The Image before the Weapon:
A Critical History of the Distinction between Combatant and Civilian

Helen M. Kinsella
Cornell University Press, 2011

(Also available in paperback)

Winner, 2012 Sussex International Theory Prize (The Centre for Advanced International Theory)

Honorable Mention, 2012 Joseph S. Lepgold Book Prize (Georgetown University)

Reviewed in Constellations, Contemporary Political Theory, Ethics and International Affairs, Human Geography, Human Rights Brief, Human Rights QuarterlyInternational Studies ReviewPerspectives on Politics, The International Spectator: the Italian Journal of International Affairs

Since at least the Middle Ages, the laws of war have distinguished between combatants and civilians under an injunction now formally known as the principle of distinction. The principle of distinction is invoked in contemporary conflicts as if there were an unmistakable and sure distinction to be made between combatant and civilian. As is so brutally evident in armed conflicts, it is precisely the distinction between civilian and combatant, upon which the protection of civilians is founded, cannot be taken as self-evident or stable. Helen M. Kinsella documents that the history of international humanitarian law itself admits the difficulty of such a distinction.

 In The Image Before the Weapon, Kinsella explores the evolution of the concept of the civilian and how it has been applied in warfare. A series of discourses—including gender, innocence, and civilization— have shaped the legal, military, and historical understandings of the civilian and she documents how these discourses converge at particular junctures to demarcate the difference between civilian and combatant. Engaging with works on the law of war from the earliest thinkers in the Western tradition, including St. Thomas Aquinas and Christine de Pisan, to contemporary figures such as James Turner Johnson and Michael Walzer, Kinsella identifies the foundational ambiguities and inconsistencies in the principle of distinction, as well as the significant role played by Christian concepts of mercy and charity.

 She then turns to the definition and treatment of civilians in specific armed conflicts: the American Civil War and the U.S.-Indian Wars of the nineteenth century, and the civil wars of Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s. Finally, she analyzes the two modern treaties most influential for the principle of distinction: the 1949 IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War and the 1977 Protocols Additional to the 1949 Conventions, which for the first time formally defined the civilian within international law. She shows how the experiences of the two world wars, but particularly World War II, and the Algerian war of independence affected these subsequent codifications of the laws of war.

 As recognition grows that compliance with the principle of distinction to limit violence against civilians depends on a firmer grasp of its legal, political, and historical evolution, The Image before the Weapon is a timely intervention in debates about how best to protect civilian populations.


Comparative Political Theory in Time and Place:
Theory’s Landscapes

Daniel J. Kapust and Helen M. Kinsella (Editors)
Palgrave Macmillan, 2017

This book explores comparative political theory through the study of a range of places and periods with contributions from a diverse group of scholars. The volume builds on recent work in political theory, seeking to focus scholarly attention on non-Western thought in order to contribute to both political theory and our understanding of the modern globalized world. Featuring discussions of international law and imperialism, regions such as South Asia and Latin America, religions such as Buddhism and Islam, along with imperialism and revolution, the volume also includes an overview of comparative political theory. Contributing scholars deploy a variety of methodological and interpretive approaches, ranging from archival research to fieldwork to close studies of texts in the original language. The volume elucidates the pluralism and dissensus that characterizes both cross-national and intra-national political thought.

Politics and Feminist Standpoint Theories

Sally J. Kenney and Helen M. Kinsella (Editors)
The Haworth Press, 1998

Reviewed in Political Science

In 1983, Nancy Hartsock published her landmark work, Money, Sex, and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism, which defined her powerful construction of the feminist standpoint. Now, 15 years later, four scholars share with you their analyses in Politics and Feminist Standpoint Theories to build on Hartsock's pioneering venture and further examine the current debates surrounding feminist standpoint theories. Through reading it, you'll bypass scholarly misuse and mischaracterization of the feminist standpoint and join the scholars who, since the early 1990's, have been defending the standpoint's relevance and importance.

Addressing feminist issues involving epistemology, identity, and politics, Politics and Feminist Standpoint Theories provides a comprehensive account of how feminist theorists have used and developed Hartsock's feminist standpoint. Some of the theory you'll encounter includes the contributions of Dorothy Smith, Patricia Hill Collins, and Sandra Harding. Specifically, you'll explore such topics as:

  • new shifts in Nancy Hartsock's feminist standpoint epistemology

  • standpoint theory's refutation of empiricist accounts of knowledge

  • identity (race, class, gender, sex, and nation) as a political and interpretive category

  • weaknesses in postmodern critiques of standpoint theory

  • the standpoint's future

Whether you're an advanced undergraduate or graduate student, a researcher looking for a top-of-the-line feminist theory reference, or a women's studies faculty member wanting to augment your library, Politics and Feminist Standpoint Theories expands upon and subjects to critical scrutiny the familiar categories of empiricist, standpoint, and postmodern as ways to group feminist theorists into epistemological categories.