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Speaker(s): Professor Judith Butler

Recorded on 4 February 2015 at Old Theatre, Old Building

Recent debates about human shields in the summer bombardment of Gaza raised the question of how the unarmed human form comes to be regarded as a military instrument. The lecture will consider how the perception of racialized bodies as threatening instruments informs both the public debates on the use of children as human shields in Gaza and the numerous figures of unarmed Black men and women in US cities who are gunned down either because they seem to be reaching for weapons or because their gestures, including their standing still, are regarded as weapons. In the context of the increasing militarization of police forces tasked with containing or eliminating social protest against social and economic inequality, how is racial perception both built and ratified through recasting the human form as threatening instrument? To what extent does the racialized structure of the visual field become instrumental to justifying the unjustifiable?

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, where she served as Founding Director. She received her PhD. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1984 on the French Reception of Hegel. She is the author of Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (Columbia University Press, 1987), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, 1990), Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (Routledge, 1993), The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection (Stanford University Press, 1997), Excitable Speech (Routledge, 1997), Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (Columbia University Press, 2000), Precarious Life: Powers of Violence and Mourning (2004); Undoing Gender (2004), Who Sings the Nation-State?: Language, Politics, Belonging (with Gayatri Spivak in 2008), Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009), and Is Critique Secular? (co-written with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Saba Mahmood, 2009). Her most recent books include: Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012) and Dispossessions: The Performative in the Political (2013), co-authored with Athena Athanasiou, and Sois Mon Corps (2011), co-authored with Catherine Malabou.

She is also active in gender and sexual politics and human rights, anti-war politics, and serves on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace. She was recently the recipient of the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities (2009-13). She received the Adorno Prize from the City of Frankfurt (2012) in honour of her contributions to feminist and moral philosophy as well as the Brudner Prize from Yale University for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies. She is as well the past recipient of several fellowships including Guggenheim, Rockefeller, Ford, American Council of Learned Societies, and was Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and at the College des Hautes Etudes in Paris. She has received honorary degrees from Université Bordeaux-III, Université Paris-VII, Grinnell College, McGill University and University of St. Andrews. In 2013, she was awarded the diploma of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Cultural Ministry.

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