Dean Cooper-Cunningham defends his PhD thesis at the Department of Political Science

Dean Cooper-Cunningham. Photo: Joachim RodeCandidate

Dean Cooper-Cunningham


"The International Politics of Sex: Visual Activism in Response to Russian State Homophobia".

The thesis

The thesis can be loaned from the Royal Danish Library.

Time and venue

Monday 13 December 2021 from 10:00-13:00 at Centre for Health and Society, Øster Farimagsgade 5, DK-1353 Copenhagen K., in room 2.0.63. Kindly note that the defence will start precisely at 10:00.

The defence will also be available on Zoom. Click here to participate. Passcode: 397496.

Assessment committee

  • Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen (chair)
  • Professor Michael Bosia, Department of Political Science, Saint Michael´s College, Vermont, USA
  • Professor Roland Bleiker, The University of Queensland Brisbaine QLD, Australia


In 2013, the Russian government unanimously passed a law prohibiting the positive promotion of ‘non-traditional’ sexualities and genders. In the aftermath of its passing, the so-called gay propaganda law received substantial international attention, placing the issue of Russian state-directed homophobia firmly on the agenda of many actors from foreign governments and the EU to human rights organisations and the International Olympic Committee. Taking the passing of the gay propaganda law as its starting point, this dissertation investigates how the visual has become a central part of international responses to Russian homophobia. From news reports to photojournalism and memes, images have been a key feature in the representation, constitution, and contestation of Russian state homophobia as a problem of international concern. By bringing queer and visual theory together, the dissertation explores how sex has become geopolitical and a key issue in Russia-West relations.

In the dissertation, I outline a queer political analysis that is grounded in anti-normativity and commits to the ceaseless interrogation of power and I propose a tripartite word-image-body approach to studying the social and political that treats all three as important epistemic foci. To fully understand the complexity of social and political issues like political homophobia, I argue that it is necessary to shift away from looking primarily at practices of official actors and an analysis of words. Especially when some actors resist concentrations of power through means other than words—the visual and the bodily, for example. By including both, this dissertation shows how visual and bodily forms of activism are central practices in queer international activism that do important political work. In this case, the activist interventions use queer joy and delight in abjection as a form of antisocial resistance against heteronormative power structures.