BISR Judith Butler's Gender Trouble

Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Theory, Sexuality, and Subversion

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Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Theory, Sexuality, and Subversion
March 3, 2020 6:30 PM
March 3, 2020 9:30 PM
$315 for four-week course (see description)
January 20, 2020
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NY, United States
BISR Judith Butler's Gender Trouble


The Bureau is excited to partner again with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research to bring you:
Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Theory, Sexuality, and Subversion
Instructor: Paige Sweet
1990 saw the publication of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, a text that has become required reading for anyone interested in feminist theory, critical appraisals of gender, and the burgeoning field of queer theory. Central to Butler’s theory is the concept of performativity as a way to describe how we become gendered subjects, that is, how we come to enact gender in recognizable ways. The text is also well known for its account of how certain kinds of performative (gendered) practices—like drag—might become subversive; or how, as Butler says, it might be possible “to open up the field of possibility for gender.” Gender Trouble has proved surprisingly controversial, notably for its difficult prose, but also for its treatment of the body as discursively produced, as well as for its ambiguous “subversive” politics. How, 30 years after publication, does Gender Trouble complicate, or help us make sense of, contemporary problems of feminism, identity, queerness, and politics?
Whether one is a devotee of Gender Trouble or to some degree a skeptic, it remains a text to be reckoned with. This course will take Gender Trouble as the primary text and keep both approaches in mind—one appraising, one critical—as we pair it with select supplemental readings. We will consider its historical context and theoretical frameworks. In addition, we’ll grapple with the insights and limitations of its core arguments about gender and sexuality. Finally, we’ll consider how its politics resonate (or don’t) today. We will ask: Why was it written when it was? With what other texts and ideas was it in conversation? How does it understand the relation between language and categories of sex and sexuality? What polyvalent meanings of performativity, whether reverential or revisionary, did Gender Trouble originate and inspire? What is the legacy of Butler’s argument for shifting the subject of feminism away from “women” to “gender”—especially in view of Robin Weigman’s critique, or in view of more recent studies of trans subjectivity? How might we evaluate the political potentials or failures of parody today? Although some might come to the course curious about enduring relevance of this seminal text, the course also welcomes first-time readers of Butler’s work.


The Bureau sells copies of Judith Butler‘s Gender Trouble, among other titles by Butler. Please support the Bureau by buying books from us! Thank you!


Course Schedule

March 3, 10, 17, and 24, 2020
Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm
4 sessions


Registration is required. Please click here.


*Three scholarship spaces are reserved in each course because we realize that not everyone can afford to pay the full fee for our courses. Students who cannot pay the full fee should email us at [email protected] to learn about our scholarship options. We will not ask questions about your financial situation but we do ask that you use the system in good faith and consider the needs of other students and faculty members.


The Bureau of General Services—Queer Division is an independent, all-volunteer queer cultural center, bookstore, and event space hosted by The LGBT Community Center in Manhattan.


The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is an organization of young scholars in New York City, founded in November 2011 by a few then-graduate students at Columbia University with a shared interest in pedagogy and genuinely interdisciplinary conversation. We teach classes all over the city, record a regular podcast, run a digital humanities initiative to preserve rare and out-of-print academic texts, and in general work frantically at any given time on a broad range of other academic and para-academic projects. We are a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization.


Image: photograph by Elizabeth Ohlson Wallin