Judith Butler (born on 24 February
1956) is an
American post-structuralist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of
feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is best known as
a theorist of gender, identity, and power.
Butler was born in Cleveland,
Ohio to a family of Hungarian and Russian ancestry. Her mother was raised in Orthodox
Judaism. 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
began the ethics classes at the age of 14; they were created as a form of
punishment by her Hebrew school's Rabbi because she was "too talkative in class,"
"talk[ed] back," and was "not well behaved." Butler also stated that
she was "thrilled" by the ethics classes and chose to focus on Martin Buber
best known for his philosophy of dialogue). She also
encountered the writings of Kant, Hegel, and Spinoza during these special sessions.
studied philosophy at Yale University, receiving her B.A. in 1978 and
her Ph.D. in 1984. She taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University before joining
U.C. Berkeley in 1993. She is currently a Maxine Elliot Professor in the
Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University
of California, Berkeley.
Her most influential book to
date, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990),
makes the revolutionary argument that neither gender nor sex is a
natural or given category of human identity.
“Rather than being a fixed
attribute in a person, gender should be seen as a fluid variable which shifts
and changes in different contexts and at different times.
“Sexual identity is performative: There
is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender… identity is performatively
constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its
results.” In other words, gender is a performance; it's what you do at
particular times, rather than a universal who you are. It
is a "doing" rather
than a "being". It is how you express your identity in word,
action, dress, and manner. Gender is real only to the extent that it is
Gender, according to Butler, is by no means
tied to material bodily facts but is solely and completely a social
construction, a fiction, one that, therefore, is open to change and
Gender Trouble critically discusses the works of Simone de Beauvoir (who said, in her famous
book The Second Sex, that "One is
not born a woman, but becomes one"). Gender Trouble also critically
discusses, among others, the works of Sigmund Freud,
Derrida, and, most significantly, Michel
Other books: Butler is also the author
of Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (Routledge,
1993), The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection (Stanford University
Press, 1997), Excitable Speech (Routledge, 1997), Antigone's Claim: Kinship
Between Life and Death (Columbia University Press, 2000), Hegemony,
Contingency, Universality, with Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek, (Verso Press,
2000). In 2004, she published Precarious Life: Powers of Violence and Mourning
with Verso Press which considered questions of war, representation, and ethics.
That same year, The Judith Butler Reader appeared, edited by Sara Salih, with
Blackwell Publishers. In 2004, collection of her essays on gender and
sexuality, Undoing Gender, appeared with Routledge. Her most recent book,
Giving an Account of Oneself, appeared with Fordham University Press (2005) and
considers the relation between subject formation and ethical obligation,
situating ethics in relation to critique and social theory. She is currently
working on essays pertaining to Jewish Philosophy, focusing on pre- and
post-Zionist criticisms of state violence, under contract with Columbia
University Press. She is also working on a set of essays on current wars,
focusing on the relation between violence, non-violence, sexual politics and
allied forms of resistance. She hopes to write a small book on Kafka's parables
in the future. She continues to write on contemporary politics, cultural and
literary theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminism, and sexual politics.
Judith Butler has been a key
theorist for advancing the concerns of poststructural feminism in
Many scholars have praised Butler's work. She has been referred to as
"one of the superstars of '90s
academia," "the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States,"
"the queer theorist par excellence," and "the most brilliantly
eclectic theorist of sexuality in recent years." In addition, Lois McNay
argues that, "Butler's
work has influenced feminist understandings of gender identity (1999:
175)." Others, such as Susan A. Speer and Jonathan
Potter claim that her research has given new insight in several
areas, especially in the concept of heterosexism.
However, although Speer and Potter find Butler’s
work useful in this respect, they find her work too abstracted to be usefully
applied to “real-life situations.”
Commentary on style
In 1998, Denis Dutton's journal Philosophy and
Literature "awarded" Butler
"First Prize" in its "Bad Writing Competition," which claims to "celebrate bad writing
from the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and
articles." Dutton discontinued this "award" after being heavily
criticized for its hostile spirit. Butler responded to Dutton's criticism, arguing
that writing clearly can make the author too reliant on common sense and as
such make language lose its potential to "shape the world" and shake
up the status quo. Stephen K. Roney responded to Butler saying that “many great thinkers have
been clear and lucid in their writing [...] Is Butler claiming to be deeper
than all of them?”
Post-structural and postmodern
Post-structural feminism, also
referred to as French feminism, uses the insights of various epistemological
movements, including psychoanalysis, linguistics, political theory (Marxist and
theory), race theory, literary theory, and other intellectual currents for
Many post-structural feminists maintain that difference is one of the most
powerful tools that females possess in their struggle with patriarchal
domination, and that to equate the feminist movement only with equality is to
deny women a plethora of options because equality is still defined from the
masculine or patriarchal perspective.
Postmodern feminism is an approach to feminist
theory that incorporates postmodern and post-structuralist theory. The largest
departure from other branches of feminism is the argument that gender is constructed through language.
The most notable proponent of this argument is Judith Butler.
In her 1990 book, Gender Trouble, she draws on and critiques the
work of Simone de Beauvoir, Michel
Foucault and Jacques Lacan. Butler criticizes the distinction drawn by
previous feminisms between biological sex and socially constructed gender. She says that this does
not allow for a sufficient criticism of essentialism.
"woman" is a debatable category, complicated by class, ethnicity,
sexuality, and other facets of identity. She states that gender is performative. This argument leads
to the conclusion that there is no single cause for women's subordination and
no single approach towards dealing with the issue.
Performativity is a concept that is related to speech act
theory, to the pragmatics of language, and to the work of J. L. Austin.
It accounts for situations where a proposition may constitute or instantiate
the object to which it is meant to refer, as in so-called "performative utterances".
Other uses of the notion of
performativity in the social sciences include the daily behavior (or
performance) of individuals based on social norms or habits. Philosopher and
feminist theorist Judith Butler has used the concept of
performativity in her analysis of gender development, as well as in her analysis of political
Books by Judith Butler (Google.com)
Butler - Social
Science - 1999 - 221 pages
Since its publication in 1990, Gender Trouble has become
one of the key works of contemporary feminist theory, and an essential work
for anyone interested in the study of gender, queer theory, or the politics
of sexuality in culture.
Butler - Philosophy
- 1993 - 288 pages
This book will be essential reading in feminism, cultural
studies, philosophy and political theory.
Butler - Literary
Criticism - 2000 - 103 pages
The book relates the courageous deeds of Antigone to the
claims made by those whose relations are still not honored as those of proper
Judith Butler - Language Arts & Disciplines -
1997 - 185 pages
The book suggests that although language is a kind of
performance which has the power to produce political effects and injuries, it
is best understood as a scene of injury rather than its cause.
Butler - Literary
Criticism - 2004 - 273 pages
In this work, the critique of gender norms is clearly
situated within the framework of human persistence and survival.
Butler, Sara Salih
Science - 2004 - 374 pages
"The Judith Butler Reader" is a collaborative
effort by Sara Salih and Judith Butler to bring together writings that span Butler's impressive
career and trace her intellectual history.
Butler - Philosophy
- 2005 - 149 pages
In this invaluable book, Judith Butler offers a
provocative outline for a new ethical practice- one responsive to the need for
critical autonomy and grounded in a new sense of the human subject. Butler states that we can know ourselves only
incompletely, and only in relation to a broader social world that has always
preceded us and already shaped us in ways we cannot grasp.
Butler - Philosophy
- 1999 - 268 pages
This now classic work by one of the most important philosophers
and critics of our time charts the trajectory of desire and its genesis.
Thomas - Literary
Criticism - 2000 - 292 pages
"For several years," write the editors of What's
Left of Theory, "a debate on the politics of theory has been conducted
energetically within literary studies.”
Butler - Political
Science - 2004 - 168 pages
This profound appraisal of post-9/11 America
considers the conditions of heightened vulnerability and aggression that
followed from the attack on the US, and US retaliation. Judith Butler critiques the
use of violence that has emerged as a response to loss, and argues
that the dislocation of first-world privilege offers instead a chance to
imagine a world in which that violence might be minimized and in which
interdependency becomes acknowledged as the basis for a global political
Butler - Philosophy
- 1997 - 218 pages
The figure of a psyche that "turns against
itself" is crucial to this study, and offers an alternative to
describing power as “internalized.”
theorize the political
Wallach Scott - Social
Science - 1992 - 485 pages
Theorize the Political addresses a wide range of feminist concerns, including
reproductive freedom, anti-discrimination laws, and rape.
Story of the young man who was killed.
Berkeley Teach-In Against the War against Lebanon
“I understood that life was transient and diasporic, And so
to be treasured
That life was extinguishable and therefore precious, and to
for Education” by Dimitriadis & Kamberelis