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‘new wars’ and gendered economies


This paper draws on the ‘new wars’ literature and global political economy research to explore how feminists and other critical analysts might investigate linkages between, and the gendering of, licit and illicit informal activities in relation to transnational financing of new wars. The paper considers the interdependence (co-constitution) of reproductive, productive and virtual economies, and aims to illuminate the intersection of race, gender, and economic inequalities (within and among states) as structural features of neoliberal globalization. Finally, the paper develops an analytical framing of coping, combat and criminal informal economies, which overlap and interact but entail distinctive sets of actors, motivations, and activities. A brief description of each economy is followed by suggesting how it is gendered and how this might inform feminist theory/practice in relation to war.

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  1. 1.

    I am not engaging debates about how war is defined or insisting that ‘new wars’ displace all other forms. Indeed, they manifest conditions all too reminiscent, for example, of earlier colonial and imperialist wars. Rather, I want to explore here points raised by those who posit a ‘new’ modality of warfare and to consider how a failure to recognize its distinctiveness compromises our ability to analyse and effectively respond to war in a globalized context. Others variously characterize changing conditions of war as ‘low-intensity conflict’, civil war, unconventional warfare, and post-modern war.

  2. 2.

    I understand globalization as large-scale processes occurring today at an accelerated pace (due to information and communication technologies) and with extremely uneven effects (due to continuing and new inequalities). Critics of neoliberalism characterize its policies as follows: deregulation has permitted the hyper-mobility of (‘foot-loose’) capital, induced phenomenal growth in crisis-prone financial markets, and increased the power of private and corporate capital interests – at the expense of public goods, democratic accountability, and societal well-being. Liberalization is selectively implemented: powerful states engage in protectionism, while developing countries have limited control over protecting domestic industries, goods produced, and the jobs provided. Privatization has entailed loss of nationalized industries in developing economies and a decrease in public sector employment and provision of social services worldwide. The results of restructuring are complex, uneven, and controversial. While economic growth is the objective and has been realized in some areas and sectors, evidence increasingly suggests expanding inequalities – indeed a polarization – of goods, wealth, and well-being within and between nations.

  3. 3.

    This synopsis draws from Kaldor, (2001: 6–12). Her book offers a rich overview and is more nuanced than my summary suggests.

  4. 4.

    ‘Cosmopolitanism’ for Kaldor refers ‘both to a positive political vision, embracing tolerance, multiculturalism, civility and democracy, and to a more legalistic respect for certain overriding universal principles which should guide political communities at various levels, including the global level’ (2001: 115–116).

  5. 5.

    For argumentation, empirical data and extensive citations in support of claims made in this paper regarding global political economy (GPE) see Peterson (2003, 2005).

  6. 6.

    I refer to ‘economies’ in a Foucauldian sense: as mutually constituted (therefore coexisting and interactive) systemic sites through and across which power operates. These sites include socio-cultural processes of self-formation and cultural socialization that underpin identities and their political implications. The subjective, conceptual, and cultural dimensions of these sites are understood as inextricable from (mutually constituted by) material conditions, social practices, and institutional structures.

  7. 7.

    A fourth trend involves globalization's dependence on ICTs specific to the late twentieth century. I argue elsewhere (Peterson, 2003, 2006) that the unprecedented fusion of culture and economy – of virtual and material dimensions – afforded by ICTs exposes to a unique extent and in new developments the importance of adopting interpretive/post-structuralist/post-modernist lenses. Please note that throughout this paper, I use slashes between words to indicate similarity rather than contrast.

  8. 8.

    On diversity, identities/subjectivities, and intersections of structural hierarchies see for example Crenshaw (1991), Brown (1997), Collins (1998), Brah (2002), Chowdhry and Nair (2002), Mohanty (2003), Brah and Phoenix (2004), and McCall (2005).

  9. 9.

    To forestall misunderstanding, I am specifically not arguing for the primacy of ‘women's oppression’ or the reduction of culture, race/ethnicity and class to sex/gender relations. Rather, I am arguing that gender is a historically contingent structural feature of social relations, that the subordination of women is not reducible to other structural oppressions (or vice versa) and that the dichotomy of gender underpins – as the devalourization of the feminine naturalizes – hierarchies of culture, race/ethnicity, class, and geopolitical ‘difference.’

  10. 10.

    On SAPs see e.g., World Development (1995, 2000); Rai (2002); Bakker and Gill (2003); Beneria (2003).

  11. 11.

    Feminist economists have produced a wealth of literature on social reproduction, cited extensively in Peterson (2003). Bakker and Gill (2003) offer perhaps the most comprehensive account of social reproduction in crisis as an effect of neoliberal globalization.

  12. 12.

    This point is made from a variety of perspectives. See for example Kaldor (2001), Pugh et al. (2004), Naim (2003), Jung (2003).

  13. 13.

    The Pugh et al. volume refers to ‘combat, shadow and coping economies’ (2004: 8). For my research purposes I have modified the terms. I use ‘criminal’ rather than ‘shadow’ to more explicitly distinguish the illicit character of that economy, and my reference to the ‘coping’ economy is more inclusive, encompassing aspects of social reproduction that most authors ignore.


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Peterson, V. ‘new wars’ and gendered economies. Fem Rev 88, 7–20 (2008).

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  • global political economy
  • shadow economies
  • illicit international political economy
  • new wars
  • gendered conflicts
  • gendered economies
  • informalization