Performativity and Social Structure: Thinking Butler and Voloshinov Together

Rhonda Koch


Beyond Marxist feminism and social reproduction feminism, the majority of feminist and gender-theoretical deliberations are based on the theories of Judith Butler. A central concept here is the notion that gendered hierarchies are constructed via so-called performative acts, usually performative speech acts. So-called “subjectification” occurs within the practical (re-)construction of heteronormative discourses. This theory is both correct as well as productive, for it allows for subjectification as conceived by Butler and co-thinkers to be embedded into a Marxist-feminist – praxis-theoretical – model of society and thereby expand it around important questions. On the other hand, this incorporation requires criticism exploring the linguistic focus of performative acts. The thesis of this paper is thus: the concept of performativity bears potential for Marxist-feminist deliberations, but first must be subjected to a criticism of Butler’s language-philosophical assumptions. Rather than proceeding from the subject itself, this paper seeks to expand the Butlerian concept of performative speech acts through social contextualisation; i.e. the process of subject constitution will be embedded into broader social relations. This internal expansion draws upon the materialist philosophy of language developed by Valentin N. Voloshinov, which seeks above all to embed speech acts in a social context. The paper will also demonstrate how the incorporation of subjectification processes – understood socio-linguistically – raises questions challenging the socio-ontological premises of a Marxist-feminist theory of society as a whole.

Social Reproduction - Gender - Marxist-feminism - Philosophy of language