The peaceful, deadly violence of embargo: denaturalizing hegemonic discourses in international relations theory




Lewis, Thea

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While dominant International Relations (IR) theory has constructed the concept of security in such a way that excludes economic sanctions from considerations of violence, the track record of embargo tells a different story, one with a significantly higher death toll. This project challenges the borders of the hegemonic IR discourse to make room for a theoretical and political account of the deadly impacts of sanction regimes. Through a discourse analysis of IR theory, using Laclau and Mouffe’s holistic discourse theory, it looks to the spaces of meaning negotiation emerging from feminist IR theory. The renegotiated concepts of human security and structural violence make visible economic sanctions as acts of violence, and displace the binary oppositions of international/domestic, military/economic, public/private which shield embargo from the sight of its own violence. Having broken embargo out of its conceptually locked box, this project pushes further, and interrogates the connections of embargo and empire. Embargo functions to uphold imperial control and Western interests, while (re)producing racist colonial narratives. While deconstructing and reconstructing three competing understandings of embargo – embargo-as-nonviolent, embargo-as-violence, and embargo-as-imperial – I interrogate the political implications of hegemonic ways of knowing. I argue that, by challenging the hegemony of IR, we can unmask the practice of embargo, and locate its violent role in upholding imperial structures of power.



International Relations, embargo, sanctions, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, discourse analysis, critical international relations theory, economic sanctions