V. Spike Peterson

Professor of International Relations
School of Government and Public Policy

Biographic Info

Getting to here...

Although my path toward academe has been unusual, it has prepared me particularly well for the cross-disciplinary and internationally oriented work that I now do. My formal training ranges from psychology and philosophy as an undergraduate, to anthropology, African studies and International Relations (IR) in graduate programs. I have cumulatively spent more than a decade as an overland backpacker (traveling through Europe, Asia, five years in Africa) and living and working overseas. As a professor, I have enjoyed Visiting Scholar positions at the Australia National University, University of Bristol, University of Goeteborg and the London School of Economics. And I have been invited to speak at campuses and conferences around the world and I continue to travel to new places whenever possible. In short, an interest in 'difference' and a penchant for crossing borders - conceptually and territorially - are continuities in my personal and professional life. While traversing boundaries is often difficult, I also find it inherently interesting, invariably instructive, and, I believe, increasingly key to effectively understanding and teaching about social relations. Hence, border crossings and critical thinking are encounters with difference that I attempt to valorize in my research and in the classroom.

After spending most of the 1970s as a global traveler, I turned to doctoral studies in the 1980s when both the academic discipline and 'real world' of IR were experiencing turbulence. I was interested in a systematic study of power and debates in social theory animating the academy at that time. My dissertation focused on early ('pristine') state formation and positioned me at a crossroads of IR, feminist studies, historical sociology, and critical theory. During a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, in 1989 I co-organized (with Professor Jane Jaquette) the first feminist-IR conference in the United States, and joined a group of scholars pioneering feminist analyses in the field. Pioneers of course face unique challenges: one cannot assume the existence of established research programs, of senior scholars as research mentors, or of textbooks for classroom use. In this sense, my first decade at the University of Arizona was shaped by the need to enlarge spaces - through coursework, curriculum innovation, and publishing - for feminist and other critical approaches to politics and IR.

In 1992 I edited Gendered States: Feminist (Re)Visions of International Relations Theory, the first collection to engage feminist theories of the state through an IR lens. In spite of mounting interest, we lacked teaching materials, and especially an overview of what feminist-IR entailed. Hence, in 1993 I co-authored (with Anne Sisson Runyan) Global Gender Issues, the first systematic treatment of gender and world politics (3rd edition, 2010). As feminist-IR became more established, I focused on my particular research interest: integrating feminist, postcolonial, and interpretive work on the global economy. Global restructuring raises extremely difficult questions about the nature of structural hierarchies, the meaning of democratization, and the location of political accountability in a system premised on capitalist accumulation; these are the questions that orient my work and inform my teaching.

My 2003 book, A Critical Rewriting of Global Political Economy: Integrating Reproductive, Productive and Virtual Economies, introduced an analytical framework - the 'RPV' economies - that brought the identities, ideologies, and practices of 'social reproduction' and informal sector activities into relation with the familiar 'productive economy' of commodity exchange, as well as with the less familiar but increasingly consequential 'virtual economy' of financial markets, commodified information, and the exchange less of goods than of signs. The uneven effects of globalization are most visibly manifest in structural hierarchies of ethnicity/race, class, gender/sexuality, and nation; my book attempts to go beyond 'adding' features of these hierarchies to addressing their intersections. The latter is facilitated by 'triad analytics' (as the interaction of identities, ideologies, and practices), my conceptualization of feminism (as a critique of hierarchies that are linked by denigration of the feminine), and the RPV framing (as a reference to interdependent and overlapping fields of power).

What I do here...

The Political Science Department at the U of A hired me in 1990 to fill a newly designated 'gender and politics' line, the purpose of which was to enhance gender offerings in the curriculum and increase gender-sensitivity in existing courses. I initially did so by creating entirely new courses centered on gender and cross-listed with Women's Studies (335 Gender and Politics; 433/533 Feminist Political Theory; and 461/561 Feminist and IR Theories) and also by incorporating gender issues in freshman colloquia (POL 195 Globalization) and graduate seminars. My research and teaching have increasingly focused less narrowly on gender and more complexly on its intersection with other markers of structural hierarchy - especially class, race/ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality. In 1998 I developed and have continually taught a General Education offering, INDV 101: 'Politics of Difference: Ethnicity/Race, Class, Gender and Sexualities' (recently renumbered as POL 150). In 2011 I developed and taught an online 'Global Political Economy' course for the International Security MA program, and I began teaching the upper division undergraduate course, POL 360: 'International Political Economy' in 2012.

Critical thinking is at the core of my teaching philosophy, and a key objective in the classroom is to increase students' awareness of, interest in, and knowledge about how power operates in our individual and collective lives. In particular, I encourage students to reflect on their basic assumptions, especially those they most 'take for granted,' and to think about how these influence their experience and understanding of 'difference,' social relations, and power hierarchies. In particular, I ask students to examine both the intended and unintended (structural) effects of specific vantage points, practices, and policies: What are the pros and cons? Who or what is privileged and who or what is marginalised?

In my experience, however, critical thinking is rarely welcomed and most often actively resisted both inside and outside of the academy. At an interpersonal level, critique tends to make all of us uncomfortable. It challenges us to 'stretch' and see from a different vantage point, which can generate defensiveness and sometimes anger. Similarly, critique is too often 'read' as relentlessly negative rather than absolutely necessary for both democratic processes and moving beyond entrenched patterns of inequality, exploitation and structural violence. At a systemic level, critique is only superficially valorized, especially in the face of ascendant anti-intellectual and neoconservative ideologies. The latter are fueled by both cultural climates of distrust and fear and commodification processes that reduce the life world to economic calculations. More specifically, the 'businessification' of education has marginalised liberal arts programs and made critical thinking even rarer. Those who question the status quo and its structural inequalities face a variety of costs, including marginalization within conventional disciplines, reduced job security, fewer funding opportunities, and excessive questioning of their methods, motives, and even their patriotism. Yet it remains the case that democracy and the promise of a more just and equitable world requires that informed, critical thinking be a centerpiece of education. So I continue to ask, and encourage others to ask: Whose interests and values are served, and how, by status quo analytical frameworks and policy priorities?


Approximately ten years of independent travel and work in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Africa (24 countries, with residence in Kenya and Sudan). Extensive travel in People's Republic of China, and briefly in Afghanistan, Argentina, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Tobago, Trinidad, and Turkey.


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