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‘Ourworld’: A feminist approach to global constitutionalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2019

Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University, 21–24 Windsor Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU
Durham Law School, Durham University, Palatine Centre, Stockton Road, Durham, DH1 3LE


Global constitutionalism offers a utopian picture of the future of international law. Its advocates suggest a governance system is emergent that will fill the gaps in legitimacy, democracy and the rule of law present in international law. Speculation about the future of international law is shaped, partly at least, by global constitutionalism aspiring to create a better global legal order, by filling these legitimacy gaps with both normative and procedural constitutionalism. But this raises the question ‘better for whom’? Feminist theory has challenged the foundations of both international law and constitutionalism; demonstrating that the design of normative structures accommodates and sustains prevailing patriarchal forms that leave little room for alternative accounts or voices. Both international and constitutional law’s structures support the status quo and are resistant to critical and feminist voices. The question is whether it is possible for constitutionalism to change international law in ways that will open it up to alternate possibilities. Building on a seven-point manifesto of feminist constitutionalism, previously proffered by the authors, which inculcated feminist concerns into global constitutionalism, this article offers an alternative starting point: feminist science fiction. Feminist utopian tracts such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness offer valuable lessons for global constitutionalist discourses. The article uses feminist utopias in science fiction to better understand how to dismantle hierarchical structures, how to build feminist societies, and how to find approaches to governance not predicated on patriarchy. It does so by focusing on feminist alternatives for constructing communities, for understanding constituent power and constituent moments, and dismantling manifestations of the public/private divide. This article demonstrates that reading feminist utopian science fiction facilitates the reimagining of global constitutionalism.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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1 ‘Global constitutionalisation’ is the process of constitutionalising international law and governance; ‘global constitutionalism’ denotes the theories of constitutionalism for global governance.

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29 Melzer (n 8) 8.

30 Ibid 8.

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39 CP Gilman, Herland ([1915] Vintage, New York City, NY, 2015) 3.

40 Ibid 71.

41 ‘As for Ellador: Suppose you come to a strange land and find it pleasant enough – just a little more than ordinarily pleasant – and then you find rich farmland, and then gardens, gorgeous gardens, and then palaces full or rare and curious treasures – incalculable, inexhaustible, and then – mountains – like the Himalayas, and then the sea’ (Herland (n 39) 119); ‘Celis was a blue-and-gold-and-rose person; Alima, black-and-white-and-red, a blazing beauty. Ellador was brown: hair dark and soft, like a seal coat; clear brown skin with a healthy red in it; brown eyes – all the way from topaz to black velvet they seemed to range – splendid girls, all of them’ (Herland (n 39) 121); see also Herland (n 39) 71.

42 For a discussion see, DD Knight, ‘Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Shadow of Racism’ (2000) 32(2) American Literary Realism 159, 161.

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74 Ibid 93.

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80 The Wanderground (n 63) 24.

81 Ibid 24.

82 Ibid 24.

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84 For a discussion see, KY Shin, ‘Governance’ in L Disch and M Hawkesworth (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2018) 304, 310.

85 Ibid.

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102 Hampton (n 101) 77.

103 LF Stone, ‘The Conquest of Gola’ (Wonder Stories 1931, reprinted in J Larbalestier (ed), Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 2006) 36, 37. See also in SS Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country, Beneda, a friend of Stavia’s, comforts Stavia saying: “We grieve, Stavia. We grieve.” (SS Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country (Bantam, New York, NY, 1989) 6)

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113 B Douglas, ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ (Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, March 2017) available at <>.

114 Zaki (n 35) 243.

115 Miller (n 12) 346.

116 Ibid.

117 OE Butler, Adulthood Rites (Popular Library, New York, NY, 1988) 90 cited in ibid 346–7.

118 Miller (n 12) 347.

119 For example, A Peters, ‘Dual Democracy’ in J Klabbers, A Peters and G Ulfstein (eds), The Constitutionalization of International Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) 303; JHH Weiler, ‘The Geology of International Law – Governance, Democracy and Legitimacy’ (2004) 64 Zaöerv 547. See in contrast, J Klabbers, ‘Setting the Scene’ in J Klabbers, A Peters and G Ulfstein (eds), The Constitutionalization of International Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) 23.

120 See for example, A Peters, ‘Membership in the Global Constitutional Community’ in J Klabbers, A Peters and G Ulfstein (eds), The Constitutionalization of International Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) 153. For a discussion on all-affected and all-subjected, see N Fraser, ‘Transnational Public Sphere: Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a post-Westphalian World’ (2007) 24 Theory, Culture & Society 7, 21.

121 Telepathy is often found in feminist utopias and can represent an intuitive understanding of each other. The women in The Wanderground can ‘worry-read’, see The Wanderground (n 63) 2. See also OE Butler, The Mind of My Mind (1977); OE Butler, Dawn (1987).

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125 In William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), there are no laws.

126 O’Donoghue and Houghton (n 36).

127 E Plonowska Ziarek, ‘Right to Vote or Right to Revolt? Arendt and the British Suffrage Militancy’ (2008) 19(5) differences 1, 22.

128 Ibid 22.

129 Ibid.

130 The Wanderground (n 63) 158.

131 For example, in opening of The Wanderground, Jacqua is concerned about the return of a man from the City. See The Wanderground (n 63) 2.

132 Herland (n 39) 147; Jemisin (n 34).

133 Herland (n 39) 83.

134 See the discussion in (n 53).

135 Locke (n 53) Ch II, section 222.

136 Johns (n 26) 174.

137 Ibid 178.

138 See also the way in which Herland ‘encourages what most utopian fictions seek to suppress: an active critical participation on the part of the reader’. Ferns (n 78) 178–9.

139 Herland (n 39) 61.

140 Ferns (n 78) 183.

141 HM Zaki, ‘Review: Fantasies of Difference’ (1988) 5(4) The Women’s Review of Books 13, 14.

142 Zaki (n 35) 241.

143 Ibid 241.

144 Miller (n 12) 342.

145 This is known as shifgrethor in the novel.

146 O’Donoghue and Houghton (n 36).

147 Anghie (n 122) 13; see also Becker Lorca (n 123).

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152 Ibid.

153 The Left Hand of Darkness 80, Le Guin uses the male pronoun throughout which has been a source of criticism.

154 There is a personal anxiety around motherhood because she was criticised for sending her children to be raised by others, however in the text the characters seem perfectly at ease with collective child rearing. L West, ‘Introduction’ to Herland (Vintage, New York City, NY, 2015) x.

155 Herland (n 39) 88

156 The impact of slavery on motherhood and the devasting decisions this forces on mothers is also reflected in Toni Morrison’s Beloved which can be situated within the genre of horror, a sibling of science fiction. T Morrison, Beloved (Knopf, New York, NY, 1987).

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162 Allison (n 35) 478.

163 Hairston (n 12) 293.

164 P Pillai, ‘Women in International Law: A Vanishing Act?’ (2018) OpinioJuris, available at <>.

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166 Johns (n 26) 174.

167 Ibid.

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171 MacKinnon (n 15) 163; O’Donoghue and Houghton (n 36).

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175 Kumar (n 173).

176 B de Sousa Santos, ‘Public Sphere and Epistemologies of the South’ (2012) XXXXVII(1) Africa Development 43, 52.

177 Kumar (n 173) (emphasis in the original).

178 R Gordon, ‘Critical Race Theory and International Law: Convergence and Divergence’ (2000) 45(5) Villanova Law Review 827, 830.

179 Ibid 840.

180 Melzer (n 8) 44.

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185 Lorde (n 17) 42.

186 These paragraph signs are there to acknowledge voices that are not always listened to within global constitutionalist discourse and it is impossible for us to articulate what others would say in this space.