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Performativity and the politics of identity: Putting Butler to work

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alan McKinlay


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Judith Butler occupies centre-stage in debates about gender identities. Butler's key concept is performativity: the ways in which gender identity is embodied and enacted, rather than a more or less adequate reflection of some underlying bodily reality. Butler draws on Foucault in several respects, not least her stress on the physicality of individual and social life, and her concern to understand identity as a social process. Identity is always provisional rather complete, a deeply ambiguous and unstable moment. Performativity is not reducible to performance and the degree of choice involved in identity construction both makes it appear more ‘natural’ for the individual and also open to reinterpretation. This is where Butler finds political hope. Foucauldian research on contemporary work identities has largely ignored Butler. Corporate, professional and occupational identities are too often portrayed as simply imposed on individuals in ways that leave little scope for ambiguity or negotiation. Butler's notion of performativity provides a way of understanding the ambiguities and paradoxes of contemporary identities at work.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKinlay A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Critical Perspectives on Accounting

Year: 2010

Volume: 21

Issue: 3

Pages: 232-242

Print publication date: 01/03/2010

ISSN (print): 1045-2354

ISSN (electronic): 1095-9955

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd.


DOI: 10.1016/


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