Catcalling: Is It Really That Bad?


(7min read)

Calls to tackle misogyny hate crimes, particularly catcalling, have been criticised for over-emphasising superficial problems at the expense of “real” issues. This critique was prevalent in France when the new law against verbal sexual harassment was under consideration. Despite being critiqued as trivial, measures such as this are integral to changing perceptions about what is permissible behaviour towards women. The efforts of movements such as #MeToo and campaigns against upskirting have served to increase the visibility and prevalence of misogyny hate crimes. Rather than being a direct attack on men and masculinity by the so-called “Snowflake Generation” as commonly and naively perceived, these movements serve to break down dangerous societal norms which would otherwise perpetuate the idea that other types of violence against women are acceptable.

Misogyny Hate Crimes in the UK

Back in 2016 Nottinghamshire Police – prompted by research undertaken for Nottingham Women’s Centre – announced they were treating incidences of street harassment towards women as misogyny hate crimes. The police force expanded its definition of a hate crime – which already incorporated race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, transgender and alternative sub-cultures – to include “misogynistic instances, characterised as behaviour targeted towards a victim simply because they are a woman”. Examples include: unwanted or uninvited sexual advances; physical or verbal assault; unwanted or uninvited physical contact or engagement; and the use of mobile phones to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent. This was the first measure implemented in the UK that officially recognised direct attacks on a woman’s identity as a hate crime.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, working with the Nottingham Women’s Centre, undertook a pilot study to specifically investigate misogyny hate crimes in the area. The research was conducted via focus groups and surveys, which found that 93.7% of respondents had either experienced or witnessed street harassment. The breakdown of different behaviours the respondents experienced or witnessed is outlined on the table below.

NEW catcalling table UA

theUA Graphic | Source: Nottingham Women’s Centre

The work of Nottingham Women’s Centre has resonated throughout the UK and on 5th September this year, the bill to make upskirting a sexual offence was passed through the House of Commons; a fantastic but long overdue achievement. During the proceedings, Labour MP Stella Creasy put forward an amendment to the upskirting bill to add misogyny as an aggravating factor. The Law Commission has now called for a fundamental review of all hate crime legislation to include instances of misogyny.

Should misogyny be a hate crime?

Moments of sexual harassment, as Laura Bates beautifully puts it, “slip like beads onto an endless string to form a necklace that only you can feel the weight of. It can drag you down without another person ever witnessing a single thing” (p24).

Incidences of street harassment towards women are not deemed an abusive attack on their identity due to the normalisation of the issue within society. Verbal street harassment, or “catcalling”, in particular has been constructed as an everyday norm ironically due to the pervasiveness of the issue and the intangibility of its damage. The lack of physical evidence and research into its psychological effects has served to downplay the severity of the issue, ultimately creating a culture wherein both men and women view the issue as a normal part of everyday life. The continual (albeit reluctant) tolerance of misogyny hate crimes by women – mainly due to a lack of other options – has meant the personal effects of this harassment have been grossly downplayed. Victims are arguably hesitant to report such instances, not because it hasn’t affected them, but for fear of not being taken seriously or wasting police time. This was evidenced in the aforementioned Nottingham pilot study, which found that only 6.6% of affected respondents reported the issue to the police. This reluctance coupled with the under-promotion and exclusion of the issue from mainstream debate creates a vicious cycle, resulting in the eventual under-problematisation of the issue.

I have personally been privy to instances of misogyny hate crimes which I believed warranted reporting yet felt as though I had to provide extensive justification for doing so; I actually found myself apologising for being a “nuisance”. I was reluctant, not because these events didn’t affect me, but because I succumbed to the constructed connotations attached to the issue. These constructed societal perceptions resulted in my embarrassment for bringing up such a ‘trivial’ issue.

The Nottingham pilot study serves to contradict conventional assumptions of the triviality of misogyny hate crimes by concluding that in 74.9% of all cases, the incident had a long-term impact on respondents. Of these, 63.1% claimed to have consequently changed their behaviour, the majority which resulted in restrictions on their movements e.g. taking a taxi/different route, avoiding areas and transport, staying in after dark etc. (p11). This evidence negates the argument that misogynistic street harassment is inconsequential, and counters attempts to trivialise the issue as “political correctness gone mad”.

The monumental rise of movements fighting for gender equality in recent years, such as #MeToo, has created a culture wherein women now feel more comfortable to speak up about all forms of harassment inflicted towards them solely because they are a woman. This is the vital first step towards breaking down gendered assumptions and reconceptualising the severity of female harassment. Unfortunately, movements like this are never without criticism. Despite uneducated assumptions to the contrary, efforts to tackle upskirting and misogyny hate crimes are not an attack on men and masculinity by the so-called “Snowflake Generation”. These movements serve to tackle the verbal and physical harassment aimed at an individual as a result of their identity, which has and continues to prevail astronomically within the UK and globally.

Ignoring sexist verbal harassment creates a culture wherein other types of violence against women are perceived to be acceptable. Confronting instances of street harassment is the important first step towards tackling all types of verbal and physical hate crimes against women. But if you think that championing to prevent the verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse of individuals within your country represents “political correctness gone mad”, then I proudly declare myself mad.


Conflict Related Sexual Violence Towards Men: Engendering Change

(18 min read)

Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) is generally depicted as a female-centric issue, with limited acknowledgement of and research into men as victims. As a result, male sexual violence during conflict is a severely under-problematised issue within both the theory and practice of International Relations (IR) and global security.

This article will therefore analyse the efficacy of the current UN security agenda in tackling and addressing CRSV towards men as a legitimate security issue. The research undertaken here will be both empirical and interpretive in nature. An analysis of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and reports pertaining to sexual violence in conflict between 2000 and 2017 will be undertaken in order to assess the effectiveness of the UN’s past and present responses to CRSV towards men. In addition, the gendered discourses underpinning the current security agenda will be critically analysed. It will be concluded that, as it stands, the UN is unable to effectively tackle CSRV towards men due to the underlying gendered discourses underpinning its current security agenda, which serves to reinforce the binary of women as victims and men as perpetrators. Male sexual violence in conflict is therefore rendered invisible despite the alleged increase in international attention. For the current security agenda to treat CRSV towards men as a serious threat to individual security, there must be a shift from the current sex-based framing towards a more gender-inclusive approach.

It should be emphasised that this research does not aim to downplay female sexual violence. The motivation for focusing exclusively on male sexual violence is due to the severe under-problematisation of the issue within security policy and discourse, despite its pervasiveness. As Stemple accurately puts it:

“In a world in which, one hopes, compassion is not a finite resource, new concern for one type of victim, in this case, men and boys, need not signify the lessening of concern for women and girls. It is not a zero-sum game”.[1]

When referring to conflict related sexual violence, this includes actions directed at an individual’s “sexual or reproductive health or identity, for example: rape, whether oral or anal, involving objects, the perpetrator or two victims; enforced sterilisation; enforced nudity; enforced masturbation … castration; genital violence and enforced incest of enforced rape of female or male others”[2]  and all “other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity”.[3]

The Futility of the Current Agenda: Practical and Theoretical Blind Spots

Conflict Related Sexual Violence has received increased attention over the past decade. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) passed Resolution 1325 – the first of its kind to recognise the impacts of armed conflict on women and girls. This landmark resolution emphasised the need for special measures to be undertaken to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly “rape and other forms of sexual abuse”.[4] While a vast amount of international attention has been directed towards the alleviation of CRSV towards females, the same cannot be said for similar atrocities inflicted upon men. For example, one in three women from the Eastern DRC are estimated to be survivors of rape, yet no such statistics exist for men.[5] Similarly, reports of the systemic use of male rape as a weapon of war in Libya have recently surfaced, however little solid data is yet to exist.[6]

Women as Victims, Men as Perpetrators 

Despite its prevalence, the severity of sexual violence towards men is diluted particularly in comparison to female atrocities of a similar nature, due to the traditional gender assumptions attached to masculinity and femininity. This constructed binary reinforces the idea that women are “more nurturing and less bellicose than men, either by their nature or through socialization”.[7] This is then transferred into the conflict setting, wherein women are perceived as victims of war, “regardless of their relative risk of death or injury as compared with men”.[8] As a result, sexual violence during armed conflict is traditionally depicted in black and white terms – sexual violence is perpetrated by men towards female victims. This is not only problematic when trying to account for men as victims, but also when trying to account for women as perpetrators.

Research into female perpetrators of sexual violence is dangerously scarce, especially within those organisations responsible for the alleviation of sexual violence. According to the 2012 Human Security Report, only two major population surveys have acknowledged female perpetrators. These include the 2004 survey by Jana Asher and the 2010 survey undertaken in the Eastern DRC. Asher outlined how in war-affected sierra Leone “women participated in mixed gender groups of perpetrators in some 26 percent of the reported incidents of gang rape”.[9] In addition, female survivors of CRSV in the Eastern DRC reported that 41 percent of their perpetrators were also female, where male survivors reported that 10% of their perpetrators were female.[10] Similarly, female perpetrators of sexual violence are widely documented in Haiti, Liberia, DRC and Rwanda, as well as in Abu Ghraib.[11] It is therefore evident that, despite claims otherwise, the “women as victims, men as perpetrators” narrative is wholly over-simplified within the security discourse; it is this gendered over-simplification that is failing men in many conflict zones around the world.

Analysis of UN Resolutions Pertaining to CRSV

The UN, one of the leading bodies responsible for the alleviation of sexual violence during conflict, is unable to look past this binary. This was made evident through an analysis of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSC RES) pertaining to CRSV between 2000-2017.

UNSC RES 1820 in 2008 was one of the first resolutions to address CRSV without a specific focus on women. This resolution calls on the Secretary-General to “provide an analysis of the prevalence and trends of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict”.[12] From this one would assume all genders would be included, yet the resolution refers to “sexual violence” and “women” thirty times respectively, whilst men are referred to zero time.[13]

A year later, Resolution 1888 on civilians and armed conflict was passed. This resolution calls on the Secretary-General to facilitate a “more systematic reporting on incidents of trends, emerging patterns of attack, and early warning indicators of the use of sexual violence in armed conflict in all relevant reports”.[14] This seems promising as there is no conflation between sexual violence and gender. However, the resolution proceeds to call upon the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women to assist in the implementation of this initiative.[15] Following this, women are mentioned 27 times within this resolution, whereas men are referred to zero times.

In a similar vein, Resolution 1960 in 2010 requested for information on those involved in sexual violence during armed conflict to be made available to them. Again, this resolution makes no reference to sexual violence towards men. “Men” were referred to nine times in UNSC RES 1960, but only within the word “women”.[16]

Whilst the pre-2010 data substantially disregards male sexual violence, the first reference to men occurred in UNSC RES 2106 in 2013. This may seem promising, however the resolution primarily commits to “the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women”.[17] This essentially recognises men and boys, not as victims, but as perpetrators of sexual violence by alluding to the need for them to modify their behaviour as it affects women and girls.[18] Similarly, during the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, it was claimed that “relevant programs to reach boys before they become sexually active are urgently needed” to facilitate the respect of women and girls.[19] The second and final reference to men within Resolution 2106 notes that men, boys and those secondarily traumatized may be affected as “forced witnesses of sexual violence against family members”.[20] The only two references to men and boys within this resolution either recognises them as likely perpetrators in need of education or as being indirectly affected by sexual violence. As of 2013 therefore, men were not included as potential victims of CRSV within the UN’s security agenda.

The latest document pertaining to the issue is the 2017 UNSC Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. Here, “conflict related sexual violence” is defined as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against men, girls, or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict”.[21] Although the UN finally included men for the first time within their 2017 definition of CRSV, this is all they did. The remaining pages of the report outline policy recommendations for sexual violence committed in various conflict zones, one of which being Libya. Despite recent exposure of the systemic use of male rape as a weapon of war in Libya, the Libyan policy recommendations claim, ‘women and girls are exposed to sexual violence by some parties to the conflict” and “ISIL have been involved in the abduction and sexual abuse of women and children”.[22] Whilst it is vital to direct advocacy tools towards the sexual violence of women and girls, this UN report completely glazes over the vast atrocities of systematic male rape in Libya that have been occurring alongside instances of female sexual violence. This trend reoccurs throughout the policy recommendations for many of the conflict zones outlined within the report. Therefore, although the UN now acknowledge male rape within their definition of CRSV, the issue remains unheeded in practice.

This research therefore confirms the severe under-problematisation of male-specific sexual violence during conflict by the UN. One potential reason for the UN’s omission of men in this instance is arguably due to the gendered classification of male inflicted violence.

Rape or Torture?

CRSV towards men has been dramatically over-simplified due to its conflation with torture, which has further pushed the issue into the dusty corners of the international security agenda. For example, the human rights community have been slow to label violence against males, such as rape or sexual mutilation, as sexual violence specifically. Although the sexual mutilation of men in Bosnian concentration camps was reported, it was not prosecuted as sexual violence as it was deemed to represent “torture” or “degrading treatment”. In addition, witness-protection initiatives identified female survivors of rape as the only group in need of “protection and psycho social attention”.[23] Evidently, instances of male sexual violence are downplayed by the international community by incorrectly conflating these atrocities with torture. This further depicts how sexually motivated violence is predominantly seen as a female issue.

As a result of these systemic gendered assumptions, male survivors feel personally isolated by the very bodies set up to tackle the issue. Men very rarely report these atrocities to the relevant bodies for fear of embarrassment, stigmatization or demasculinisation.[24] These fears have been reinforced by the gendered narratives constructed by the international community. The failure to acknowledge CRSV as a serious threat to the individual security of all genders arguably acts as a catalyst to the under-reporting of male sexual violence; male survivors may feel discouraged to come forward as a result if the issue is constructed as affecting women only.[25]

In order to move beyond this female-centrism, there needs to be a wholesale dismissal of gender-specificity in favour of a more gender-inclusive approach when tackling conflict related sexual violence.

Engendering Change

For CRSV towards men to be seriously tackled, the UN must move beyond their “sex-based framing” towards a more gender-inclusive approach. This will serve to emphasise that masculinity is socially and culturally constructed and not a universal, biological fact. This assumption of a biological “masculinity”, which is ripe in the security discourse, perpetuates the conflation of masculinity with (sexual) violence by forwarding the assumption that “real men” are (sexual) aggressors, placing females as the antithesis. Under these gendered assumptions, male aggression is therefore justified as an “archetypal manifestation of maleness”.[26] A gender rather than sex-based framing would therefore, in addition to recognising CRSV towards men, remove the socially constructed assumption of women as docile and men as belligerent. This is not to discredit the current efforts of many feminist-activists and women’s rights organisations in relation to female sexual violence; the reinforcement of the “women as victims” narrative has arguably been an unintended consequence of this female-centric approach to CRSV.

Coupled with this gender-based framing, there must be change in the way human rights data is collected and interpreted. According to Campbell, there is a sufficient lack of gender specific data on “atrocities in complex emergencies”, with the general assumption being that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted whereas men are more likely to be massacred or detained. It is difficult to gauge the severity or accuracy of these claims without “the collection of data that takes seriously the experiences of both men and women in complex emergencies”. While it is conceivable that CRSV towards females is higher than towards males, without “gender-disaggregated prevalence data”, there is no accurate way of proving these assumptions. Until this is implemented, sexual violence towards men remains largely overlooked.[27]

Lastly, a gender analysis is not necessary for the inclusion of both men and women in sexual violence policy, but to ensure the complexities of male on male rape are understood. As Stemple outlines “when both the perpetrator and victim are men, the interaction often typifies a gendered power-play of masculinised dominance and feminised subordination”, this can only be understood through a gender analysis. The current female-centric approach cannot account for both male-on-male rape and gender as a category for analysis.[28]

A gender-based focus will therefore facilitate an appreciation within the security agenda that all genders and sexual orientations are – albeit at potentially different rates – subject to sexual violence during conflict. If fully adopted this will eradicate the sole assumption of the female victim.


This article has therefore analysed the efficacy of the UN’s agenda on conflict related sexual violence through the analysis of UNSC Resolutions from 2000-2017. From this, it can be concluded that the UN have failed to acknowledge, let alone tackle, CRSV towards men as a serious threat to individual security. This omission of male inflicted violence is due to the UN’s sex-based framing of CRSV which; a) depicts male rape as torture and; b) reinforces the binary of men as perpetrators and women as victims. For conflict related sexual voice towards men to be treated as a legitimate security issue within international policy and discourse, the UN must drop their sex-based framing in favour of a more gender-based approach. Only in this way can the security agenda move past their female-centric approach and fully take into consideration the complexities of conflict related sexual violence inflicted upon all genders.



[1] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 646.

[2] Sarah Solangon and Preeti Patel, ‘Sexual Violence Against Men in Countries Affected by Armed Conflict, Conflict’, Security and Development, 12 (2012), p.418.

[3] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), p.1.

[4] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, (UN, New York, 2009) p. 3.

[5] Gender Against Men, Dir. Daniel Neumann, Otim Patrick and Ann Chang. Refugee Law Project. 2008.

[6] Cecile Allegra, ‘Revealed: male rape used systematically in Libya as instrument of war’, (The Guardian), (Accessed 8th November 2017). (Para. 2).

[7] Dara Kay Cohen, ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), p.389.

[8] Ibid., p.389.

[9] Human Security Report 2012: Sexual Violence, Education, and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2012), p. 32.

[10] Ibid., p.32.

[11] Dara Kay Cohen, ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), p.384-5.

[12] Sandesh Sivakumaran, ‘Lost in translation: UN responses to sexual violence against men and boys in situations of armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (2010), p. 263.

[13] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-5.

[14] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888, (UN, New York, 2009) p. 7.

[15] Ibid., p.7.

[16] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960, (UN, New York, 2010) pp. 1-4.

[17] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013) p.1.

[18] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 623.

[19] Ibid., p.623.

[20] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013) p.2.

[21] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), p1.

[22] United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), .13.

[23] R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), p.95.

[24] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), p. 638.

[25] Ibid., p.638.

[26] Ibid., p.635.

[27] R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), p. 98.

[28] Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), pp. 619.


Acharya, A., ‘Human Security: East versus West’, International Journal, 56 (2001), pp. 442-460.

Allegra, C., ‘Revealed: male rape used systematically in Libya as instrument of war’, (The Guardian), (Accessed 8th November 2017).

Carpenter, C., ‘Recognizing Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Men and Boys in Conflict Situations’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), pp.83-103

Cohen, D., ‘Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, World Politics, 65 (2013), pp. 383-415.

Gender Against Men, Dir. Daniel Neumann, Otim Patrick and Ann Chang. Refugee Law Project. 2008.

Human Security Report 2012: Sexual Violence, Education, and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2012), pp. 1-239.

Lara Stemple, Male Rape and Human Rights, Hastings Law Journal, 60 (2009), pp. 605-647.

Paterson, K., ‘A Competition of Suffering: Male vs Female Rape’, (Women’s Media Centre), (Accessed 27 December 2017).

Sivakumaran, S., ‘Lost in translation: UN responses to sexual violence against men and boys in situations of armed conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (2010), pp. 259-277.

Solangon S., and Patel P., ‘Sexual Violence Against Men in Countries Affected by Armed Conflict, Conflict’, Security and Development, 12 (2012), pp.417 – 442.

Storr, W., ‘The Rape of Men: the darkest secret of war’, (The Guardian), (Accessed 8 December 2017).

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1994, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1994) pp. 1-136.

United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, Suppl. No. 3, A/S-23/10/Rev.1 (UN, New York, 2000), pp. 1-54.

United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, (UN, New York, 2017), pp. 1-32.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-4.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-5.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888, (UN, New York, 2009) pp. 1-7

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960, (UN, New York, 2010), pp. 1-5.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106, (UN, New York, 2013), pp.1-6.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122, (UN, New York, 2013) pp. 1-6.

United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2331, (UN, New York, 2013) pp. 1-8.

United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, Human Security in Theory and Practice, (New York, United Nations Human Security Unit, 2009), pp. 1-45.

The Dao of World Politics by L.H.M Ling

(11 min read)

In The Dao of World Politics, Ling uses Daoist dialectics to move beyond the parochial, state-centric Westphalian conception of a hierarchical and violent world politics in order to portray a world politics based on ethics, fluidity, compassion and care. Daoist dialectics offer a relational perception of world politics, emphasising the complementary and contradictory relationships between actors. For Ling, Westphalia World exhibits the yang quality of public dominance and visibility against the yin quality of silence and concealment embodied by Multiple Worlds.[1] It could be argued from the onset that Ling is ironically further reinforcing the West vs non-West dichotomy by portraying Westphalia World as the strong, visible yang to Multiple World’s weak, silent yin. Yet the author acknowledges that change within and between this relationship can only occur if we engage directly with the current issue, dispelling the common assumption that one must either succumb to or ignore dichotomies completely. By attributing East/West relations to yin and yang, Ling is neither reinforcing the necessity for Eurocentric binaries nor omitting them altogether, instead she effectively engages with and exposes this dichotomous relationship in order to propose an alternative, relational, more inclusive way of perceiving it.

This relational approach is introduced through Ling’s theory of Worldism in part one, which begins with a critique of the parochial Eurocentric depictions of hierarchy and violence offered by orthodox Western IR on the grounds that they serve to silence subaltern voices. This initial critique of mainstream Western IR ultimately justifies Ling’s proceeding non-Westphalian analytic. The author seeks to achieve a “post-Westphalian IR” through Worldism, which aims to expose subaltern contributions to world politics as well as the co-constitutive relationship between Multiple Worlds and Westphalia World.[2] Ling’s Worldism therefore differs from that advanced by feminism and postcolonialism as it not only addresses the marginalisation of the subaltern and their effect on world politics, but also recognises their ontological parity with and ability to balance Westphalia World. Instead of rejecting Western approaches to the international altogether, Ling actively engages with Westphalia World to encourage “creative speaking and listening among Multiple Worlds as well as within Westphalia World”.[3] Worldism is therefore advanced by Ling with the aim of mitigating the epistemic violence inflicted upon Multiple Worlds as it provides a means for subalterns to “speak to Westphalia world from a position of parity”.[4]

Ling’s direct engagement with Westphalia World in relation to Multiple Worlds is a refreshing alternative to Critical IR theory’s (CIRT) compulsion to either solely criticise Westphalia or ignore them altogether when trying to overcome Eurocentric depictions of world politics. Most Critical IR approaches – such as Postcolonialism, Post-Structuralism and Marxism – are solely concerned with placing the West at the centre of analyses to expose, critique and subsequently prosecute them for their exploitative, (neo)imperialistic undertakings in world politics. Whilst their critique of Western (neo)imperialism and its effect on “Multiple Worlds” may be agreeable, this nevertheless reifies Western agency at the expense of non-Western agency.[5] Put in Ling’s terms, solely exposing the (neo)imperial exploitation inflicted upon the subaltern by the West ignores the agential capabilities and influences of Multiple Worlds on and within Westphalia World and hinders any possibility for communication between the two worlds. The epistemic and practical dominance of Westphalia over Multiple Worlds – whether constructed or real – is undeniable, yet it is precisely this dominance that necessitates a direct engagement with Westphalia World. Ling’s approach is therefore one of the first to provide hope that a post-Westphalian International Relations is viable; only by recognising the mutuality and co-constitutive relationship between both Westphalia and Multiple Worlds can we move beyond the parochial, hierarchical and violent conception of world politics towards a more ethical, fluid and relational approach.

The strength and necessity of Ling’s Worldist approach is further explicated in part two which focuses specifically on the application of the three Worldist dialogics – resonance, relationality, and interbeing – to cotemporary political issues. Here, Ling aims to move beyond the Westphalian binary logic of the “China threat”, which assumes Chinese institutions are so “alien” that in order to integrate into world politics they must conform and internalize Western norms, or else face discipline from the West.[6] Ling’s relational approach emphasises engagement over assimilation, parity over hegemony, and therefore deviates from orthodox assumptions of hegemony as a zero-sum game. The utilisation of Chinese dialectics in this way exposes the co-constitutive relationship between the US and China, revealing the “China-within-US” and the “US-within-China”.[7] Ling is therefore effectively able to de-link the Eurocentric West vs Rest binary inherent within the China threat thesis by reconstructing the US-China relationship as one of relationality and mutuality. Worldist dialogics are therefore integral to the unbiased realisation of both Eastern and Western agency in the making of world politics.

Secondly, Ling depicts the emotional and normative resonance growing between, inside and around the Asia Pacific, emphasising how phenomena we typically perceive as unchanging, universal and fixed are actually constantly changing upon interaction with one another. Here, Ling’s aim is to move from notions of a hierarchical world politics to fluidity. These two dialogics help to identify the third –  interbeing. Ling utilises the third dialogic to shift China-India relations from violence to compassion through “chatting”, which is extended towards the end of part two through the idea of creative speaking/listening. This is encouraged by Ling as a means to hybridise individuated identities through mutual respect, which can only be realised if the listeners are able to speak and the speakers listen. Interbeing is therefore achieved through this mutual equality of speaking and listening with the hope that those divided by borders and (non)physical boundaries –  especially India and China – can circumvent socially constructed barriers in order to move away from hegemony towards harmony, installing a sense of inclusivity between and within Westphalia and Multiple Worlds.

The Dao of World Politics therefore stands out from the existing literature as Ling goes beyond a mere critique of Eurocentric approaches to world politics. The author not only produces an alternative perspective to IR’s parochialism but confidently proceeds to implement this framework, justifying the practical integrity of the three Worldist dialogics through applicable, real-world examples. Her insights are therefore not only applicable to IR theory, but can be adopted in order to create a more harmonious world politics, evidenced in her reformulation of India-China and US-China-Taiwan relations using Daoist dialectics.

Whilst Ling succeeds in differentiating her work from the mainstream in this way, she does risk homogenising Multiple Worlds as one single entity that share the same values and worldview. Painting “them” with the same brush universalises Multiple Worlds as one singular entity, ignoring the multiplicity of difference within and between this “world”. Whilst Ling would argue that “a world politics limited to states misses most of the world and its politics”, there must be some differentiation within Multiple Worlds otherwise the author is at risk of advocating vague and poorly defined criteria which may hinder the persuasiveness of the overall argument.[8] As it currently stands, Ling’s depiction of Multiple Worlds is merely reduced to being all alternative, non-Westphalian worldviews.

That said, The Dao of World Politics is applicable to a multitude of disciplines both within and outside IR. On a broader level, Ling’s approach depicts how indigenous and subaltern perspectives, voices, practices or approaches can be exposed and subsequently utilised to either create a broader theory of IR or challenge what is commonly perceived to be universal knowledge. The brilliance of Ling’s Worldism lies in its practical and theoretical applicability wherein both the researcher and the researched can become less violent – epistemically and politically – and move from a system of hierarchical states and research practices towards a world system of harmony and disciplinary inclusion. Ling’s book essentially subverts orthodox Western approaches to world politics, inviting “unreformed, non-Western Others into the formal sitting room of IR theory to engage in a discourse among equals”.[9]

It could be criticised that the strong commitment to reflexivity throughout the book may discourage the majority of “Westphalia World” scholars within IR from engaging with Ling’s work as they do not share these same methodological commitments. Resultantly, Ling’s ultimate aim of moving beyond the Westphalian conception of world politics will be counterproductive as she cannot engage with and directly speak to those perspectives she wishes to alter. Ling therefore potentially runs the risk of speaking solely to a non-Eurocentric audience already in tune with these debates and critiques.

Whilst the author’s unconformity to mainstream IR criteria may seem an unproductive exercise, her reflexivity coupled with the inclusion of unorthodox representations of knowledge through storytelling, anecdotes, plays and drawings is a refreshingly different approach which marries together nicely with the overall theme of the book. The perceived necessity to conform to orthodox Western IR norms and criteria within the academy is subverted here, which enables Ling to subtly remind the reader throughout the course of the book that one can and should approach knowledge about world politics in ways that do not necessarily adhere to the pre-set criteria set out by mainstream Western IR. If anything, Ling’s approach to knowledge is a delightful celebration of bottom-up theorising, depicting the unequivocal ability to write indigenously and authentically from within the mainstream.


[1] L.H.M Ling, The Dao of World Politics: Towards a post-Westphalian Worldist International Relations (New York, Routledge, 2014), p. 18.

[2] Ibid., p. 5.

[3] Ibid., p.2.

[4] Ibid., p.2.

[5] John Hobson and Alina Sajed, ‘Navigating Beyond the Eurofetishist Frontier of Critical IR Theory: Exploring the Complex Landscapes of Non-Western Agency’, International Studies Review, (19) 2017, pp. 547-572.

[6] L.H.M Ling, The Dao of World Politics: Towards a post-Westphalian Worldist International Relations (New York, Routledge, 2014), p. 90.

[7] Ibid., p. 96.

[8] Ibid., p. 139.

[9] Ibid., p. 92.


Hobson J., and Sajed, A., ‘Navigating Beyond the Eurofetishist Frontier of Critical IR Theory: Exploring the Complex Landscapes of Non-Western Agency’, International Studies Review, (19) 2017, pp. 547-572.

Ling, L., The Dao of World Politics: Towards a post-Westphalian Worldist International Relations (New York, Routledge, 2014), pp. 1-173.