Maria Martin de Almagro, Ph.D.

University of Cambridge

Country: United Kingdom (England)

About Me:

I am a Marie Curie individual fellow at POLIS, University of Cambridge and Assistant Professor in International Affairs at Vesalius College, VUB, Brussels. I also blog for the Duck of Minerva. My primary research focuses on the United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security agenda.  I have written extensively on the advocacy around, and implementation of, the Women, Peace and Security agenda at global, national, and local levels in post-conflict contexts. I am currently starting a research project on the linkages between the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and transitional justice mechanisms in Colombia, Liberia, Sierra Leone.  I am particularly interested in poststructural and postcolonial accounts of gender and security and in feminist and interpretive methodologies.I hold a PhD in Social and Political Sciences from the Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) and a PhD in Political Theory from LUISS Guido Carli of Rome (Italy). I also hold an MA in European Studies from the College of Europe and an MPP in Public Policy from the University of Michigan, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.My research focuses on gender politics, international security governance and the micro-dynamics of war-to-peace transitions – peacebuilding practices and transnational justice mechanisms – through a critical security lenses. Much of my work investigates concepts and performances of authority, legitimacy and power through these theoretical lenses. I have written many articles on these topics for various journals and contributed to several books. I am regularly invited to lecture in various Universities  and to speak in various seminars and conferences in Europe and around the world. I have previously worked for the EU delegation before the United Nations, several think tanks and international NGOs.

Research Interests

African Politics


Foreign Aid

Gender and Politics

Conflict Processes & War



Feminist Policy Studies

Development Africa

International Cooperation

Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

Civil Society Africa

International Democracy Promotion

Countries of Interest



Congo, Democratic Republic of the (Zaire)


Sierra Leone

My Research:

My research focuses on international norm diffusion, transnational social movements, international gender politics and the micro-dynamics of war-to-peace transitions in sub-Saharan Africa from a comparative perspective – humanitarian action practices and transnational justice mechanisms – through critical lenses. Much of my work investigates concepts and performances of authority, legitimacy and power through these theoretical lenses. My research addresses several big gaps in the literature. The peacebuilding and humanitarian action literature has treated all intervening actors as a monolith, largely failing to differentiate among them, examine longitudinal variation in their behaviour, or distinguish between organizational and environmental factors. The global governance literature has focused on headquarter-level analysis, failing to theorize the behaviour of these organizations’ decentralized offices and their relationships with local actors. Below I discuss my three general areas of research and related projects.   International gender norm diffusion and social movements in sub-Saharan AfricaI am currently finalising a monograph for the Oxford University Press series on Gender and International Relations based on my PhD research project, which explored gender security discourse in the campaign for the implementation of the UN Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Burundi and Liberia. In the monograph, I highlight how the particular shape of gender security is based on how the past, present and future of post-conflict is understood. I examine the factors that determine the impact of the transnationalisation of local women advocacy campaigns in post-conflict Burundi and Liberia and the evolution of international norms on gender security and gender mainstreaming. I show how a certain discourse on gender security became accepted as the master frame of the campaign, and how other discourses were left out. Building upon my empirical findings, the monograph set out a theoretical model of identity boundaries stretching and adaptation in order to analyse the discursive construction of identity and subjectivity as political action.  Second, I am currently working on a related research project on the transformation of gender justice norms in Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) in Sierra Leone and Liberia. I focus on Transitional Justice mechanisms because they enable the research to explore an interesting temporality: a time where the international community believes policies need to move in a sort of linearity from peacekeeping and security towards development. It is a moment of rapid national transformation and reconstruction of social tissue, where new norms and political understandings can take unexpected turns. I analyse the ways in which TRCs and their reports, as well as governments and international organisations that adopt TRCs” recommendations, (re)produce ways of understanding bodies and behaviours that might be at odds with even the most progressive of agendas pursued by their staff. It stems from the observation that norms on gender in transitional justice mechanisms are very much contested. I challenge existing literature on transnational norm diffusion, which falls into the trap of presenting two idealized norm-generating communities (i.e. official TRCs and women’s advocacy groups) by offering a multidirectional approach that reflects on the diversity of views on both sides drawing on critical peace studies and a feminist theorisation of transitional justice. Norm diffusion, understood as being performed by competing narratives and practices, is analysed through the interactions of the professionals, civil society organisations and TRC participants who shape and enact these narratives and practices. I study how (trajectories, personal experiences, competition over material or symbolic resources, etc.) these actors embody, contest or (re)articulate these narratives.Third, I am working with Dr Caitlin Ryan (University of Groningen) on a research project that seeks to dismantle the constructed borders between materiality and discourse that have pervaded the two feminist IR subfields during the past two decades - feminist security studies and feminist political economy – and build bridges in feminist international relations theorizing.  We do so through a focus on women’s economic empowerment in post-conflict contexts and through a critique of the binary between ‘normal violence’ and conflict by investigating the “messiness” of the everyday. We have just submitted an article to Security Dialogue that offers a three-pronged postcolonial-feminist theoretical framework that makes visible the co-constitution of formal/informal economies and the material conditions of women’s economic empowerment that need to be addressed by the UN Women, Peace and Security architecture.  


Journal Articles:

(2019) Subverting economic empowerment: Towards a postcolonial-feminist framework on gender (in)securities in post-war settings, European Journal of International Relations

This article demonstrates that the inability of the United Nations Women, Peace and Security agenda to realize greater peace and security for women in post-war states stems to a great extent from its failure to engage deeply with the materiality of women’s lives under economic empowerment projects. We argue that the Women, Peace and Security agenda reproduces a neoliberal understanding of economic empowerment that inadequately captures the reality of women’s lives in post-war settings for two reasons: first, it views formal and informal economic activities as dichotomous and separate, rather than as intertwined and constitutive of each other; and, second, it conceptualizes agency as individual, disembodied, abstract, universalizing and conforming to the requirements of the competitive pressures of the market. The article then offers a three-pronged postcolonial-feminist framework to analyse international interventions in which representation, materiality and agency are interconnected. We argue that such a framework helps understand better who is empowered in post-war economies and how they are empowered. This, in turn, makes visible how post-war economies produce gendered and racialized (in)securities that need to be addressed by the Women, Peace and Security agenda. With this, we also hope to reflect on broader international political economy concerns about the problems of making conceptual distinctions between politics and economics, and to challenge the constructed borders between materiality and discourse that have pervaded peace and conflict studies.

(2018) Lost boomerangs, the rebound effect and transnational advocacy networks: a discursive approach to norm diffusion, Review of International Studies

This article aims to show the added value of studying transnational advocacy networks through a discursive approach in order to better understand the outcomes of norm diffusion in postconflict contexts. I argue that constructivist approaches to norm diffusion fall short as an explanation of norm adoption because they assume an automatic process of norm propagation through socialisation mechanisms. The first goal of the article is then to discuss how the internal dynamics of discourse negotiation in transnational advocacy networks impact the diffusion and implementation of international norms. The second goal is to propose the concept of the rebound effect and to explore the conditions under which it takes place. Through data collected during extended fieldwork, the article examines a prominent case, namely the transnational campaign for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in Burundi and Liberia. I ask why and how the campaign was understood as a success in Liberia and as a failure in Burundi. I argue that there is another way of looking at these cases in less dichotomised ways. Crucially, my findings demonstrate how in both cases a very particular discourse on gender security is (re)produced through power relations between local and transnational activists limiting the type of policies that are advocated for and depoliticising the grassroots.

(2018) Hybrid Clubs: A Feminist Approach to Peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding

Critical approaches to peacebuilding have achieved a local turn wherein alienated indigenous experiences are the cornerstone of emancipatory practices – yet this emancipation of the ‘different’ risks perpetuating the discrimination and normalization of the challenged liberal peace. Using the case study of a feminist campaign to elect more women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this article’s feminist approach to critical peacebuilding utilizes storytelling to develop a conceptual grid that reveals the complexities of the politics of difference, and proposes the concept of the ‘hybrid club’ as a cluster of local and international actors coalescing to develop peacebuilding initiatives.

(2017) Producing Participants: Gender, Race, Class and Women, Peace and Security, Global Society

Recent efforts to implement the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the creation of National Action Plans (NAPs) in post-conflict countries have resulted in a set of international policy discourses and practices on gender, peace and security. Critics have challenged the WPS agenda for its focus on “adding women and stir” and its failure to be transformative. This article contributes to this debate by showing that the implementation of the WPS agenda is not only about adding women, but also about gendering in racialised, sexualised and classed ways. Drawing on poststructuralist and postcolonial feminist theory and on extensive fieldwork in post-conflict contexts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Liberia, the article examines the subject position of the woman participant. I demonstrate how NAPs normalise certain subject positions in the Global South while rendering invisible and troubling others, contributing to (re)producing certain forms of normativity and hierarchy through a powerful set of policy practices. Deconstructing such processes of discursive inclusion and exclusion of troubled representations is essential as it allows for the identification of sites of contestation and offers a better understanding of the everyday needs and experiences of those the WPS agenda regulates.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2016) Deutsche Welle

L’élection de Donald Trump « dérange les équilibres » transatlantiques. Voici comment le président de la Commission européenne a réagi au choix du futur président américain. Mais qu'est-ce qui fait peur aux Européens?

Blog Posts:

(2018) Duck of Minerva

2017 was not a great year for international politics. The sentence I heard the most during conferences and other academic gatherings was that “the global order is in crisis.” Granted. It all started in 2016 with the victory of Trump, Brexit and the No to the Peace Agreement in Colombia. Nationalist ideologies have nothing but grown in 2017, when the victories of Marine Le Pen in France and of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands all of a sudden seemed plausible. Luckily, they did not materialise. We also had auto-proclaimed nations that demanded independence, such as Catalonia or Kurdistan. To top it all, the far right did win elections in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. This nationalist move is having consequences across the world. In the Libyan costs migrants are being sold as slaves by smugglers or are locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic needs, after the European Union’s enactment of its policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept people trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to prison.