Justifying subversion: Why Nussbaum got (the better interpretation of) Butler wrong

Deconstructive and poststructuralist theories are commonly accused of rejecting all principles of justice and therefore “collaborating with evil.” A canonical example is Martha Nussbaum’s “The Professor of Parody” on the work of Judith Butler. The merits of Nussbaum’s argument and of the “common critique” turn on choosing between two alternative interpretations of Butler’s corpus and of poststructuralism in general. First, assumed in Nussbaum’s critique, is “universal poststructuralism.” Second is “contextual poststructuralism,” which is not susceptible to the common critique. According to the latter and better reading of Butler, subversion and deconstruction take place within a background comprising relatively stable sets of norms, structures of meaning, practices and values. A background that is a necessary enabling condition of deconstructing and performing subversion or parody, and which may include moral norms and principles. Moreover, Nussbaum’s critique may be incommensurable with Butler’s project. Finally, ascribing Butler’s theory the general proposition of rejecting all norms and moral principles ignores the temporal and particularistic nature of Butler’s deconstructive agenda.
Keywords feminist political theory  poststructuralism  deconstruction  Judith Butler  gender
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