Bodies, Deviancy, and Socio-Political Change: Judith Butler on Intelligibility

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Orr, Celeste
Intelligibility , Socio-Political Change , Performativity , Deviancy
In this thesis I contribute to arguments showing how the human body is much more than a vessel that enables us to experience the world through our senses. Our sense of embodiment and our embodied performances give meaning to and shape the world in which we live. I argue that our bodies are crucial to socio-political change and subverting discriminatory cultural assumptions and ideologies. Deviant performances can cause us to be less than intelligible individuals. That is, according to Judith Butler, we become less than intelligible when we do not perform in such a way that meets certain cultural expectations. Dominant expectations are typically implicitly understood to be common-sense values. Unfortunately, many of our implicit values have embedded unjust prejudices that directly affect our thinking and behaviour. These discriminatory implicit values are couched in “the background.” Alexis Shotwell’s expansion of what John R. Searle terms “the background” is particularly useful to understand the political nature of implicitly held beliefs. These discriminatory assumptions couched in the background systematically oppress us. However, the prejudices of the background can be exposed through repeatedly performing our bodies in certain ways. Additionally, our performances can enable us to pool our intellectual resources together and live out the socio-political change we desire. In doing so, performances and identities that were once considered unintelligible can become intelligible and can alter cultural climates.
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