Judith Butler was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 24, 1956. As a young girl she attended a Hebrew school in her home town which was where she first encountered philosophy. In 1978 she received her BA in philosophy at Yale, and went on to do her PhD there, also in philosophy. In 1984 she received her doctorate and since then has taught at various institutions including Wesleyan, John Hopkins and the University of California, where she currently is the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Comparative literature. In addition, Butler is the chair of the European Graduate School, based in Switzerland.
A renowned post-structuralist philosopher, Butler has made significant contributions to the fields of gender studies, queer theory and political philosophy. In her most famous work, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), she challenges what she believes to be the incorrect assumption of feminism that women constitute a distinct group who share some intrinsic characteristics. For Butler such a view only helps to buttress claims of a binary distinction between the genders. Rather than sex causing gender, which causes desire (to the opposite sex), gender and desire are in fact not linked to any stable factor but are attributable to ‘performance’; we choose and perpetuate our gender roles.
Butler’s views on ‘normative violence’ impact on discourse around violence against women and the War on Terror. For her, norms are capable of disallowing life; Homosexuality, for example, in a certain normative context, makes being gay an ‘unlivable’ or ‘unintelligible’ life. If found outside these normative boundaries then violence to one’s person is legitimised. Unintelligible life is, according to Butler, the discourse used in the War against Terror to legitimise violence against some of humanity, in the name of all of humanity. Beyond highlighting this paradox, the discourse of unintelligible or unlivable life makes such conflict an unending conflict, as Butler claims one cannot bring closure and grieve for a life that was unlivable. Rather, such life is forever suppressed, but never extinguished.
Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? Verso. 2009.
Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. Fordham University Press. 2005.
Butler, Judith and Sara Salih (Editor). The Judith Butler Reader. Wiley-Blackwell. 2004.
Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. Routledge. 2004.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso. 2004.
Butler, Judith and Thomas C. Grey and Reva B. Siegel and Robert C. Post. Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law. Duke University Press. 2002.
Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death. Columbia University Press. 2000.
Butler, Judith and Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. Verso. 2000.
Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection. Stanford University Press. Stanford, 1997.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. Routledge. London, New York, 1993.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge. 1989.
Butler, Judith. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. Columbia University Press. 1987.