Power Trouble: Performativity as Critical Theory

Constellations 5 (4):456-471 (1998)
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Although Judith Butler’s theory of the performativity of gender has been highly influential in feminist theory, queer theory, cultural studies, and some areas of philosophy, it has yet to receive its due from critical social theorists. This oversight is especially problematic given the crucial insights into the study of power – a central concept for critical social theory – that can be gleaned from Butler’s work. Her analysis is somewhat unique among discussions of power in its attempt to theorize simultaneously both the features of cultural domination in contemporary societies and the possibilities of resistance to and subversion of such domination. Although I will maintain here that this attempt is not entirely successful, I nevertheless argue that Butler’s account makes crucial contributions to a feminist critical theory of power; as a result, it merits much more serious attention from critical theorists.



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Amy Allen
Pennsylvania State University

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