Gender as Social Temporality: Butler (and Marx)

In: Historical Materialism
Cinzia Arruzza New School for Social Research New York

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This article addresses the notions of gender performativity and temporality in Butler’s early work on gender. The paper is articulated in four steps. First it gives an account of the role and nature of temporality in Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Second, it shows some similarities and connections between the role played by temporality in Butler’s theory of gender performativity and its role in Marx’s analysis of capital. Third, it raises some criticisms of Butler’s understanding of temporality and historicity, focusing in particular on the lack of historicisation of her own categories in both Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter. This deficit is a consequence of the epistemological framework within which she is operating, in particular of her understanding of social practices and relations through the lens of linguistic concepts extrapolated from their theoretical context. The article concludes by referring to Floyd’s and Hennessy’s analyses of the formation of sexual identities as examples of the fruitful historicisation of gender performativity, which also sheds some light on the ‘the abstract character’ of the temporality of gender performativity.

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