Judith Butler

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Judith Butler
JudithButler2013.jpg
Butler in March 2012
Born
Judith Pamela Butler

(1956-02-24) February 24, 1956 (age 63)
Alma mater Yale University
Partner(s) Wendy Brown
Era 20th-/21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School
Institutions University of California, Berkeley
Doctoral advisor Maurice Natanson
Main interests
Notable ideas

Judith Pamela Butler [2] (born 1956) is an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, [3] and literary theory. [4] In 1993, she began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has served, beginning in 1998, as the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. She is also the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School. [5]

Gender studies Interdisciplinary field of study

Gender studies is a field for interdisciplinary study devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes women's studies, men's studies and queer studies. Sometimes, gender studies is offered together with study of sexuality.

Political philosophy sub-discipline of philosophy and political science

Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Contents

Butler is best known for her books Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), in which she challenges conventional notions of gender and develops her theory of gender performativity. This theory has had a major influence on feminist and queer scholarship. [6] Her works are often studied in film studies courses emphasizing gender studies and performativity in discourse.

<i>Gender Trouble</i> Book by Judith Butler

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity is a book by the philosopher Judith Butler, in which the author argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance. The work is influential in feminism, women's studies, and lesbian and gay studies, and has also enjoyed widespread popularity outside of traditional academic circles. Butler's ideas about gender came to be seen as foundational to queer theory and the advancing of dissident sexual practices during the 1990s.

Butler has supported lesbian and gay rights movements and has spoken out on many contemporary political issues. [7] In particular, she is a vocal critic of Zionism, Israeli politics, [8] and its effect on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, emphasizing that Israel does not and should not be taken to represent all Jews or Jewish opinion. [9]

LGBT social movements social movements that advocate for the equalized acceptance of LGBT people in society

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social movements are social movements that advocate for LGBT people in society. Social movements may focus on equal rights, such as the 2000s movement for marriage equality, or they may focus on liberation, as in the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Earlier movements focused on self-help and self-acceptance, such as the homophile movement of the 1950s. Although there is not a primary or an overarching central organization that represents all LGBT people and their interests, numerous LGBT rights organizations are active worldwide. The earliest organizations to support LGBT rights were formed in the 19th century.

Zionism Movement that supports the creation of a Jewish homeland

Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people that espouses the re-establishment of and support for a Jewish state in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel. Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in Central and Eastern Europe as a national revival movement, both in reaction to newer waves of antisemitism and as a response to Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Soon after this, most leaders of the movement associated the main goal with creating the desired state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

Politics in Israel is dominated by Zionist parties. They traditionally fall into three camps, the first two being the largest: Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism (conservative) and Religious Zionism. There are also several non-Zionist Orthodox religious parties, non-Zionist left-wing groups as well as non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Israeli Arab parties.

Early life and education

Judith Butler was born on February 24, 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio, [2] to a family of Hungarian-Jewish and Russian-Jewish descent. [10] Most of her maternal grandmother's family perished in the Holocaust. [11] As a child and teenager, she attended both Hebrew school and special classes on Jewish ethics, where she received her "first training in philosophy". Butler stated in a 2010 interview with Haaretz that she began the ethics classes at the age of 14 and that they were created as a form of punishment by her Hebrew school's Rabbi because she was "too talkative in class". [11] Butler also stated that she was "thrilled" by the idea of these tutorials, and when asked what she wanted to study in these special sessions, she responded with three questions preoccupying her at the time: "Why was Spinoza excommunicated from the synagogue? Could German Idealism be held accountable for Nazism? And how was one to understand existential theology, including the work of Martin Buber?" [12]

Hebrew school can be either (1) the Jewish equivalent of Sunday school – an educational regimen separate from secular education, focusing on topics of Jewish history and learning the Hebrew language, or (2) a primary, secondary or college level educational institution where some or all of the classes are taught in Hebrew.

Jewish ethics Moral philosophy of the Jewish religion or Jewish people

Jewish ethics is the moral philosophy of the Jewish religion or the Jewish people. Serving as a convergence of Judaism and the Western philosophical tradition of ethics, the diverse literature of Jewish ethics's broad range of moral concern classifies it as a type of normative ethics. For two millennia, Jewish thought has focused on the interplay of ethics with the rule of law.

<i>Haaretz</i> Israeli daily newspaper based in Tel Aviv

Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper. It was founded in 1918, making it the longest running newspaper currently in print in Israel, and is now published in both Hebrew and English in the Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International New York Times. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet. In North America, it is published as a weekly newspaper, combining articles from the Friday edition with a roundup from the rest of the week.

Butler attended Bennington College before transferring to Yale University, where she studied philosophy, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1978 and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1984. [13] She spent one academic year at Heidelberg University as a Fulbright Scholar. [14] She taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University before joining University of California, Berkeley, in 1993. [15] In 2002 she held the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. [16] In addition, she joined the department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University as Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the spring semesters of 2012, 2013 and 2014 with the option of remaining as full-time faculty. [17] [18] [19] [20]

Bennington College Liberal arts college

Bennington College is a private liberal arts college in Bennington, Vermont. The college was founded in 1932 to explore new approaches in higher education, including an emphasis on self-directed learning and hands-on experience in the field. Originally a women's college, it became co-educational in 1969. Bennington was the first college to include visual and performing arts as an equal partner in the liberal arts curriculum. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges.

Yale University Private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution. Yale consistently ranks among the top universities in the world.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.

Butler serves on the editorial board or advisory board of several academic journals, including JAC: A Journal of Rhetoric, Culture, and Politics and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. [21] [22]

<i>Signs</i> (journal) academic journal

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society is a peer-reviewed feminist academic journal. It was established in 1975 by Catharine R. Stimpson, and is published quarterly by the University of Chicago Press. Signs publishes essays examining the lives of women, men, and non-binary people around the globe from both historical and contemporary perspectives, as well as theoretical and critical articles addressing processes of gendering, sexualization, and racialization.

Overview of major works

Performative Acts and Gender Constitution (1988)

In the essay "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution", Judith Butler proposes that gender is performative. She draws on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the feminism of Simone de Beauvoir, noting that both thinkers ground their theories in "lived experience" and view the sexual body as a historical idea or situation. [23] Butler distinguishes "between sex, as biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity." [23]

Butler argues that gender is best perceived as performative, which suggests that it has a social audience. For Butler, the "script" of gender performance is effortlessly transmitted generation to generation in the form of socially established "meanings": She states, "gender is not a radical choice ... [nor is it] imposed or inscribed upon the individual". [23] Given the social nature of human beings, most actions are witnessed, reproduced, and internalized and thus take on a performative or theatric quality. According to Butler's theory, gender is essentially a performative repetition of acts associated with the male or female. Currently, the actions appropriate for men and women have been transmitted to produce a social atmosphere that both maintains and legitimizes a seemingly natural gender binary. [23] Consistently with her acceptance of the body as a historical idea, she suggests that our concept of gender is seen as natural or innate because the body "becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time". [23]

Butler argues that the performance of gender itself creates gender. Additionally, she compares the performativity of gender to the performance of the theater. She brings many similarities, including the idea of each individual functioning as an actor of their gender. However, she also brings to light a critical difference between gender performance in reality and theater performances. She explains how the theater is much less threatening and does not produce the same fear that gender performances often encounter because of the fact that there is a clear distinction from reality within the theater.

Butler uses Sigmund Freud's notion of how a person's identity is modeled in terms of the normal. She revises Freud's notion of this concept's applicability to lesbianism, where Freud says that lesbians are modeling their behavior on men, the perceived normal or ideal. She instead says that all gender works in this way of performativity and a representing of an internalized notion of gender norms. [24]

Gender Trouble (1990)

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity was first published in 1990, selling over 100,000 copies internationally, in multiple languages. [25] The book's title alludes to the 1974 John Waters film Female Trouble, which stars the drag queen Divine. [26] Gender Trouble discusses the works of Sigmund Freud, de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. The book has even inspired an intellectual fanzine, Judy! [27]

The crux of Butler's argument in Gender Trouble is that the coherence of the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality—the natural-seeming coherence, for example, of masculine gender and heterosexual desire in male bodies—is culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time. Although the repeated, stylized bodily acts establish the appearance of an essential, ontological "core" gender, Butler understands gender, along with sex and sexuality, to be performative. Butler explicitly challenges biological accounts of binary sex. [28] The performance of gender is not voluntary, in Butler's opinion, and she believes the gendered, sexed, desiring subject must be constructed within what she calls, borrowing from Foucault's Discipline and Punish , "regulative discourses." These, also called "frameworks of intelligibility" or "disciplinary regimes," determine in advance what possibilities of sex, gender, and sexuality are socially permitted to appear as coherent or "natural".[ citation needed ] Regulative discourse includes disciplinary techniques that coerce the stylized actions and thereby maintain the appearance of "core" gender, sex and sexuality. [29]

The supposed obviousness of sex as a natural fact attests to how deeply its production in discourse is concealed. The sexed body, once established as a natural fact, is the alibi for constructions of gender and sexuality, which then purport to be the just-as-natural expressions or consequences of sex. In Butler's account, it is on the basis of the construction of natural binary sex that binary gender and heterosexuality are likewise constructed as natural. [30] Butler claims that without a critique of sex as produced by discourse, the sex/gender distinction as a feminist strategy for contesting constructions of binary asymmetric gender and compulsory heterosexuality will be ineffective. [31]

Butler offers a critique of the terms gender and sex as they have been used by feminists. [32] Butler argues that feminism made a mistake in trying to make "women" a discrete, ahistorical group with common characteristics. Butler writes that this approach reinforces the binary view of gender relations. Butler believes that feminists should not try to define "women" and she also believes that feminists should "focus on providing an account of how power functions and shapes our understandings of womanhood not only in the society at large but also within the feminist movement." [33] Finally, Butler aims to break the supposed links between sex and gender so that gender and desire can be "flexible, free floating and not caused by other stable factors". The idea of identity as free and flexible and gender as a performance, not an essence, is one of the foundations of queer theory.

Imitation and Gender Insubordination (1990)

Judith Butler explores the production of identities such as homosexual and heterosexual and the limiting nature of identity categories. An identity category for her is a result of certain exclusions and concealments, and thus a site of regulation. Butler acknowledges, however, that categorized identities are important for political action at the present time. Butler believes that identity forms through repetition or imitation and is not original. Imitation fosters the illusion of continuity. Heterosexual identity, which is set up as an ideal, requires constant, compulsive repetition if it is to be safeguarded. [34]

Bodies That Matter (1993)

Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" seeks to clear up readings and supposed misreadings of performativity that view the enactment of sex/gender as a daily choice. [35] Butler emphasizes the role of repetition in performativity, making use of Derrida's theory of iterability, which is a form of citationality:

Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that 'performance' is not a singular 'act' or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance. [36]

This concept is linked to Butler's discussion of performativity. Iterability, in its endless undeterminedness as to-be-determinedness, is thus precisely that aspect of performativity that makes the production of the "natural" sexed, gendered, heterosexual subject possible, while also and at the same time opening that subject up to the possibility of its incoherence and contestation.[ jargon ]

Excitable Speech (1997)

In Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, Butler surveys the problems of hate speech and censorship. She argues that censorship is difficult to evaluate, and that in some cases it may be useful or even necessary, while in others it may be worse than tolerance. [37]

Butler argues that hate speech exists retrospectively, only after being declared such by state authorities. In this way, the state reserves for itself the power to define hate speech and, conversely, the limits of acceptable discourse. In this connection, Butler criticizes feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon's argument against pornography for its unquestioning acceptance of the state's power to censor. [38]

Deploying Foucault's argument from the first volume of The History of Sexuality , Butler claims that any attempt at censorship, legal or otherwise, necessarily propagates the very language it seeks to forbid. [39] As Foucault argues, for example, the strict sexual mores of 19th-century Western Europe did nothing but amplify the discourse of sexuality they sought to control. [40] Extending this argument using Derrida and Lacan, Butler claims that censorship is primitive to language, and that the linguistic I is a mere effect of an originary censorship. In this way, Butler questions the possibility of any genuinely oppositional discourse; "If speech depends upon censorship, then the principle that one might seek to oppose is at once the formative principle of oppositional speech". [41]

Undoing Gender (2004)

Undoing Gender collects Butler's reflections on gender, sex, sexuality, psychoanalysis and the medical treatment of intersex people for a more general readership than many of her other books. Butler revisits and refines her notion of performativity and focuses on the question of undoing "restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life".

Butler discusses how gender is performed without one being conscious of it, but says that it does not mean this performativity is "automatic or mechanical". She argues that we have desires that do not originate from our personhood, but rather, from social norms. The writer also debates our notions of "human" and "less-than-human" and how these culturally imposed ideas can keep one from having a "viable life" as the biggest concerns are usually about whether a person will be accepted if his or her desires differ from normality. She states that one may feel the need of being recognized in order to live, but that at the same time, the conditions to be recognized make life "unlivable". The writer proposes an interrogation of such conditions so that people who resist them may have more possibilities of living. [42]

In her discussion of intersex, Butler addresses the case of David Reimer, a person whose sex was medically "reassigned" from male to female after a botched circumcision at eight months of age. Reimer was "made" female by doctors, but later in life identified as "really" male, married and became a stepfather to his wife's three children, and went on to tell his story in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, which he wrote with John Colapinto. Reimer committed suicide in 2004. [43]

Giving an Account of Oneself (2005)

In Giving an Account of Oneself, Butler develops an ethics based on the opacity of the subject to itself; in other words, the limits of self-knowledge. Primarily borrowing from Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Laplanche, Adriana Cavarero and Emmanuel Levinas, Butler develops a theory of the formation of the subject. She theorizes the subject in relation to the social – a community of others and their norms – which is beyond the control of the subject it forms, as precisely the very condition of that subject's formation, the resources by which the subject becomes recognizably human, a grammatical "I", in the first place.

Butler accepts the claim that if the subject is opaque to itself the limitations of its free ethical responsibility and obligations are due to the limits of narrative, presuppositions of language and projection.

You may think that I am in fact telling a story about the prehistory of the subject, one that I have been arguing cannot be told. There are two responses to this objection. (1) That there is no final or adequate narrative reconstruction of the prehistory of the speaking "I" does not mean we cannot narrate it; it only means that at the moment when we narrate we become speculative philosophers or fiction writers. (2) This prehistory has never stopped happening and, as such, is not a prehistory in any chronological sense. It is not done with, over, relegated to a past, which then becomes part of a causal or narrative reconstruction of the self. On the contrary, that prehistory interrupts the story I have to give of myself, makes every account of myself partial and failed, and constitutes, in a way, my failure to be fully accountable for my actions, my final "irresponsibility," one for which I may be forgiven only because I could not do otherwise. This not being able to do otherwise is our common predicament (page 78).

Instead she argues for an ethics based precisely on the limits of self-knowledge as the limits of responsibility itself. Any concept of responsibility which demands the full transparency of the self to itself, an entirely accountable self, necessarily does violence to the opacity which marks the constitution of the self it addresses. The scene of address by which responsibility is enabled is always already a relation between subjects who are variably opaque to themselves and to each other. The ethics that Butler envisions is therefore one in which the responsible self knows the limits of its knowing, recognizes the limits of its capacity to give an account of itself to others, and respects those limits as symptomatically human. To take seriously one's opacity to oneself in ethical deliberation means then to critically interrogate the social world in which one comes to be human in the first place and which remains precisely that which one cannot know about oneself. In this way, Butler locates social and political critique at the core of ethical practice. [44] [45]

Reception

Butler receives the Theodor W. Adorno Award in 2012 Adorno-preis-2012-judith-butler-ffm-287.jpg
Butler receives the Theodor W. Adorno Award in 2012

Butler's work has been influential in feminist and queer theory, cultural studies, and continental philosophy. [46] Yet her contribution to a range of other disciplines—such as psychoanalysis, literary, film, and performance studies as well as visual arts—has also been significant. [4] Her theory of gender performativity as well as her conception of "critically queer" have not only transformed understandings of gender and queer identity in the academic world, but have shaped and mobilized various kinds of political activism, particularly queer activism, across the globe. [46] [47] [48] [49] Butler's work has also entered into contemporary debates on the teaching of gender, gay parenting, and the depathologization of transgender people. [50] Before election to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI wrote several pages challenging Butler's arguments on gender. [51] In several countries, Butler became the symbol of the destruction of traditional gender roles for reactionary movements. This was particularly the case in France during the anti-gay marriage protests. Bruno Perreau has shown that Butler was literally depicted as an "antichrist", both because of her gender and her Jewish identity, the fear of minority politics and critical studies being expressed through fantasies of a corrupted body. [52]

Some academics and political activists maintain that Butler's radical departure from the sex/gender dichotomy and her non-essentialist conception of gender—along with her insistence that power helps form the subject—revolutionized feminist and queer praxis, thought, and studies. [53] Darin Barney of McGill University writes that:

Butler's work on gender, sex, sexuality, queerness, feminism, bodies, political speech and ethics has changed the way scholars all over the world think, talk and write about identity, subjectivity, power and politics. It has also changed the lives of countless people whose bodies, genders, sexualities and desires have made them subject to violence, exclusion and oppression. [54]

Other scholars have been more critical. In 1998, Denis Dutton's journal Philosophy and Literature awarded Butler first prize in its fourth annual "Bad Writing Competition", which set out to "celebrate bad writing from the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles." [55] Her unwitting entry, which ran in a 1997 issue of the scholarly journal Diacritics , ran thus:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power. [55]

Some critics have accused Butler of elitism due to her difficult prose style, while others claim that she reduces gender to "discourse" or promotes a form of gender voluntarism. Susan Bordo, for example, has argued that Butler reduces gender to language and has contended that the body is a major part of gender, in opposition to Butler's conception of gender as performance. [56] A particularly vocal critic has been feminist Martha Nussbaum, who has argued that Butler misreads J. L. Austin's idea of performative utterance, makes erroneous legal claims, forecloses an essential site of resistance by repudiating pre-cultural agency, and provides no normative ethical theory to direct the subversive performances that Butler endorses. [57] Finally, Nancy Fraser's critique of Butler was part of a famous exchange between the two theorists. Fraser has suggested that Butler's focus on performativity distances her from "everyday ways of talking and thinking about ourselves. ... Why should we use such a self-distancing idiom?" [58]

Butler responded to criticisms of her prose in the preface to her 1999 book, Gender Trouble. [59]

More recently, several critics—most prominently, Viviane Namaste [60] —have criticised Judith Butler's Undoing Gender for under-emphasizing the intersectional aspects of gender-based violence. For example, Timothy Laurie notes that Butler's use of phrases like "gender politics" and "gender violence" in relation to assaults on transgender individuals in the United States can "[scour] a landscape filled with class and labour relations, racialised urban stratification, and complex interactions between sexual identity, sexual practices and sex work", and produce instead "a clean surface on which struggles over 'the human' are imagined to play out". [61] Nevertheless, both Namaste and Laurie acknowledge the enduring importance of Butler's critical contributions to the study of gender identities.[ citation needed ]

German feminist Alice Schwarzer speaks of Butler's "radical intellectual games" that would not change how society classifies and treats a woman; thus, by eliminating female and male identity Butler would have abolished the discourse about sexism in the queer community. Schwarzer also accuses Butler of remaining silent about the oppression of women and homosexuals in the Islamic world, while readily exercising her right to same-sex-marriage in the United States; instead, Butler would sweepingly defend Islam, including Islamism, from critics. [62]

Political activism

Much of Butler's early political activism centered around queer and feminist issues, and she served, for a period of time, as the chair of the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [63] . Over the years, she has been particularly active in the gay and lesbian rights, feminist, and anti-war movements. [7] She has also written and spoken out on issues ranging from affirmative action and gay marriage to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay. More recently, she has been active in the Occupy movement and has publicly expressed support for a version of the 2005 BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign against Israel.

On September 7, 2006, Butler participated in a faculty-organized teach-in against the 2006 Lebanon War at the University of California, Berkeley. [64] Another widely publicized moment occurred in June 2010, when Butler refused the Civil Courage Award (Zivilcouragepreis) of the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade in Berlin, Germany at the award ceremony. She cited racist comments on the part of organizers and a general failure of CSD organizations to distance themselves from racism in general and from anti-Muslim excuses for war more specifically. Criticizing the event's commercialism, she went on to name several groups that she commended as stronger opponents of "homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, and militarism". [65]

In October 2011, Butler attended Occupy Wall Street and, in reference to calls for clarification of the protesters' demands, she said:

People have asked, so what are the demands? What are the demands all of these people are making? Either they say there are no demands and that leaves your critics confused, or they say that the demands for social equality and economic justice are impossible demands. And the impossible demands, they say, are just not practical. If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible – that the right to shelter, food and employment are impossible demands, then we demand the impossible. If it is impossible to demand that those who profit from the recession redistribute their wealth and cease their greed, then yes, we demand the impossible. [66]

Achille Mbembe, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and David Theo-Goldberg in 2016 Achille Mbembe, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and David Theo-Goldberg Panel.png
Achille Mbembe, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and David Theo-Goldberg in 2016

She is currently an executive member of FFIPP - Educational Network for Human Rights in Israel/Palestine. [67] She is also a member of the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace. [67]

Adorno Prize affair

When Butler received the 2012 Adorno Prize, the prize committee came under attack from Israel's Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman; the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff; [68] and the German Central Council of Jews. They were upset at Butler's selection because of her remarks about Israel and specifically her "calls for a boycott against Israel". [69] Butler responded saying that "she did not take attacks from German Jewish leaders personally". [70] Rather, she wrote, the attacks are "directed against everyone who is critical against Israel and its current policies". [71]

In a letter to the Mondoweiss website, Butler asserted that she developed strong ethical views on the basis of Jewish philosophical thought and that it is "blatantly untrue, absurd, and painful for anyone to argue that those who formulate a criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating". [67]

Comments on Hamas and Hezbollah

Butler was criticized for statements she had made about Hamas and Hezbollah. She was accused of describing them as "social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left". [72] She was accused of defending "Hezbollah and Hamas as progressive organizations" and supporting their tactics. [73] [74]

Butler responded to these criticisms by stating that her remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah were taken completely out of context and, in so doing, her established views on non-violence were contradicted and misrepresented.

Butler describes the origin of her remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah in the following way:

I was asked by a member of an academic audience a few years ago whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to "the global left" and I replied with two points. My first point was merely descriptive: those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left. My second point was then critical: as with any group on the left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against that group, and one needs to critically evaluate their stand. [67]

Comments on Black Lives Matter


In a January 2015 interview with George Yancy of The New York Times , Butler discussed the Black Lives Matter movement. She said:

What is implied by this statement [Black Lives Matter], a statement that should be obviously true, but apparently is not? If black lives do not matter, then they are not really regarded as lives, since a life is supposed to matter. So what we see is that some lives matter more than others, that some lives matter so much that they need to be protected at all costs, and that other lives matter less, or not at all. And when that becomes the situation, then the lives that do not matter so much, or do not matter at all, can be killed or lost, can be exposed to conditions of destitution, and there is no concern, or even worse, that is regarded as the way it is supposed to be...When people engage in concerted actions across racial lines to build communities based on equality, to defend the rights of those who are disproportionately imperiled to have a chance to live without the fear of dying quite suddenly at the hands of the police. There are many ways to do this, in the street, the office, the home, and in the media. Only through such an ever-growing cross-racial struggle against racism can we begin to achieve a sense of all the lives that really do matter.

The dialogue draws heavily on her 2004 book Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. [75]

Avital Ronell sexual harassment case

On May 11, 2018, Butler led a group of scholars in writing a letter to New York University following the sexual harassment suit filed by a former NYU graduate student against his advisor Avital Ronell. The signatories acknowledged not having had access to the confidential findings of the investigation that followed the Title IX complaint against Ronell. Nonetheless, they accused the complainant of waging a "malicious campaign" against Ronell. The signatories also wrote that the presumed "malicious intention has animated and sustained this legal nightmare" for a highly regarded scholar. "If she were to be terminated or relieved of her duties, the injustice would be widely recognized and opposed." [76] Butler, the chief signatory, invoked her title as President Elect of the Modern Language Association. James J. Marino, a professor at Cleveland State University and a member of the MLA, started a petition to demand Butler's resignation or removal from her post. He argued that "Protesting against one instance of punishment is only a means to the larger end of preserving senior faculty's privilege of impunity. ... [Butler] was standing up for an old, corrupt, and long-standing way of doing business. The time for doing business that way is over. We should never look back." [77] Some three months later, Butler apologized to the MLA for the letter. "I acknowledged that I should not have allowed the MLA affiliation to go forward with my name," she wrote to the Chronicle of Higher Education . "I expressed regret to the MLA officers and staff, and my colleagues accepted my apology. I extend that same apology to MLA members." [78]

Personal life

Butler lives in Berkeley with her partner Wendy Brown and son, Isaac. [79]

Selected honors and awards

Butler has had a visiting appointment at Birkbeck, University of London (2009–). [80]

Publications

All of Butler's books have been translated into numerous languages; Gender Trouble, alone, has been translated into twenty-seven different languages. In addition, she has co-authored and edited over a dozen volumes—the most recent of which is Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (2013), coauthored with Athena Athanasiou. Over the years she has also published many influential essays, interviews, and public presentations. Butler is considered by many as "one of the most influential voices in contemporary political theory," [90] and as the most widely read and influential gender theorist in the world. [91]

The following is a partial list of Butler's publications.

Books

Book chapters

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

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  29. Butler explicitly formulates her theory of performativity in the final pages of Gender Trouble, specifically in the final section of her chapter "Subversive Bodily Acts" entitled "Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions" and elaborates performativity in relation to the question of political agency in her conclusion, "From Parody to Politics." See Butler, Judith (1999) [1990]. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. pp. 171–90. ISBN   978-84-493-2030-9.
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  31. For Butler's problematization of the sex/gender distinction see Butler, Judith (1999) [1990]. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. pp. 9–11, 45–9. ISBN   978-84-493-2030-9.
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Further reading