Judith Butler

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Judith Butler in 2012

Judith Pamela Butler (born February 24, 1956) is an American philosopher and gender studies scholar whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminism, queer theory, and literary theory.


  • There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.
    • "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity" (1990)
  • If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.
    • "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity" (1990)
  • Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself.
    • "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" in Inside/Out (1991) edited by Diana Fuss
  • Indeed it may be only by risking the incoherence of identity that connection is possible.
    • Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (1993)
  • Perhaps the promise of phallus is always dissatisfying in some way.
    • "The Lesbian Phallus and the Morphological Imaginary" (1993), later published in The Judith Butler Reader (2004) edited by Sarah Salih with Judith Butler
  • The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
    • "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time" (1997), which received first place in the Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest
  • There was a brief moment after 9/11 when Colin Powell said “we should not rush to satisfy the desire for revenge.” It was a great moment, an extraordinary moment, because what he was actually asking people to do was to stay with a sense of grief, mournfulness, and vulnerability.
    • Interview with Judith Butler. in: The Believer. May 2003
  • I am much more open about categories of gender, and my feminism has been about women's safety from violence, increased literacy, decreased poverty and more equality. I was never against the category of men.
    • "As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up" in Haaretz. February 24, 2010
  • Masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed.[1]

The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (2020)[edit]

The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso Books. 4 February 2020. ISBN 978-1-78873-276-5. 


  • When the world presents as a force field of violence, the task of nonviolence is to find ways of living and acting in that world such that violence is checked or ameliorated, or its direction turned, precisely at moments when it seems to saturate that world and offer no way out.
    • p. 10
  • Lives matter in the sense that they assume physical form within the sphere of appearance; lives matter because they are to be valued equally.
    • p. 12
  • Violence as a tool is already operating in the world before anyone takes it up: that fact alone neither justifies nor discounts the use of the tool. What seems most important, however, is that the tool is already part of a practice, presupposing a world conducive to its use; that the use of the tool builds or rebuilds a specific kind of world, activating a sedimented legacy of use. When any of us commit acts of violence, we are, in and through those acts, building a more violent world.
    • p. 19
  • Quite apart from assiduous efforts to restrict the use of violence as means rather than an end, the actualization of violence as a means can inadvertently become its own end, producing new violence, producing violence anew, reiterating the license, and licensing further violence. Violence does not exhaust itself in the realization of a just end; rather, it renews itself in directions that exceed both deliberate intention and instrumental schemes. In other words, by acting as if the use of violence can be a means to achieve a nonviolent end, one imagines that the practice of violence does not in the act posit violence as its own end. The technē is undermined by the praxis, and the use of violence only makes the world into a more violent place, by bringing more violence into the world.
    • p. 20
  • Nonviolence has now to be understood less as a moral position adopted by individuals in relation to a field of possible action than as a social and political practice undertaken in concert, culminating in a form of resistance to systemic forms of destruction coupled with a commitment to world building that honors global interdependency of the kind that embodies ideals of economic, social, and political freedom and equality.
    • p. 20
  • Nonviolence does not necessarily emerge from a pacific or calm part of the soul. Very often it is an expression of rage, indignation, and aggression.
    • p. 21
  • Nonviolent forms of resistance can and must be aggressively pursued. A practice of aggressive nonviolence is, therefore, not a contradiction in terms. Mahatma Gandhi insisted that satyagraha, or “soul force,” his name for a practice and politics of nonviolence, is a nonviolent force, one that consists at once of an “insistence on truth … that arms the votary with matchless power.” To understand this force or strength, there can be no simple reduction to physical strength. At the same time, “soul force” takes an embodied form. The practice of “going limp” before political power is, on the one hand, a passive posture, and is thought to belong to the tradition of passive resistance; at the same time, it is a deliberate way of exposing the body to police power, of entering the field of violence, and of exercising an adamant and embodied form of political agency. It requires suffering, yes, but for the purposes of transforming both oneself and social reality.
    • pp. 21-22
  • Nonviolence is an ideal that cannot always be fully honored in the practice. To the degree that those who practice nonviolent resistance put their body in the way of an external power, they make physical contact, presenting a force against force in the process. Nonviolence does not imply the absence of force or of aggression. It is, as it were, an ethical stylization of embodiment, replete with gestures and modes of non-action, ways of becoming an obstacle, of using the solidity of the body and its proprioceptive object field to block or derail a further exercise of violence.
    • p. 22
  • There is no practice of nonviolence that does not negotiate fundamental ethical and political ambiguities, which means that “nonviolence” is not an absolute principle, but the name of an ongoing struggle.
    • p. 23
  • Nonviolence is less a failure of action than a physical assertion of the claims of life, a living assertion, a claim that is made by speech, gesture, and action, through networks, encampments, and assemblies; all of these seek to recast the living as worthy of value, as potentially grievable, precisely under conditions in which they are either erased from view or cast into irreversible forms of precarity. When the precarious expose their living status to those powers that threaten their very lives, they engage a form of persistence that holds the potential to defeat one of the guiding aims of violent power—namely, to cast those on the margins as dispensable, to push them beyond the margins into the zone of non-being, to use Fanon’s phrase. When nonviolent movements work within the ideals of radical egalitarianism, it is the equal claim to a livable and grievable life that serves as a guiding social ideal, one that is fundamental to an ethics and politics of nonviolence that moves beyond the legacy of individualism. It opens up a new consideration of social freedom as defined in part by our constitutive interdependency. An egalitarian imaginary is required for such a struggle—one that reckons with the potential for destruction in every living bond. Violence against the other is, in this sense, violence against oneself, something that becomes clear when we recognize that violence assaults the living interdependency that is, or should be, our social world.
    • pp. 24-25

Chapter One[edit]

  • Nonviolence is perhaps best described as a practice of resistance that becomes possible, if not mandatory, precisely at the moment when doing violence seems most justified and obvious. In this way, it can be understood as a practice that not only stops a violent act, or a violent process, but requires a form of sustained action, sometimes aggressively pursued. So, one suggestion I will make is that we can think of nonviolence not simply as the absence of violence, or as the act of refraining from committing violence, but as a sustained commitment, even a way of rerouting aggression for the purposes of affirming ideals of equality and freedom.
    • p. 27
  • Nonviolence does not make sense without a commitment to equality. The reason why nonviolence requires a commitment to equality can best be understood by considering that in this world some lives are more clearly valued than others, and that this inequality implies that certain lives will be more tenaciously defended than others. If one opposes the violence done to human lives—or, indeed, to other living beings—this presumes that it is because those lives are valuable. Our opposition affirms those lives as valuable. If they were to be lost as a result of violence, that loss would be registered as a loss only because those lives were affirmed as having a living value, and that, in turn, means we regard those lives as worthy of grief.
    • p. 28
  • If nonviolence is to make sense as an ethical and political position, it cannot simply repress aggression or do away with its reality; rather, nonviolence emerges as a meaningful concept precisely when destruction is most likely or seems most certain.
    • p. 39
  • When the world fails us, when we ourselves become worldless in the social sense, the body suffers and shows its precarity; that mode of demonstrating precarity is itself, or carries with it, a political demand and even an expression of outrage. To be a body differentially exposed to harm or to death is precisely to exhibit a form of precarity, but also to suffer a form of inequality that is unjust. So, the situation of many populations who are increasingly subject to unlivable precarity raises for us the question of global obligations. If we ask why any of us should care about those who suffer at a distance from us, the answer is not to be found in paternalistic justifications, but in the fact that we inhabit the world together in relations of interdependency. Our fates are, as it were, given over to one another.
    • p. 50
  • Nonviolence is not an absolute principle, but an open-ended struggle with violence and its countervailing forces.
    • p. 56
  • One might expect that a consideration of grievability pertains only to those who are dead, but my contention is that grievability is already operative in life, and that it is a characteristic attributed to living creatures, marking their value within a differential scheme of values and bearing directly on the question of whether or not they are treated equally and in a just way. To be grievable is to be interpellated in such a way that you know your life matters; that the loss of your life would matter; that your body is treated as one that should be able to live and thrive, whose precarity should be minimized, for which provisions for flourishing should be available. The presumption of equal grievability would be not only a conviction or attitude with which another person greets you, but a principle that organizes the social organization of health, food, shelter, employment, sexual life, and civic life.
    • p. 59
  • One reason an egalitarian approach to the value of life is important is that it draws from ideals of radical democracy at the same time that it enters into ethical considerations about how best to practice nonviolence. The institutional life of violence will not be brought down by a prohibition, but only by a counter-institutional ethos and practice.
    • p. 61
  • The ethical stand of nonviolence has to be linked to a commitment to radical equality. And more specifically, the practice of nonviolence requires an opposition to biopolitical forms of racism and war logics that regularly distinguish lives worth safeguarding from those that are not—populations conceived as collateral damage, or as obstructions to policy and military aims.
    • p. 62
  • The ethical and political practice of nonviolence can rely neither exclusively on the dyadic encounter, nor on the bolstering of a prohibition; it requires a political opposition to the biopolitical forms of racism and war logics that rely on phantasmagoric inversions that occlude the binding and interdependent character of the social bond. It requires, as well, an account of why, and under what conditions, the frameworks for understanding violence and nonviolence, or violence and self-defense, seem to invert into one another, causing confusion about how best to pin down those terms.
    • p. 62
  • The state monopolizes violence by calling its critics “violent”. [...] Hence, we should be wary about those who claim that violence is necessary to curb or check violence; those who praise the forces of law, including the police and the prisons, as the final arbiters. To oppose violence is to understand that violence does not always take the form of the blow.
    • p. 63
  • We must fight those who are committed to destruction, without replicating their destructiveness. Understanding how to fight in this way is the task and the bind of a nonviolent ethics and politics.
    • p. 64
  • We do not have to love one another to be obligated to build a world in which all lives are sustainable. The right to persist can only be understood as a social right, as the subjective instance of a social and global obligation we bear toward one another.
    • p. 64
  • To subdue destruction is one of the most important affirmations of which we are capable in this world. It is the affirmation of this life, bound up with yours, and with the realm of the living: an affirmation caught up with a potential for destruction and its countervailing force.
    • p. 65

Chapter Two[edit]

  • To say that a life is grievable is to claim that a life, even before it is lost, is, or will be, worthy of being grieved on the occasion of its loss; the life has value in relation to mortality. One treats a person differently if one brings the sense of the grievability of the other to one’s ethical bearing toward the other. If an other’s loss would register as a loss, would be marked and mourned, and if the prospect of loss is feared, and precautions are thus taken to safeguard that life from harm or destruction, then our very ability to value and safeguard a life depends upon an ongoing sense of its grievability—the conjectured future of a life as an indefinite potential that would be mourned were it cut short or lost.
    • p. 75
  • For consequentialists, of course, the imperative to imagine the consequences of living in a world in which everyone would act as you choose to act leads to the conclusion that some practices are utterly untenable, not because they are irrational, but because they inflict consequential damage that is unwanted. In both cases, I would suggest, a potential action is figured as hypothetically reciprocal: one’s own act comes back in the imagined form of another’s act; another might act on me as I would act on the other, and the consequences are unacceptable because of those damaging consequences.
    • p. 78
  • Guilt has to be understood not only as a way of checking one’s own destructiveness, but as a mechanism for safeguarding the life of the other, one that emerges from our own need and dependency, from a sense that this life is not a life without another life. Indeed, when it turns into a safeguarding action, I am not sure it should still be called “guilt.” If we do still use that term, we could conclude that “guilt” is strangely generative or that its productive form is reparation.
    • p. 93
  • Preserving seeks to secure the life that already is; safeguarding secures and reproduces the conditions of becoming, of living, of futurity, where the content of that life, that living, can be neither prescribed nor predicted, and where self-determination emerges as a potential.
    • p. 94

Chapter Three[edit]

  • We are not yet speaking about equality if we have not yet spoken about equal grievability, or the equal attribution of grievability. Grievability is a defining feature of equality. Those whose grievability is not assumed are those who suffer inequality—unequal value.
    • p. 108
  • To affirm equality is to affirm a cohabitation defined in part by an interdependency that takes the edge off the individual boundaries of the body, or that works that edge for its social and political potential.
    • p. 148
  • It is precisely because we can destroy that we are under an obligation to know why we ought not to do it, and to summon those countervailing powers that curb our destructive capacity. Nonviolence becomes an ethical obligation by which we are bound precisely because we are bound to one another; it may well be an obligation against which we rail, in which ambivalent swings of the psyche make themselves known, but the obligation to preserve the social bond can be resolved upon without precisely resolving that ambivalence. The obligation not to destroy each other emerges from, and reflects, the vexed social form of our lives, and it leads us to reconsider whether self-preservation is not linked to preserving the lives of others.
    • p. 148

Chapter Four[edit]

  • Although it is commonly supposed that war making is the specific activity of nations, the blind rage that motivates war destroys the very social bonds that make nations possible. Of course, it can fortify the nationalism of a nation, producing a provisional coherence bolstered by war and enmity, but it also erodes the social relations that make politics possible. The power of destruction unleashed by war breaks social ties and produces anger, revenge, and distrust (“embitterment”) such that it becomes unclear whether reparation is possible, undermining not only those relations that may have been built in the past, but also the future possibility of peaceful coexistence.
    • p. 154
  • Whatever the explicit strategic or political aims of a war may be, they prove to be weak in comparison with its aims of destruction; what war destroys first are the very restrictions imposed on destructive license. If we can rightly speak about the unstated “aim” of war, it is neither primarily to alter the political landscape nor to establish a new political order, but rather to destroy the social basis of politics itself.
    • p. 154

Quotes about Judith Butler[edit]

  • Arguing that feminists could no longer seek recourse to an unproblematized women's "experience," Judith Butler has proposed reconceiving the category of women as "permanently open, permanently contested, permanently contingent, in order not to foreclose in advance future claims for inclusion." In a similar vein, it is my contention that "Latino," like the category "women," should be reconceived as a site of permanent political contestation.
    • Cristina Beltrán The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity (2010)

See also[edit]

Social and political philosophers
Classic AristotleMarcus AureliusChanakyaCiceroConfuciusMozi LaoziMenciusMoziPlatoPlutarchPolybiusSeneca the YoungerSocratesSun TzuThucydidesXenophonXun Zi
Conservative de BenoistBolingbrokeBrandesBurkeBurnhamCarlyleChestertonCortésDávilaEvolaFichteFilmerGaltonGentileHegelHeideggerHobbesHoppede JouvenelKirkvon Kuehnelt-LeddihnLandMacIntyrede MaistreMansfieldMenckenMoscaNietzscheOrtegaPagliaRothbardSantayanaSchmittScrutonSloterdijkSpencerSpenglerStraussTocqueville • VicoVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Liberal ArendtAronBastiatBeccariaBenthamBerlinBoétieCamusCondorcetConstantDworkinEmersonErasmusFranklinFukuyamaHayekJeffersonKantLockeMachiavelliMadisonMaineMillMiltonMisesMontaigneMontesquieuNozickOrtegaPopperRandRawlsRothbardSadeSchillerSimmelSmithSpencerSpinozade StaëlStirnerThoreauTocquevilleTuckerVoltaireWeberWollstonecraft
Religious al-GhazaliAmbedkarAugustine of HippoAquinasAugustineAurobindoCalvinDanteDayanandaDostoyevskyEliadeGandhiGirardGregoryGuénonJesusJohn of SalisburyJungKierkegaardKołakowskiLewisLutherMaimonidesMalebrancheMaritainMoreMuhammadMüntzerNiebuhrOckhamOrigenPhiloPizanQutbRadhakrishnanShariatiSolzhenitsynTaylorTeilhard de ChardinTertullianTolstoyVivekanandaWeil
Socialist AdornoAflaqAgambenBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBernsteinButlerChomskyde BeauvoirDebordDeleuzeDeweyDu BoisEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFrommGodwinGoldmanGramsciHabermasKropotkinLeninLondonLuxemburgMaoMarcuseMarxMazziniNegriOwenPaine RortyRousseauRussellSaint-SimonSartreSkinnerSorelTrotskyWalzerXiaopingŽižek

External links[edit]

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  1. Anouta de Groot (2017-09-04). 'Gender is een performance' (in nl). Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.