Perf/normativity: Between Butler and Rorty

İbrahimhakkıoğlu F.

in: Philosophical Problems in the Contemporary World, Dilek Arlı Çil,Nihal Petek Boyacı, Editor, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., Berlin, pp.131-142, 2019

  • Publication Type: Book Chapter / Chapter Research Book
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
  • City: Berlin
  • Page Numbers: pp.131-142
  • Editors: Dilek Arlı Çil,Nihal Petek Boyacı, Editor
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Judith Butler’s theory of performativity has been subjected to numerous feminist criticisms on the grounds that it accounts for change only descriptively and fails to do so on normative terms. In this essay, the author takes up Richard Rorty’s pragmatist approach to normativity, which seeks to provide a sense of “authority without authoritarianism,” in an effort to rethink Butler’s theory of performativity. The author argues that while there are important points of divergence between these two thinkers coming from different traditions of philosophical thought, there are also significant intersections that render establishing a fruitful dialogue between them possible and important. The linguistic turn that is operative in both of these thinkers’ works offers a common ground to rethink their philosophical relation. Not only does Rorty’s sense of irony bears resemblance to Butler’s account of resignification, but also both these thinkers’ accounts of social transformation rely on senses of creativity and imagination. Taking this connection as a starting point, the author makes a case for supplementing the theory of performativity with a pragmatist sense of normativity that is both anti-foundationalist and has a sense of directionality in terms of social change in that it relies on a social agreement around a set of values and commitments. This move provides a normative framework to distinguish between norms that are oppressive and norms that are necessary and liberating. The belief that “cruelty is the worst thing we do” (as proposed by Rorty) serves as an example for the latter.