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Judith Butler: Performativity

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D'Jalon Jackson

on 6 February 2015

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Transcript of Judith Butler: Performativity

Gender Performativity
Your Behavior Creates your Gender
Key Aspects
Paradigms and Philosophical Concepts
Works against and within ...
HUMANIST identity

Judith Butler: Theory of gender Performativity
February 26, 1956
American post-structuralist philosopher
Has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics
Received Ph.D. from Yale in 1984 in Philosophy
Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and the Co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley
relies more on linguistics than theatrics
how gender identities are created and unraveled through reiteration within discourse, power relations, historical experiences, cultural practices, and material conditions (Jackson & Mazzei, 2011).
“Gender is
a performance that a prior subject elects to do, but gender is performative in the sense that it contains as an
the very subject it appears to express.” –Butler

In Performativity ...

People DO NOT CHOOSE their gendered identities.
Gender is produced as people REPEAT themselves.
People DO NOT take on roles to act out as in a performance.
People BECOME SUBJECTS through repetition.

NOT a one-size-fits-all identifier
NOT an identity imposed on Cassandra and Sera
Multiple and contradictory meanings
Depends on social, historical, familial, academic contexts

Reiterative and
Citational Practices
“Gender is not passively scripted on the body, and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming history of patriarchy. Gender is what is put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure...” (Butler, 1988, p. 531, “
Performative Acts and Gender Constitution
An unintended product of performativity that emerges from within discourse
A paradox
“If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am
constituted by a social world I never chose.
That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility.” (Butler, p. 3, Undoing Gender)

Back to Cassandra’s teaching and students’ expectations
“The interesting thing for me is I never know [whether students complain about my teaching]
because I’m black or whether it’s because I’m a woman or whether it’s because both
... the double whammy....I find myself questioning whether students would do it to some of my colleagues".

“Understood as citationality, Butler contended that performativity opened the “contingent and fragile possibility” of turning power back on itself by reiterating a norm in such a way as to expose it as an entrenched convention.” (Disch, p. 550, 1999, book review of Butler’s “Excitable Speech”)

“[Relationships] started changing even when I was an undergrad because people that I was really close with during my high school years – well, the relationship changed because it was as if I had to prove that I didn’t think that I was better than they were. It wasn’t because I was doing anything differently. It was their perception of me that was different. So I found myself being like a chameleon because I would try to act like the way that I had always acted when I was around them. And I would talk the way that I had always talked when I was around them, and then when I went back to college, I would fit back in the mold there.”

Ex: Cassandra’s flip-flopping subjectivities
Identity categories as sites of necessary trouble
o Cannot control what is excluded or silenced.

“Being the only AA in a lot of settings, I felt a lot of pressure to fit in because people seemed to want that from me. I was on a lot of committees all over campus because sometimes when I would refuse, they would say, ‘But Cassandra, we need a minority on the committee.’... I have an on mode and an off mode. My off mode is when I’m being myself, and my on mode is when I’m doing what I feel I need to do professionally in order to fit in. But then there are other AA here who might not related to me on the same level of my same experience. Just because we share the same race doesn’t mean we share the same culture. I’m small town rural, southern and Pentecostal ... It’s hard for everybody to fit neatly into that kind of little pocket. ”

Example: Cassandra’s identity as an African American is a site of necessary trouble
Your identity categories attempt to regulate people through
A linguistic act of hailing, or calling an individual that initiates him or her into subjected status and, therefore, into “a certain order of social existence”

In other words ...
“Hey, you! Come fit inside this box of what it means to be _______.

“This is my thirty-ninth year in university teaching, and I really feel like I am such as a misfit for academic culture. Idk how I lasted in the culture because
I don’t fit in neatly with what you would generally think of as being academic
... Even though I am located in [this unit of the university], I was never trying to be an educator. I was trying to be a practitioner in my field.
I fell into being an educator.
So, a lot of the theories and philosophies and so forth that would be of interest to people who are true educators would probably not be of that much interest to me....”

Ex: Cassandra is interpellated into the academy.

Ex: Sera is interpellated by her students’ expectations of good teaching.
“There was a great deal of intimidation, I guess. But, again, I didn’t really chalk it up to being first-generation. I just chalked it up to not being smart. ... You hear people say fake it until you make it, And I feel like I did a lot of that. But I would write it on the board, and students would ask a question. And I would say well, these are the four things. But I couldn’t explain them at all at first for a while....”

“I would be in class, and students would say stuff to me. I mean, I felt like they knew, and looking back now I can say I felt like they knew that I didn’t know a lot of stuff. And so they would play with me a little bit about it."

“Some of the White students felt that I was paying too much attention to the Black students and so they wrote these long, very critical letters of me that accused me of reverse discrimination .... Now there was never a time when I didn’t give the same amount of attention to any White student who wanted it. But it became so huge that it went all the way up through the provost’s office and I found myself spending a lot of time writing letters of rebuttal.”

Ex: Cassandra was interpellated by her students’ expectations and teaching norms at her university.
Ex: Cassandra’s act of writing letters of rebuttal = Resisting conformityProduced agency

Ex: Cassandra ended up combining her passion for service with the expectations of the academy. She wrote a textbook that “has opened all kinds of doors” for her in terms of name recognition and offers to do conferences.
“I’ve become, in some circles, the go-to person for an answer.”

Ex: After two years of feeling out of place at Prairie College, Sera gained an underground following and found her niche.




“fantasy structure”?





What is sexuality?


There’s no set definition for any sexuality. It can only be defined by the sexualities it isn’t.

Not what you ARE, but what you claim to NOT be.

What is sexuality?

Generally seen as based on a default

Females = feminine

Males = masculine

Therefore, drag is seen as a an imitation of the opposite gender

The idea of “gender” itself is completely made up

Female = feminine

Male = masculine

**Heterosexuality is seen as the origin. Other sexualities are derivative from this origin.

What about sexuality?

If it stops being performed, it stops existing, because sexuality is defined by what it DOES instead of what it IS.

What about sexuality?

Where does gender come from?
Where does gender come from ?
retrieved from Chiou,Clark & Maxon

People become (gendered) subjects through repetition.
Gender is NOT Singular Act
Gender = A Simple Matter of Individual Choice
Gender = determined by Nature or Language
Gender = A Repetitive, Reiterative Process through which Norms are Reproduced

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