…the right to have rights predates and precedes any political institution that might codify or seek to guarantee that right…
— Judith Butler
Philosopher, activist, and author of gender performativity theory Judith Butler envisages new types of public assembly that have emerged over recent decades as an unprecedented form of political protest.
Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly is based on a lecture course Butler read at Bryn Mawr College in 2011 and elucidates many concepts of her gender theory. Building on the methodology of her earlier works, including Gender Trouble (1990), Bodies That Matter (1993) and Frames of War (2009), and developing concepts of performativity gender and power introduced by Hannah Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, Deleuze, and Guattari, Butler analyzes the phenomenon of spontaneous street assembly, which became the key form of protest in the twenty-first century.
Butler calls such gatherings alliances. Whether they assemble to defend the right to education, protest against war or racism, show their solidarity with the LGBT community, refugees or migrants—or to start a revolution—these movements have a number or common traits: they are spontaneous, heterogeneous, largely created by bodies, and silent. In other words, people who represent different social groups spontaneously get together—often without clear demands— and present their bodies instead of verbal performativity (Occupy being one of the obvious examples).
Not only an outstanding thinker but also a dedicated human rights activist, Butler reminds the reader that still today "not everyone can take for granted the power to walk on the street or into a bar without harassment" and neoliberalist capitalism pushes more and more people beyond the line of livability. Only through creating alliances can precariat create a space to emerge—to make the transition from the private to the political and resist the current norms and state of affairs.
"Bodies that assemble together «speak» even when they are silent," Butler claims. Passive bodies become agents of inclusion and performativity. Going far beyond questions of gender, in this book the theorist looks into the precariat’s struggle to be seen, heard and recognised, and explains why this struggle is important not only for minorities but for the society as a whole.
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