Last week I gave a lecture on Performance & Performativity for the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities’ Theories of Knowledge series. Beginning with J.L. Autin’s speech act theory but focusing on arguments drawn from three major texts by Judith Butler – Gender Trouble, Bodies That Matter and Undoing Gender – I tried to unpack the idea that subjectivity and what we understand to be the material body are ‘produced’ through discourse.
In the following Q&A, I gave a few answers that I’m sure were missing both nouns and verbs, so here’s a little clarity and some further detail:
- I think I got into a tangle trying to articulate how and when our choice of vocabulary is significant. On the one hand, I think it’s important to use expansive vocabulary in the pursuit of inclusivity (while making sure that I/you/we are doing more than paying lip service to ideas of equality by using the ‘right words’). On the other hand, I think it can be productive to invoke deliberately narrow, binary terms in order to show up and work through the limitations of the fields of reference that they produce.
- I referred to Gayatri Spivak’s notion of strategic essentialism as the specific deployment of a group identity in pursuit of particular goals; the point that I was trying (but suspect failing) to make is that essentialism can sometimes be strategically invoked by liberal movements with conservatizing effects (e.g. the biologistic language invoked in the defence of gay rights).
- I mentioned the phenomena of pay in jobs traditionally associated with women going up when men enter that same field of work – I’m still searching for the reference, but in the meantime, here’s a study examining how men earn more in professions which are traditionally dominated by women as well as evidence showing when women enter a traditionally male-dominated field, pay goes down. There’s good coverage of the latter study in the New York Times.
- The tactic of examining processes of authentication (rather than attempting to define authenticity) comes from Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall’s article, ‘Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research‘.
- I should also have talked about Sara Ahmed’s critique of the gendered politics of citation.
- I’m making the draft available in support of making the lecture series as accessible as possible; however, it’s currently missing various necessary references – not least to James Loxley’s excellent book on the wider subject – so please don’t cite it [↩]