CFA: Carole Pateman’s Sexual Contract and Nationalism Studies

Alexander Maxwell's picture
Call for Papers
September 15, 2021
New Zealand
Subject Fields: 
Nationalism History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Sexuality Studies


Carole Pateman, professor emeritus from UCLA, author of several books, is one of the more interesting political theorist of recent years. This project address her relevance to nationalism theory, and particularly the role of gender to the imagining of national communities.  Pateman describes herself as an expert in “political theory,” and has not directly addressed the field of nationalism studies. Nevertheless, several scholars have found her 1988 book The Sexual Contract highly relevant to understanding nationalism.


Pateman provided a feminist analysis of contract theorists, such as Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau. She asked how these theorists imagined the role of women in the social contract, examining familial metaphors and their consequences for women’s participation in civil society. She essentially found that contract theorists imagine the social contract as a contract between heterosexual men. She interprets the French revolutionary slogan “liberty, equality fraternity,” rather unflatteringly: “fraternity means what it says: the brotherhood of men” (1988: 78). She critiques “fraternal brotherhoods” on feminist grounds and applies the term “patriarchy” to them, but argues that since absolutist kings have passed from the scene, “patriarchy ceased to be paternal long ago” (1988: 3). Pateman also suggests that one purpose of the contract is to ensure that men have orderly sexual access to women, thus the social contract is also a sexual contract.


Several scholars have applied Pateman’s work on contract theorists to historical actors better described as “nationalists” than “social contract theorists.” Perhaps the most spectacular example is Lynn Hunt, a leading historian of France, whose 1992 The Family Romance of the French Revolution influentially analysed the French Revolution in frankly Patemanian terms: Hunt analysed Louis XVI as “the good father,” Marie Antoinette as “the bad mother,” and the revolutionaries a “band of brothers.” My own work has repeatedly applied Pateman’s work to the Habsburg Monarchy. In fact, nationalism scholarship inspired by Pateman spans the globe: Pateman has inspired scholars working on nationalism in places as diverse as the United States, Chile, India, Iran and Japan.


If so many scholars have found Pateman’s work so very applicable to such diverse case studies, perhaps the time has come to analyse Pateman not just as a feminist theorist, not just as a political theorist, but as a nationalism theorist. What light does Pateman’s sexual contract shed on theoretical questions of nationalism studies? Pateman developed her ideas with European thinkers in mind. Does nationalism in other parts of the world conform to her analysis? For example, Pateman’s contract theorists analysed society using metaphors of the nuclear family: do nationalists imagine the nation differently in parts of the world where extended families are the norm? Several nationalism theorists, to give a more complex example, have identified different “types” of nationalism: the much-debated “civic-ethnic” dichotomy, resilient to repeated debunking, is only the best-known of several taxonomic approaches. How does Pateman’s interpretation interact with taxonomies of nationalism: are all nations fraternal brotherhoods, or only some? Can we discern a typology of fraternal brotherhoods? Do the ideas Pateman developed for analysing contract theorists need modification before they can be applied to cultural nationalism, or to what Michael Billig called “banal nationalism”?


This project, then, seeks papers that theorize and analyse the applicability of Pateman’s ideas to nations and nationalism. We hope papers will discuss different subfields of nationalism studies, and provide case-study perspectives from diverse world regions. The project is friendly to feminist / queer / indigenous / etc perspectives, but nationalism should be at the core of all of the articles. Carole Pateman has expressed interest in providing a short comment on the project once finalized.


The journal Nations and Nationalism (impact factor 1.278; scimago H-index 39) has expressed a provisional interest in a themed section. The planned submission date for articles is September 2021. Contributors should also send me a brief abstract. Completed articles should be between 7,000 and 10,000 words (including endnotes and references). The style guide for Nations and Nationalism is given below.


Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns!


Contact Info: 

Alexander Maxwell
Victoria University of Wellington (history)