ABSTRACT

Judith Butler’s theory of performativity is central to all of her work that seeks to undo normative categories that place rigid structures on how people live out their lives. Butler’s performativity, as it relies more on linguistic action than the theatrical, explores (and exposes) how gender identities get done (and undone) as a reiterative and citational practice within discourse, power relations, historical experiences, cultural practices, and material conditions. Moving beyond the binary frame set up in language via humanism and structuralism (man/woman), Butler’s theory of gender performativity works to unsettle the stabilizing gender categories that attempt to normalize and regulate people, and accentuates a process of repetition that produces gendered subjectivity. This repetition is not a performance by a subject but a performativity that constitutes a subject and thus produces the space of conflicting subjectivities. Paradoxically, agency is derived from within this constitution as subjects’ performative acts both reproduce and contest the foundations and origins of stable identity categories. Therefore the goal for this chapter is to elaborate both Cassandra’s and Sera’s performa-

tivity. What we, as qualitative researchers, find illuminating and exciting about thinking with performativity is how it makes visible the constitution of the subject with/in conflicting and simultaneous, yet temporal, contexts. In this way, performativity offers a way out of stable, humanist binaries and instead emphasizes the doing and undoing of gender constituted through repetition; that is, gender as an effect of practice. The effects of gender practices point to the performative dimension of gender, as opposed to gender as a mere performance: “Gender is not a performance that a prior subject elects to do, but gender is performative in the sense that it constitutes as an effect the very subject it appears to express.”2

There is neither a prior intention nor a “doer behind the deed” of performativity.3 That is, people do not choose their gendered identities; gender gets produced as people repeat

themselves. People do not take on roles to act out as in a performance; people become subjects through repetition. Gender, then, is a verb, a doing – not a doing by a subject, but a performative doing that “constitutes the identity it is purported to be … the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.”4 Butler clarifies,