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New York Times Interview with 2018 Gifford Lecturer Judith Butler

"Judith Butler: When Killing Women Isn't a Crime"

Read philospher and author George Yancy's New York Times interview with 2018 Gifford Lecturer Judith Butler, in which she discusses her new book based on her 2018 Gifford Lectures, here.



Yancy: In what ways does your new book on nonviolence speak to questions regarding the vulnerability of women?

Butler: The new book, The Force of Non-Violence, is concerned with women, for sure, but with all people who are considered to be more or less ungrievable. I work with the feminist idea of “relationality” in order to show not only how lives are interdependent, but also how our ethical obligations to sustain each other’s lives follow from that interdependency. The interdiction against violence is a way of asserting and honoring that bond based on the equal value of lives, but this is not an abstract or formal principle. We require each other to live and that is as true of familial or kinship ties as it is of transnational and global bonds. The critique of individualism has been an important component of both feminist and Marxist thought, and it now becomes urgent as we seek to understand ourselves as living creatures bound to human and nonhuman creatures, to entire systems and networks of life. The various threats of destruction can take the form of state violence, feminicidio, abandonment of migrants, global warming. We have to rethink the ties of life to know why we are obligated to oppose violence even when, or precisely when, hostilities escalate.

Yancy: In what ways does your discussion of nonviolence address our pervasive cultural practice of specifically male violence?

Butler: That is a good question. For me, violence is not male or masculine. I don’t think that it comes from the recesses of men or is built into a necessary definition of masculinity. We can talk about structures of masculine domination, or patriarchy, and in those cases it is the social structures and their histories that call to be dismantled. It is difficult to know how to understand individual acts of violence within social structures that encourage, permit and exonerate such acts. It may be that we are social creatures whose lives are lived out in social structures that we have some power to change. So I don’t think individual men can point to “social structures” as an excuse, i.e. “the social structure of masculine domination made me commit this act of violence.”

At the same time, it is all of our responsibility to ask ourselves how we are living out, reproducing or resisting these structures. So though change can happen at an individual level, restorative justice models tell us that individuals change in the context of communities and relationships, and that is how new structures of relating are built and older ones are dismantled. In turn, this means that ethics has to become more than an individual project of self-renewal, since lives are renewed in the company of others. Those relations are what sustain us and, as such, deserve our collective attention and commitment