Butler's Anti-Realist Feminism in Theory and Practice



Martin, Samuel

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This thesis responds critically to Butler's anti-realist theory of gender, in which she claims to overturn the distinction between "sex" and "gender," and argues that "sex" is itself partly formed and shaped by its involvement in hegemonic discursive norms and practices. It does this in two parts, through a close reading and analysis of several key texts in Butler's oeuvre. In the first part, this thesis argues that Butler's denial of sex as an independently existing bodily reality is a product of her anti-realism, which results in a radical form of social constructionism that claims that both "sex" and "gender" are discursively constituted. The thesis looks at the considerations she uses to ground this position, and finds them to be wanting. In the place of this anti-realism, a form of critical realism is defended. In the second part of the thesis, Butler's anti-realism is connected to her theory of feminist political activism, and it is argued that several features of her preferred model of political resistance as the "subversive repetition" of cultural hegemony, a model in which the influence of deconstruction is visible, are a direct consequence of her commitment to antirealism. The thesis will argue, furthermore, that Butler's anti-realism has a negative effect on her political program overall, leaving her without the resources to provide full accounts of a number of concepts that are crucial for any contemporary form of critical feminist political activity, like "body" and "agency." And lastly, this thesis advocates a revised structural theory of gender as a new theoretical basis for contemporary political resistance, one which holds that "gender," along with race, class, and other social categories, is a set of micro-level and macro-level structures existing at the confluence of a number of interrelated and intersecting social and cultural factors, through which individual lives are constrained and enabled by various kinds of socially instituted and structured forces.



Judith Butler, Feminism, Gender theory, Social structures, Embodiment, Anti-Realism