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Productive Activism

venn diagram's picture

I was very pleasantly surprised by Judith Butler’s lecture last night. Going into it I was very apprehensive, I knew that the lectures were supposed to reflect her more recent dedication to activism, a change I appreciate, but I was nervous that her style of writing (and by extension her style of speech) would alienate a large potential audience and limit the reach of her ideas. In general, I do not believe in a necessary separation between scholarly work and political ideology. I am in favor of scholars who ground their work in activism and/or the pragmatic rather than the simply theoretical. I was very encouraged that Butler was able to do this while maintaining a rigorous and sophisticated academic platform--while still being fairly comprehensible and accessible. The academic content of her lecture did not obscure her point but rather was critically important  as the thread that ties her diverse interests together. This emphasis separated it from other activist or political agendas that I have most often been exposed to.

I particularly liked her critique of political agendas that are not self-critical about what rights they fight for. This point was touched upon during the lecture but was most clearly expressed during response to the question about gay marriage/gays in the military and adoption. I particularly liked her answer to the audience question because it was “less radical” than I initially expected. She supports the extension of any and all rights to individuals who are currently excluded on a basis of sexual orientation. I find this a more productive standpoint than those who reject entirely the gay rights movements fights for these rights in favor of a totalitarian critique of the institutions of marriage/military in the first place. Maybe this is just a reflection of my anti-utopian/pro-pragmatic approach to activism, but Butler’s response resonated with me. I find it disadvantageous to divide the gay rights movements (similarly to our in-class conversation about issues that could divide the reproductive rights movement) but that is not to say that there should not be a critique of the current privileging of issues that only concern those with citizenship, social capitol and/or that support damaging nationalism and militarism.