Research

Patricia is currently researching at the intersection of two longstanding interests, the history of international thought and women political thinkers: women and the history of international thought, including in the discipline of IR.

Her most recent book, Economy of Force: Counterinsurgency and the Historical Rise of the Social (Cambridge University Press, 2015), won BISA's Susan Strange Prize for best international studies book, the ISA Theory Section Best Book Award, and was Runner up for the Francesco Guicciardini Prize for Best Book in Historical International Relations.

This new history and theory of counterinsurgency has major implications for social, political and international thought. Retrieving the older but surprisingly neglected language of household governance, Economy of Force shows how the techniques and domestic ideologies of household administration are highly portable and play a remarkably central role in international and imperial relations. In two late-colonial British emergencies in Malaya and Kenya, US counterinsurgency in Vietnam, and US-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, armed social work was the continuation of oikonomia - not politics - by other means. Though never wholly successful, counterinsurgents variously sought to draw on and innovate forms of household governance to create units of rule in which local populations were domesticated. They did this through the selective delivery and withholding of humanitarian supplies; inside and through small-scale family homes, detention and concentration camps; depopulation and re-concentration in new villages and strategic hamlets; the creation or shaping of tribes and sectarian militias; and inside newly formed or reformed post-war national-states. Military strategists conceived such population control as 'sociological warfare' because the social realm itself and distinctly social thought are modern forms of oikonomikos, the art and science of household rule. There is an important story to be told of when and why the social realm first emerged as the domain through which human life could be intervened in and transformed. Economy of Force tells this story in terms of modern transformations in and violent crises of household forms of rule.

Security Dialogue hosted a special section on the book (Vol.47, no.3) with contributions from Tarak Barkawi, Patchen Markell, Julian Go, and Vivienne Jabri and The Disorder of Things hosted a symposium with contributions from Paul Kirby, Jairus Grove, Elke Schwarz, and Andrew Davenport.

Advance Praise

"Economy of Force reveals the deep entanglement of counterinsurgency with the patriarchal household, liberal political theory, and a depoliticizing construct of the social that has motivated, guided, and justified almost two centuries of bloody and failed wars of pacification. Weaving together a compelling account of political theory from Aristotle to Weber and beyond with incisive case studies of counterinsurgencies, Owens shows how a concept of the social modeled on the domestic sphere has blinded counterinsurgent strategists to the politics of their adversaries, initiating a range of 'domestic' approaches from so-called armed social work to the planned destruction of villages and mass internment of civilians in the gulag utopias of imperial social planners. This is a compelling and important book for scholars and students in a wide range of fields, as well as for anybody concerned by the seemingly unstoppable compulsion of western states to carry out tragic and brutal interventions around the world". Andrew Zimmerman, Professor of History, George Washington University 
 
"In this breathtaking work, Owens unsettles the field of International Relations and contributes enormously to Political Theory as well. Contra realist and liberal traditions, she says the moderation of violence and provision of basic needs in modern society has been the fundamental basis of household rule not political freedom. From this radical vantage point, Owens documents the operations of counterinsurgency in Malaya, Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq to offer an entirely new angle on so-called ‘armed social work’. Almost no assumptions about humanitarianism, resistance, war, realism, women’s rights, the social, or the political remains untouched by her powerful genealogical analysis". Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Political Science, Brown University
 

"This is a genuinely groundbreaking piece of work. It presents a serious and sophisticated challenge to the broad spectrum of international theories and more generally to the domain of social science". Kimberley Hutchings, Professor of International Relations, Queen Mary, University of London

"Finally, a definitive work that traces the emergence and imperial deployment of the 'social'. With meticulous care and scholarly precision, Owens uncovers how the concept of the social has been put in service of imperial militaries around the world, revealing that 'armed social work' became a dominant tactic of counterinsurgency from Kenya to Vietnam to Iraq. Rather than an innocuous notion or neutral object of investigation, the very idea of the 'social' has been a tool of empire. This path-breaking work is a must read for anyone interested in social science, militaries, empires and postcolonial studies". Julian Go, Professor of Sociology, Boston University and author of Patterns of Empire

"This is a wickedly smart and a very much needed book... radical and disorienting in the very best sense". Dustin Ells Howes, David J. Kriskovich Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University 
 
"In this imaginative and stimulating text, Owens elucidates the devastating erasure of politics via tropes and practices of 'household administration' that allows for the violence and viciousness of counterinsurgencies to be reinterpreted as 'armed social work'". Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
 
"Through a combination of historical perspective on the colonial world and contemporary inquiry into the imperial enterprise, The Economy of Force invites us to rethink the laws of warfare and politics of counterinsurgency by paying attention to the pacification of local populations understood as a form of domestication. It thus unveils the genealogy of the blurred line between military and humanitarian interventions". Didier Fassin is the coeditor of Contemporary States of Emergency (Zone Books)
 

Patricia Owens' first book was Between War and Politics: International Relations and the Thought of Hannah Arendt (Oxford University Press, 2007)

Selected praise

"This is the best book on Arendt I’ve come across in some time. It lays out a new agenda for Arendt studies and helps make sense of war and other international issues in ways that I have not seen made sense of before". Cory Robin, City University of New York

"With exemplary clarity, Between War and Politics reveals the relevance of Hannah Arendt’s thought for a host of contemporary debates in international relations and international law. It also reveals the degree to which the question of war informed Arendt’s political thinking more generally. What Owens has accomplished in this regard is nothing less than extraordinary… Between War and Politics is a book all future scholars, critics, and students of Arendt’s political thought will have to conjure with. It forever alters the profile of a theorist we thought we knew well". Dana Villa, Packey J. Dee Professor of Political Theory, University of Notre Dame

"Owens… takes on Arendt’s familiar conceptual distinctions and categories. She breathes new life into them by using Arendt’s often-underemphasized writings on war to understand the importance of her thought to international relations... A book this good deserves more readers than it will probably get". Perspectives on Political Science

"Between War and Politics comprises a gift to Arendt scholars not only because it sheds new light on Arendt’s works—especially her often overlooked treatments of violence and war—but also because Owens approaches those works with critical distance… [S]he broadens our horizons and challenges received wisdom". Perspectives on Politics

"This is a provocative and important book". Political Studies Review

"Owens’ book is itself an example of the graceful achievement of two distinct yet thoroughly entwined tasks; tasks that are perhaps best described as classically Arendtian…”. International Politics

"This well-researched and fluently composed volume fills an important gap". International Affairs

Other research has focussed on the history and theory of warfare and politics (including military intervention, ethics of war, civilian casualties, refugees, counterinsurgency, human security, military orientalism, gender); international political theory (including work on Arendt, Strauss, Schmitt, Habermas, Agamben, Marx); international theory (including classical realism, critical theory, liberalism, cosmopolitanism); and political theory (thought of Hannah Arendt).

I am happy to consider supervising research projects in any of these areas.

Follow me on Academia.edu <script>