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Rethinking War/Rape: feminism, critical explanation and the study of wartime sexual violence, with special reference to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Kirby, Paul (2012) Rethinking War/Rape: feminism, critical explanation and the study of wartime sexual violence, with special reference to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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It is today commonly acknowledged that rape is a weapon of war. This consensus has been achieved in significant part through the efforts of feminist scholars and activists. Yet the consensus hides a multiplicity of ways in which weapons of war might function. This thesis uncovers and critically explores that variety. First, it turns to questions of what makes a form of inquiry specifically feminist, the better to understand the foundations for claims about rape as a weapon of war. Having offered a critique of existing divisions of empiricist, standpoint and postmodern feminisms (and of the distinction between feminism and gender theory), the thesis proposes a view of feminism as critical explanation: as at once explanatory, political and ethical inquiry. These view is expanded on through a framework of modes of critical explanation: styles of reasoning that provide analytical wagers, narrative scripts and normative orientations for feminist inquiry. Second, the thesis explores three such modes of critical explanation in relation to wartime sexual violence. It argues that the modes of instrumentality, unreason and mythology implicitly structure feminist claims about war rape. Each is examined in turn, with particular attention to how the forms of explanation mirror debates found in war studies and in social theory more generally. Each mode is clarified and expanded on, resulting in sets of propositions for each mode and in a clearer sense of where modes contradict each other and where they may combine. Third, this meta-theoretical and theoretical framework is applied to the specific case of atrocity in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Working through several kinds of empirical material (studies of sexual violence, histories of conflict in the Great Lakes, data on economic dimensions of violence and testimony from combatants and ex-combatants on the topic of sexual violence), the thesis shows how ‘the rape capital of the world’ is best understood in terms of themes derived from the modes of unreason and mythology. It explores retaliatory atrocity, extractive sexual violence and fragmented sexual aggression as three situated dynamics of violence. This part thus critiques a narrowly instrumentalist idea of wartime sexual violence as a strategy of profiteering, whilst also attending to how economic dimensions matter in the war complex as a whole. The conclusion draws out consequences for further work, especially in relation to a comparative project for the critical explanation of wartime sexual violence.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Paul Kirby
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Hutchings, Kimberly

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