“Butler’s book is everything that a book about our planet in the 21st century should be. It does not turn its back on the circumstances of the material world or give any succour to those who wish to view the present (and the future) through the lens of fantasies about the transformative possibilities offered by conventional politics Butler demonstrates a clear engagement with an aspect of the world that is becoming in many political contexts almost illicit to discuss: the idea that capitalism, certainly in its neoliberal form, is failing to provide a liveable life for the majority of human beings.”—Mary Evans, Times Higher Education
“A heady immersion into the thought of one of today’s most profound philosophers of action…This is a call for a truly transformative politics, and its relevance to the fraught struggles taking place in today’s streets and public spaces around the world cannot be denied.”—Hans Rollman, PopMatters
Judith Butler elucidates the dynamics of public assembly under prevailing economic and political conditions, analyzing what they signify and how. Understanding assemblies as plural forms of performative action, Butler extends her theory of performativity to argue that precarity—the destruction of the conditions of livability—has been a galvanizing force and theme in today’s highly visible protests.
Butler broadens the theory of performativity beyond speech acts to include the concerted actions of the body. Assemblies of physical bodies have an expressive dimension that cannot be reduced to speech, for the very fact of people gathering “says” something without always relying on speech. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s view of action, yet revising her claims about the role of the body in politics, Butler asserts that embodied ways of coming together, including forms of long-distance solidarity, imply a new understanding of the public space of appearance essential to politics.
Butler links assembly with precarity by pointing out that a body suffering under conditions of precarity still persists and resists, and that mobilization brings out this dual dimension of corporeal life. Just as assemblies make visible and audible the bodies that require basic freedoms of movement and association, so do they expose coercive practices in prison, the dismantling of social democracy, and the continuing demand for establishing subjugated lives as mattering, as equally worthy of life. By enacting a form of radical solidarity in opposition to political and economic forces, a new sense of “the people” emerges, interdependent, grievable, precarious, and persistent.