Judith Butler, 1956

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Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, and Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: Educator, LGBTQ, Philosopher, and SF Bay Area Women

  • HerStory

    An American philosopher who has made a significant contribution to Queer Theory, Gender and Sexuality Theory, and Feminism.

    Judith Butler grew up in a Jewish family in Cleveland Ohio. At the age of 13, when she was asked what would be her dream job, she gave two options: a philosopher or a clown. She was reprimanded by the Rabbi for asking too many questions at the synagogue as a teenager. She went on making a career from asking questions, studying until she received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1984.
    At the age of 33, she gained the status of “Superstar Professor” after publishing the book “Gender Trouble” (1990), which since was reprinted in more than 120 editions. Her work has made complex notions of gender identity more accessible and left an impact on mainstream culture. Despite being considered “hard to read”, she has since published more than 20 books, and contributed to many more publications, addressing a range of topics, from state vigilance to mourning, sexuality, international relations, and literature.
    Since 1993, Butler works at Berkley, University of California, currently serving as a Professor of Comparative Literature. In addition, she is active in several human rights organizations, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Jewish Voice for Peace, and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission board.

    “I was never against the category of men”

    “I was never against the category of men”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her signature look – black and gray outfits and short hair – was described by a German newspaper as “a young Italian man”.
    • She first appeared in the New York Times when writing a letter to the editor in defense of the lyrics used by gangsta-rap artists, such as Snoop Doggy Dogg.
    • She was marked as the winner of the “Bad Writing” contest of academic prose by the journal ‘Philosophy and Literature’ for a complicated 94 word sentence she wrote in 1998.
    • She spoke against being addressed as a “lady” in restaurants, which is an example of an offensive gender reference.
    • Her partner Wendy Brown is a political-science professor at Berkeley, and the two have one son.
    • She goes to yoga twice a week and swims almost every day.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books she wrote


    * Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities
    * Adorno Prize from the City of Frankfurt for contributions to feminist and moral philosophy
    * Brudner Prize from Yale University for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies
    * The diploma of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Cultural Ministry

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Judith Butler, “Why Preserve the Life of the Other?”

    Tanner Lectures on Human Values - Interpreting Non-Violence
    “Why Preserve the Life of the Other?”

    Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California Berkeley. She served as founding director of the Critical Theory Program at Berkeley and is currently co-chair of an emerging International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. Her published works include Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990); Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993); Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1997); Precarious Life: Powers of Violence and Mourning (2004); Undoing Gender (2004); Who Sings the Nation-State? Language, Politics, Belonging (with Gayatri Spivak, 2008); Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009); Is Critique Secular? (with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Saba Mahmood, 2009); Sois Mon Corps (with Catherine Malabou, 2011); Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012); Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (with Athena Athanasiou, 2013); and most recently, Senses of the Subject (2015) and Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (2015). Future projects include study of messianic gestures in Kafka and Benjamin, philosophical fictions in Freud’s work, and gender in translation.

    Butler has received the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities, the Adorno Prize from the City of Frankfurt in honor of her contributions to feminist and moral philosophy, and the Brudner Prize from Yale University for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies. In 2014, she was awarded the diploma of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Cultural Ministry and in 2015 she was elected a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and appointed to the International Board of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt.

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