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Article

Performativity in Africa  

Katrina Daly Thompson and Mwita Muniko

Judith Butler’s theory of performativity has been highly influential in anthropological studies, particularly of gender and sexuality. Drawing on J. L. Austin’s concept of language as action, Butler’s theory challenges identity categories and emphasizes the role of language and other semiotic resources in constructing, reproducing, and resisting social identities and power relations. While much research has focused on applying Butler’s theory to studies of gender and sexuality in the West, there is a growing interest in its application to diverse cultural settings, including African societies. The use of Butler’s theory of performativity in anthropology to understand how language and other semiotic resources are used to perform specific social actions in African contexts goes beyond gender and sexuality to encompass various areas such as research, statehood, nationhood and nationalism, kinship, religious identity and piety, respectability and social hierarchy, race and ethnicity, morality and dignity, everyday interactions, aging, and citizenship. Examining these aspects of performativity reveals the complex interplay between language and social action in shaping cultural practices and beliefs in Africa and beyond. The translation of Butler’s theory in Africa-focused anthropology emphasizes the importance of examining cultural practices and beliefs within specific sociocultural contexts rather than imposing external frameworks or preconceptions. It highlights the diverse and dynamic nature of African societies’ cultural practices and beliefs, offering a valuable theoretical framework for understanding them and contributing to a nuanced understanding of the construction of social practices and beliefs in African societies and beyond.

Article

Gender and Education in Postcolonial Contexts  

Barbara Crossouard and Máiréad Dunne

Education has been a central institution in the installation and legitimation of gender binaries and racialized difference in colonial and postcolonial eras. While the term “postcolonial” can refer to the period after which colonized nations gained their independence, a postcolonial critique also engages with the afterlife of the metaphysics of Western modernity. Notably, the imperial project of Western modernity assumed the superiority of the colonizers and provided the legitimation for the deep injustices of colonization to be framed as a “civilizing mission.” In particular, the processes of colonization imposed a “modern/colonial gender system,” which reconstructed the gender norms of many societies around the world, and which subordinated women by binding them to the domestic sphere. Its “biologic” presumed a heterosexual matrix in ways that were also profoundly racialized. Importantly, education was a critical institution that not only legitimated Western knowledges and values, but also secured women’s regulation and subordination. In postcolonial eras, education was given central importance in ways that have tied it to modern imperatives. For the newly independent postcolonial nation, education was critical in the construction of a national imaginary but this framing has reproduced rather than disrupting colonial gender norms. Harnessing education in support of national development inserted the postcolonial nation in a hierarchy of “developed” and “developing” nations. The focus on development similarly permeated efforts at curricular reform, such that they often reproduced the gendered, racialized, and classed hierarchies of colonial education. What counted as legitimate knowledge remained framed by Western elite institutions and their technologies of power. Importantly, from the moment of their independence, the global reach of multilateral organizations has constantly framed the postcolonial trajectories of “developing” nations and their educational reforms. Although often contradictory, the discourses of such organizations intensified the imperatives of education for national development. This compounded pressures to increase educational access beyond elite groups and to include more females. However, the technologies of power that support these international policy agendas bind such reforms to modern imperatives, so that they have become a critical site for the reinscription of binary understandings of gender. This is also true for contemporary international concerns for “quality” education. This is prosecuted largely through promotion of learner-centered education, a concept that is also infused with Western democratic ideals and values. Interrogation of the “hidden curriculum” further shows that the education in postcolonial contexts remains a key institution through which gender is instantiated in essentialized and binary ways, infused by modern ideals of presumptive heteronormativity. Resisting such binaries requires an understanding of gender as something that we “do,” or that we “perform,” within the contingencies and exigencies of particular social and cultural contexts. In turn, these theoretical understandings call for in-depth qualitative studies that can attend to the particularities of the gender regimes in different educational contexts and other intersecting structures of difference (race, ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality) that are rendered invisible by education’s legitimation of difference as a question of disembodied individual merit and ability.

Article

Queer Perspectives in Communication Studies  

Isaac N. West

Queer perspectives in communication studies vary greatly, but they tend to share some common assumptions about the communicative force of norms, including those related to sexualities, genders, bodies, races, ethnicities, abilities, and desires. In general, queer perspectives question the legitimacy of hegemonic assumptions about bodies and sexualities, opting instead for more fluid and porous discourses and norms. Influenced by Michel Foucault’s theories about the productive and generative nature of discourses and Judith Butler’s elaboration on the performativity of identity and agency, communication studies scholars have mined queer theory for insights into our collective and individual investments in naturalized norms as well as efforts to resist them. One of the difficulties in corralling the varied meanings of “queer” into an encyclopedia entry is that it can operate as a noun, adjective, or verb, which has different implications for critics interested in its employ.

Article

Gender Subjectification and Schooling  

Leslee Grey

Formal education supports various goals related to the transmission of a society’s values, from teaching basic literacy to instilling moral virtues. Although schools serve as places of assimilation and socialization into dominant norms, schools are also spaces where young people experiment with their own ideals and self-expressions. Researchers interested in how young people learn to inhabit gendered roles or “positions” highlight the significant role that schooling plays in gender subjectification. Put simply, gender subjectification is the process by which one becomes recognizable to oneself (and to others) as a gendered subject. Schools are key institutions where individuals learn to negotiate their places in society and to consider possible futures. Through interacting with one another and with the overt and hidden curricula in school, as well as with various social structures outside school, individuals are shaped by various discourses that involve desires, beliefs, rituals, policies, and practices. Education research focusing on gender subjectification has explored the mechanisms by which schools shape and reproduce, for example, the gendered knowledge that young people come to internalize and take up as “normal” or acceptable for themselves and for others, as well as what they resist or reject. As with all social institutions, a school is subject to and influenced by various communications that circulate and intersect inside and outside the school walls. These discourses include but are not limited to “official” communications such as laws, policies, and state- or district-sanctioned curriculum materials, various conversations circulating among media and fora, and conversations from peer groups, the home, and community groups. From these diverse and often contradictory sets of discourses, schools privilege and disseminate their own “discursive selections” concerning gender. These selections work on and through students to shape possibilities as well as place constraints on not only how students understand themselves as gendered subjects but also how they come to those understandings. Studies investigating education and gender suggest that inequities and inequalities often begin in early schooling and have long-lasting implications both inside and outside schools. School and classroom discourses tend to privilege hegemonic (meaning dominant and normative) notions of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality while silencing, punishing, and, in some cases, even criminalizing differences. Research concerned with gender subjectification and school has addressed numerous significant questions such as: What are the gendered landscapes of schooling, and how do individuals experience those landscapes? What are the everyday discourses and practices of schooling (both formal and informal) that work on how gender gets “done,” and how do these aspects interact and function? How does school impose constraints on, as well as offer possibilities for, gender subjectivity, when institutional contexts that shape subjectivities are also in motion? Ultimately, these questions concern the role that schooling has in shaping how individuals think about and “do” selfhood. In general, critical studies of gender and subjectification gesture toward hope and possibilities for more equality, more consensuality, and more inclusivity of individual differences.

Article

Gender vs. Sex  

Elisabeth Anna Guenther, Anne Laure Humbert, and Elisabeth Kristina Kelan

Gender research goes beyond adding sex as an independent, explanatory category. To conduct gender research in the field of business and management, therefore, it is important to apply a more sophisticated understanding of gender that resonates with contemporary gender theory. This entails taking the social construction of gender and its implications for research into consideration. Seeing gender as a social construct means that the perception of “women” and “men,” of “femininity/ties” and “masculinity/ties,” is the outcome of an embodied social practice. Gender research is commonly sensitive to notions of how power is reproduced and challenges concepts such as “hegemonic masculinity” and “heteronormativity.” The first highlights power relations between gender groups, as well as the different types of existing masculinities. The latter emphasizes the pressure to rely on a binary concept of “women” and “men” and how this is related to heterosexuality, desire, and the body. Gender research needs to avoid the pitfalls of a narrow, essentialist concept of “women” and “men” that draws on this binary understanding of gender. It is also important to notice that not all women (or men) share the same experiences. The critique of Black feminists and scholars from the global South promoted the idea of intersectionality and postcolonialism within gender research. Intersectionality addresses the entanglement of gender with other social categories, such as age, class, disability, race, or religion, while postcolonial approaches criticize the neglect of theory and methodology originating in the global South and question the prevalence of concepts from the global North. Various insights from gender theory inform business and management research in various ways. Concepts such as the “gendered organization” or “inequality regime” can be seen as substantial contributions of gender theory to organization theory. Analyzing different forms of masculinities and exploring ways in which gender is undone within organizations (or whether a supposedly gender-neutral organization promotes a masculine norm) can offer thought-provoking insights into organizational processes. Embracing queer theory, intersectionality, and postcolonial approaches in designing research allows for a broader image of the complex social reality. Altogether management studies benefit from sound, theoretically well-grounded gender research.

Article

The Effects of Agential Realism on Gender Research and Education  

And Pasley

Agential realism presents a posthuman onto-epistemology that facilitates nuanced ways of engaging with the production of gender. Some key ways in which cisnormativities privilege particular ways of doing gender premise the need for a nonessentializing means of conceptualizing gender. Agential realism is situated among a range of research and educational approaches that are already engaged in this project. The theory makes a novel contribution to this project via its treatment of matter and discursivity as immanently entangled, which fundamentally reconfigures thinking around how gender may manifest. Definitions and examples of the use of Baradian terms, including phenomena, apparatuses, intra-action, ethico-onto-epistemology, spacetimemattering, and diffraction, demonstrate agential realism’s capacity to expand gender theory. The approach becomes a means of simultaneously engaging with less conventional ways in which gender is already experienced, as well as potentiating more expansive possibilities for gendered becomings. As evidence of its impact, research that has employed agential realist thinking in relation to gender in and beyond educational settings is drawn on to further delineate the field. This includes four subsections—early childhood gender education, secondary school gender and education, tertiary educational genderings, and extracurricular genderings—each of which draws on a range of circumstances and responses to gender. These examples embody leading scholarship at the juncture of agential realism and gender theory, which already offer a diversity of considerations that otherwise would not have been possible.

Article

Representations of Drag Culture  

Niall Brennan

Drag may be understood as performing a gender other than one’s self-identified gender. Drag is therefore underpinned by the concept of gender performativity, or acts that naturalize constructs of gender, yet drag complicates gender performativity by imitating and parodying such “natural” performances of gender. Drag is also underpinned by camp, a sensibility combining incongruity, theatricality, and humor emanating from the 1960s gay liberation movement and more recently appropriated by heteronormative culture industries, bringing forth the need to differentiate queer (political) from gay (mainstream) camp deployment. In American popular culture, the focus of this entry, drag most closely approximates cross-dressing as a mainly humorous narrative trope involving a duplicitous cross-dresser (and knowing viewer) and a duped (and often amorous) “victim.” Cross-dressing therefore should be discerned from transvestism, which involves greater subjective investment in performing a gendered other, and from the antiquated terminology of transsexualism, which implies the desire to become a gendered other. In these differences, drag can invoke gender, race, and ethnicity with different levels of performative consequence, such that women and Black men performing drag assume historical and institutional significance differently from (white) men role-playing as women. Lastly, RuPaul’s Drag Race, the American reality/competition television series, has brought drag into global, commercial mainstream culture by establishing drag as a paradigmatic, professionalized set of performances. While Drag Race has moved queer politics into public discourse with greater visibility for LGBTQ+ peoples and communities, the reality series has circumscribed “winning” and “losing” versions of drag and, by consequence, versions of gender performativity, most notably by circumscribing the boundaries of drag between gender performativity and transgender identities.

Article

What’s a “Norm” After Queer Movements?  

Antoine Idier

The question of “norm” is central to queer theory. As this reading of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), regarded as one of the pioneering texts in queer theory, shows, queer theory has consistently discussed the actual power of the norm, how it works, and how it is appropriate for minority movements to position themselves in relation to norms to abolish them. As many writings and discussions on this subject suggest, the reflection on the norm is based on an internal feminist discussion of identity. Just as there is no naturalness of sex, there is also no natural, preexisting identity. Denaturalizing identity by asserting that identities do not preexist when they are invoked calls for strategic use of identity while at the same time conducting a critique of how identities are produced. More fundamentally, the discussion of norms is linked to a reflection on “priority.” By asserting that there is no being or ontology that precedes socialization and the application of social norms, Butler denies any relevance to the project of reconnecting with practices and identities that have not been shaped by these norms and are thus considered free, escaping power. Postulating that there is no state prior to law, norm, and power calls for strategies of resistance and subversion. There is a need to place oneself within the normative devices and structures produced by power to subvert them. The notion of “performativity” condenses this conclusion by describing the possibility of producing acts that, within the normative system, displace normative meanings. Resistance and subversion lie in the parodic game, in the displacement of gender norms within the structure that produces them. The assertion that “there is no political position purified of power, and perhaps that impurity is what produces agency as the potential interruption and reversal of regulatory regimes” leads to a radical redefinition of politics. All subversive politics thus remain dependent on prevailing norms and structures, within which it acts to contest them. Subversion can only ever be local and never total, as much temporally as geographically. It can only intervene in a place, at a given moment, with reference to a given normative apparatus. Insofar as it remains necessary always to draw on a norm in order to challenge and resignify it, it will never be possible to contest all social norms definitively; it will only be possible to weaken certain ones from time to time. It then remains to identify, at some point, the power with which one wishes to fight, and the most effective strategies to weaken it.

Article

Judith Butler and Communication Studies  

Fiona Jenkins

Judith Butler is one of the most important contemporary critical theorists. Best known for her influential concept of gender as performance and her critique of the idea of natural binary sexual difference, Butler also develops a critical perspective on wider issues arising from the idea that “being is doing,” insisting on the many alternate possibilities of lives that can always be “done” differently. In this context Butler develops a complex account of what it is to be a subject and revises some basic philosophical assumptions regarding how to think about moral deliberation. Butler displaces the assumption that the human subject is responsible only on the condition of being autonomous in order to reconceptualize subjects as beings thrown into a world of interdependency and cohabitation. Butler characterizes us as part of “precarious life,” beings whose exposure to desire, loss, and grief is constitutive of our existence, but who nonetheless find agency within a critical relation to constituting social norms and through building more generous public worlds. It is helpful to understand the rich engagement that Butler’s work has with the philosophical perspectives in the background of these ideas, from the Hegelian criticism of abstract universalism to genealogy, deconstruction, queer and feminist theory, speech act theory, and the psychoanalytic account of subject formation, as well as the interlocutors who have become increasingly important in Butler’s recent work, including Levinas, Benjamin, and Arendt. These engagements ground a distinctive ethical and political approach that Butler brings to bear on contemporary and urgent questions, central to which is how alterity is engaged with. With a focus on how lives become “intelligible” as those of the kinds of beings that are recognized and find protection in law, Butler contributes rich insights into contemporary political phenomena. In particular, she describes how only certain lives appear as valuable in public discourses, while others lives and deaths become a matter of indifference, tracking the role of images and rhetoric in enforcing such differences. In demonstrating how state violence is bound up with this differentiation between “grievable and ungrievable lives,” Butler draws out a complex account of the relationship between violence, law, and justice. There are clear continuities between Butler’s earliest and latest work in the exploration of these issues, based in her methodological commitments to practices of critique and genealogy.

Article

Gender, Sexuality, and Youth in a Global Context  

Anoop Nayak

Gender and sexuality are slippery social constructs whose meanings vary across time and place. To capture some of the complexity of these relations, it is necessary to consider their mutable meanings in different parts of the world. This means understanding how gender and sexuality are regulated, produced, consumed, and embodied in young people’s lives transnationally. At a regulatory level, nation-states are found to disseminate different policies and approaches when it comes to young people’s gender and sexual learning. Alongside formal pedagogical approaches, young people’s peer groups and local friendship circles are critical to the production of sexual knowledge and gender practices. In what is a rapidly interconnected world, processes of cultural globalization evident in the spread of film, media, and music are providing new templates from which to transform more “traditional” gender and sexual relations. In consuming global images of gender and sexuality, young people are found to be active and discerning agents who experience and negotiate global processes at a local level, managing risk and carving out new opportunities as they see fit. Young people are seen to perform and embody gender and sexuality in a host of different ways. In doing so, they not only reveal the instability of sex and gender norms but also disclose the intense amount of “gender work” that goes into the performance of gender and sexuality.

Article

Asian American Queer Performance  

Vivian L. Huang

Asian American queer performance indexes racialized, gendered, and sexualized forms and modes of performance created by, for, and about Asians in an American context. Since the 1980s, queer and ethnic studies have conceptualized performance not only as object of study (e.g., staged performance, visual art, film) but also as a method of critique and hermeneutic for troubling knowledges of Asian American encounter and subject formation. Performance in this sense can be understood as Asian American and queer in its engagement with and critical rescripting of histories and ideologies of empire, nationalism, war, globalization, migration, missionizing, white supremacy, and cis-normative heteropatriarchy that constitutes themes of Asian American studies. The interdisciplinary field of performance studies offers quotidian performance, racial performativity, and gender performativity as discursive tools with which to consider social conventions and scripts that render Asian American queer formation legible and dynamic toward future rewritings.

Article

Carmen Miranda: Race, Gender, and Camp Culture  

Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez

Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.