Judith Butler


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 (Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue). She also encountered the writings of Kant, Hegel, and Spinoza during these special sessions.

Butler 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 performed.

·   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 contestation.


·   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, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and, most significantly, Michel Foucault.


·   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 education.


·   Reception

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?”


Additional Information:

·   Post-structural and postmodern feminism

Post-structural feminism, also referred to as French feminism, uses the insights of various epistemological movements, including psychoanalysis, linguistics, political theory (Marxist and post-Marxist theory), race theory, literary theory, and other intellectual currents for feminist concerns. 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. For Butler "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 speech.


Ø        Some Books by Judith Butler (Google.com)



Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity, Part 1

Judith 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.



Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of "sex"

Judith Butler - Philosophy - 1993 - 288 pages

This book will be essential reading in feminism, cultural studies, philosophy and political theory.




Antigone's claim: kinship between life & death

Judith 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 kinship ...



Excitable speech: a politics of the performative

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.




Undoing gender

Judith 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.



The Judith Butler reader

Judith Butler, Sara Salih - Social 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.




Giving an account of oneself

Judith 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.


Subjects of desire: Hegelian reflections in twentieth-century France

Judith 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.




What's left of theory?: new work on the politics of literary theory

Judith Butler, John Guillory, Kendall 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.”



Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence

Judith 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 community.


The psychic life of power: theories in subjection

Judith 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.”


Feminists theorize the political
Judith Butler, Joan Wallach Scott - Social Science - 1992 - 485 pages
Feminists Theorize the Political addresses a wide range of feminist concerns, including reproductive freedom, anti-discrimination laws, and rape.


Ø      Videos:

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLnv322X4tY Story of the young man who was killed.

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q50nQUGiI3s&feature=related (About Butler- 6 parts)

- http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1239949151693820357# 

Berkeley Teach-In Against the War against Lebanon -Judith Butler

“I understood that life was transient and diasporic, And so to be treasured

That life was extinguishable and therefore precious, and to be guarded…”


Ø       Sources:

o        “Theory for Education” by Dimitriadis & Kamberelis

o        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler

o        http://rhetoric.berkeley.edu/faculty_bios/judith_butler.html

o        http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm

o        http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/theory/genderandsex/modules/butlergendersex.html

o        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

o        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performativity

o        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Buber

o        Google Books