The intricate relation between knowledge and power is one of the central themes in feminist epistemologies, as it is in other critical epistemologies drawing, for example, on the Frankfurt School of critical theory or on Foucault. In one earlier version of feminist theory, writers focused on the articulation of women’s experience as the basis of knowledge, as in standpoint epistemology. This position has been problematized in poststructuralist debates, for example with Joan Scott’s pivotal essay on the concept of experience. She argues that experience cannot be taken as a foundational concept, as it is inscribed in an epistemology in which knowledge is taken to be direct and unmediated. Instead, experience is that which is always contested and always political.
There is an odd repetition of these debates in contemporary discourses about violence, security, and gender. In the attempt to incorporate gender into mainstream discourse about peace, women’s experience become positioned as a resource to be used, reverting to essentialist notions of women. This discourse overlooks the lessons of feminist theories of knowledge/power and their implications for the concepts of “experience” and “women”. I suggest instead drawing on these theories to reflect on the epistemological and political frameworks of debates on gender and security.