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Gender, Sex, and Performance: an Introduction to Judith Butler

June 23 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm

As a philosopher, Judith Butler is most famous for their book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, a founding text in the field of gender studies. At the same time, Butler’s fame has proved to be a double-edged sword. Celebrated by feminists, queer activists, and left intellectuals for their prescient challenges to the gender binary, Butler has also been excoriated by far-right extremists and decried by trans-exclusionary radical feminists as a traitor to women. How has Butler come to occupy such an outsized role in the public discourse on gender and sexuality? What do we miss when we reduce Butler’s complex oeuvre to mere “gender theory”? And how can Butler’s philosophy guide us as we grapple with the most pressing ethical dilemmas of our time: abortion, the rise of authoritarianism, transgender rights, American imperialism, Zionism, genocide, climate disaster, Covid-19?

This course will follow Butler’s thinking from their first book Subjects of Desire, through Gender Trouble, to their most recent publication, Who’s Afraid of Gender? We will track Butler’s obsession with the subject of politics, starting with their challenge to the sexed subject of feminism and continuing through their critical engagement with questions of universalism, Jewishness and Zionism, free speech, same-sex marriage, public assembly, collective grief, religious fundamentalism, and “gender critical” feminism. This course will serve as an introduction to Butler’s body of work for those who have engaged with Butler’s thinking and those who are new to their work. 

This course is being offered through The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

Instructor: Hannah Leffingwell