Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

A different kind of lecture

Katie Randall's picture

The lecture last night was intense and, for me, different from other lectures I've attended at Bryn Mawr. Partly it was the sheer scale of it and the buildup beforehand: while I'm sure there were some audience members only there for a class, there was a collective excitement that you just don't usually feel in an academic setting. The only event I can think of that came close was the lecture by Angela Davis. So first, there was a difference in the audience.

Then there was the difference in the speaker. The biggest difference, and the one I talked about with some friends afterwards, was that Judith Butler was there as an academic and theorist but taking a strong political stance. How often have we seen that? I can tell you how often I've heard it: never. Not once. I've occasionally had a professor take up political issues in the classroom, but not often. And never in a way that tied them so thoroughly to theory. I'd never heard a lecture that was both very academic and intensely political-- they tend to be one or the other.  I'd never seen theory and practice so thoroughly entangled (to borrow Barad's term, which I may or may not thoroughly understand. But it seems right here).

Then there were the ideas themselves. Other people have complained about how hard it was to take notes with hardly any light, but I did it anyway because I knew that otherwise there was no way I'd be able to remember even half of what was brought up. I can even read most of what I wrote.

The main ideas I took away were precarity, precariousness and disposibility. It hit me hard when Butler said-- at the very beginning of the presentation, no less-- that in our society many people are considered disposible. It was both shocking and familiar: something that we all see which is never said straight out.

The ideas of experienced precariousness and collective, unequally distributed precarity also made sense to me immediately. This may not be the way Butler has used/ would use the term, but i thought of precarity as the opposite of privilege. Privilege, a term beloved of feminist and social justice blogs, is basically when you occupy a favored position in society. I have middle class privilege. Precarity (precariousness? I don't know which term fits better here) is when you lack that privilege. But here is is conceived not just as an absense but as an experience in its own right, and a frightening one.