Judith Butler's phenomenological re-turn: Performativity, precarity and the politics of the political

Stream: Panel 64 - Political Theory: Butler, Precarious Life and the Politics of Care & Philanthropy
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


A question often posed to Butler is how she moves from a theory of gender performativity to a focus upon precarious lives? Butler’s earlier well known work is concerned with queer theory and the rights of sexual and gender minorities. Her more recent work marks a shift, a phenomemological re-turn, as now she is interested, more generally, in how certain social conditions, or war, create populations that are ungrievable. Her current focus is upon how alliances form between populations and groups deemed disposable and how precarity operates as a mediating term as the basis of alliance between groups who may not have much in common. For Butler, “precarity designates that politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support more than others, and become differentially exposed to injury, violence and death” (2015: 33). One constant over her body of work is that identity politics has failed to provide an understanding of what it means, politically, to live together across differences often in circumstances of unchosen proximity (2015: 27). Butler combines the theoretical frameworks of performativity and precarity to consider how the right to appear provides a basis for a coalitional framework. This provides different ways of thinking about ethics, politics and critical theory more generally. It also provides an opportunity to consider the differential insights of critical and political theory respectively and the political difference this makes to assessments of contemporary times.


Mary Walsh (Presenter), Institute for Governance and Policy, University of Canberra
Associate Professor Mary Walsh teaches politics and political theory in the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra. She is a research fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy at the University of Canberra and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Australian Prime Ministers Centre, Old Parliament House, Canberra, 2015-2016.