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Mershon Center Speaker Series
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Ann Towns
“Diplomacy is a Feminine Art”: Gender and International Hierarchies in Diplomacy
Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 03:30pm - 05:00pm
Mershon Center for International Security Studies
1501 Neil Avenue, Room 120
Columbus, Ohio 43201

Ann Towns

*This event has been cancelled* 

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Ann Towns (PhD, University of Minnesota) is associate professor in political science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her research deals with questions about norms, international hierarchies and resistance in international politics, generally with a focus on gender. She is currently conducting a large research project on gender norms and practices in diplomacy, an inter-state institution that has long been dominated by men but where more women have entered within the past decade. As part of this project, she will carry out field work among diplomats in D.C. during 2017-2018 and in Stockholm 2018-2019. Her work on gender and diplomacy has been awarded a 6-year Wallenberg Academy Fellowship by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and funding for two separate projects from the Swedish Research Council.
Towns is the author of Women and States: Norms and Hierarchies in International Society (2010, Cambridge University Press) and co-editor of Gendering Diplomacy and International Negotiation, with Karin Aggestam (2017, Palgrave). Her research has also appeared in International Organization, European Journal of International Relations, Foreign Policy Analysis, Millennium, Party Politics, NORA, Cooperation & Conflict and Women & Politics, etc. Towns is associate editor of International Studies Quarterly and a member of the editorial boards of Cambridge Studies in Gender and Politics, Politics and Internasjonal Politikk.


Until recently, Foreign Service was one of the most male-dominated spheres of the state and one into which women had difficulties entering (e.g. Enloe 1990; Neumann 2008). Legal bans on women in diplomacy were lifted between the 1920s and 1950s, and rules barring women diplomats from marrying remained in place until the 1970s. In the past two decades, a large number of women have entered the Foreign Service of many states, being posted around the world.

This rather dramatic change in the sexual make-up of many diplomatic corps provides a perfect opportunity to interrogate the gender norms and gender patterns of diplomacy. Is diplomacy a masculinized institution, and if so, in what ways? What, if anything, has happened to the gender norms of diplomacy since larger numbers of women entered the profession? In what ways does gender intersect with the international hierarchies that pervade diplomatic relations? And what does this tell us more broadly about the ways in which international politics and international hierarchies are gendered?

Since 2014, with funding as a Wallenberg Academy Fellow and from the Swedish Research Council, I run a large project on gender in diplomacy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. My presentation will survey the multiple ways we approach and answer the questions above. A paper on the US symbolic gendering of diplomacy as a “feminine” institution, with the diplomat rendered an “effeminate” figure, may be circulated ahead of the presentation.


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