized and can be (legally) supported.

Potential fields of inquiry for PhD-projects

  • Gendered dynamics of constructing and deconstructing geopolitical as well as social borders in the context of migration
  • Changing forms of gendered migration processes and their impact on (transnational) social formations; e.g., on gendered patterns of global labor division, transnational care chains, marriage and families across borders
  • Patterns of violence and agency in the domestic sphere and sex business


2. Cultural Diversity and Fundamentalist Responses

Democratic institutions, based on human rights and the rule of law, guarantee the plurality of religious beliefs, normative orientations and individual life styles. Increasing intercultural and transcultural communication has fostered discourses that reflect the cultural context of scientific, ethical, religious and juridical concepts. However, cultural diversity is constructed, especially through media and political  discourses, as a troublesome issue in European societies (e.g. debates over Muslim headscarves, forced marriages and honor killings). In this context, fundamentalist developments are understood as a reaction to (permissive) cultural plurality, especially when labeled as "clashes of civilizations". The focus on 'cultural difference'  and the discursive use of this term play a crucial role.
The gender dimension of these dilemmas is apparent. Concepts and images of family, marriage, reproduction and education are always seen through the lens of value systems. Projects will be supported which conceptualize cultural diversity and its gender implications without reifying cultural difference. This includes theoretical concepts of 'culture' and 'violence' as well as description and evaluation of gendered violence in different contexts (as in family, media, politics). Furthermore, students shall be encouraged to investigate how 'cultural conflicts' are fuelled by social disparity and exclusion.

Potential fields of inquiry for PhD-projects

  • Cultural diversity and gender equality in family patterns: searching the common ground for accepting plurality
  • The social context of violent responses to cultural diversity and models of governing differences in Western democracies
  • Critical investigation of concepts of 'violence', 'culture', 'difference', and 'diversity'


3. Transforming State Power and Violence

Since the 17th century, the concept of the state monopoly of power and violence has been coded with masculinity, because the eligibility to defend the state became the precondition of political citizenship. Gender became a political category and state institutions were male dominated while women were excluded from politics. The idea of the monopoly of physical violence has institutionalized legitimate violence against other states. However, within modern states, this concept has been only partially realized: modern states have created a sphere of oligopolies of male violence – the private sphere.
Transformation of states – inter- and supranationalization as well as denationalization – has ambivalent outcomes for gender relations, violence and citizenship. On the one hand, gendered spheres of violence against women – for example, in the family – have been regulated recently. On the other hand, new forms of gendered violence have emerged. As the welfare state is dismantled, some groups of women are increasingly insecure and vulnerable. Moreover, exclusion and inequality due to cultural differences infringe upon women's rights for autonomy (e.g., regulations prohibiting headscarves). The fortified borders might cause irregular and harmful migration options for women (smuggling and trafficking of women). Also, the privatization of state power supports networks of masculine violence such as Mafia-like rackets (Arlacchi 1989; Pohrt 1999). Finally, the emergence of "new wars" might lead to a remasculinization of state power.
Transformation of state power also results in new forms of governance – of informal political deliberation and decision-making. Governance networks might open up new spaces for female agencies, e.g. of transnational women's networks. On the other hand, these post-nation-state structures might also exclude women's movement actors from informal spheres of decision. Another dimension of state transformation is – in the words of Michel Foucault – the "governmentalization" of the state: discipline, control and "government of oneself" result in intrusion in everyday life and in women's bodies (reproduction, biotechnology). In analyzing these sites of state transformation, the IK will contribute to theories of states and violence in the process of global restructuring.

Potential fields of inquiry for PhD-projects

  • Privatization of state power and new forms of gendered violence (new wars, trafficking rackets)
  • Governmentalization of the state (body regimes, security regimes and citizenship)
  • New forms of (transnational) governance (women's movements, participation and representation, gender policies)

4. Bodies in Conflict

During the past two decades, bodies have become an issue of the social sciences and the humanities. Scholarly debates have increasingly focused attention on aspects of the social contingency of the body as opposed to natural changelessness. The human body is perceived as one of the most prominent sites of gendered representation, commodification, disciplining, discourse, practice, and therefore violence in various forms. Culturally-defined attitudes towards the body often cause violent interventions into the body's integrity. Conflicting body norms and concepts (e.g. in respect to hygiene, appearance, exposedness, sexual relations and practices) are highly symbolically charged in often racialized confrontations. However, especially through the influence of Western women's movements' claims to self-determination, the (female) body has also become a medium of individual and group empowerment. Furthermore, reproduction in general, especially procreation links the individual "private" and the collective "public" and its future. The issue gains increasing prominence under the header of the "demographic crisis" (see e.g. European Commission 2005).
Policies aimed at the reproduction of populations are not only directed towards procreation, but also towards migration and its control. They gained an explicitly global aspiration already in the 1920s. Towards the end of the 20th century the regulation of access to reproductive technologies as well as new reproductive relations such as surrogate motherhood have produced further relations of power and generated new forms of structural violence. The IK will focus on the related gendering and racializing effects.

Potential fields of inquiry for PhD-projects

  • Commodification of bodies: globalized body norms, localized concepts of resistance (hygiene, appearance, exposedness, sexual relations and practices, related conflicts and meanings)
  • Physical interventions: female genital mutilation/cutting, sex change, cosmetic surgery, cyborg technology
  • Reproduction technologies and policies: access to decision-making on individual and collective level, transnational policies, knowledge transfer.

Structure of the IK

Univ. Prof. Dr. Birgit Sauer

Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Universitätsstr. 7
A-1010 Wien

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