International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 3: Gender as a variable in international relations research
A significant proportion of research in the social sciences is concerned with measuring and explaining social, economic, and political phenomena. In order to derive these explanations, scholars must devise categories of analysis, or variables that enable them to examine relationships and interactions between the variables. Variables commonly studied in international relations (IR) include: actors such as states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations (IOs), and other institutions; actions such as the use of force, sanctions, giving aid, protection of human rights, or other global norms; and additional variables that further define actors and actions such as level of economic development, type of regime, intensity and duration of the action, and so on. Gender is increasingly used as a variable in international relations research to develop explanations of the extent to which actions and actors are affected by, or have an effect on, gender, generally defined as male and female. In contrast to researchers committed to a positivist epistemology, who assert that only scientific methods are appropriate to gain knowledge and truths about the social and political world, most feminist scholars adopting a ‘gender as a variable’ approach in their research view statistical and comparative methods as one sub-set of the useful tools that researchers can use to explain and understand the way in which international relations is gendered.
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