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Why what Judith Butler has to say means more than what I do

Shamser Sinha | Journal: Commons | General Issue [0] | Issues | Nov 2007

On the 30th of October 2007 Judith Butler gave the annual British Journal of Sociology lecture at the London School of Economics. It was called, ‘Sexual Politics: the limits of secularism, the time of coalition’.

Judith claims that the War on Terror has provided a climate where the sexual freedoms she and others fought for are now misused to symbolise the shining, gleaming modernity of the West. The backwardness and inferiority of ‘others’ is counterposed and underscored against this. She maintains this is instrumental to liberal-democratic state aggression. One example she gave was sexual torture in Abu Gharib. Another was the Dutch Civic Integration exam where applicants for citizenship are asked what they think of a photograph of men kissing. Judith criticises the dual implications that those who object should be denied citizenship and that homophobia isn’t part of the Dutch socialscape. She says such state measures are used to reinscribe a nasty, closed minded liberalism that wants to degrade and exploit ‘others’. She’s right as well but its hardly news. She argues that this state coercion provides and necessitates a time for coalition politics that reforms teleological ideas of progression. For her it could involve Neo-liberalism’s ‘others’, including Muslims, alongside feminists and LGB activists. Not exactly philosophical rocket science or headline material I thought…But to the particular intelligensia turning up to the LSE this was news.Why?

Because they ignore the politics that is bursting at the seams in London, in Nairobi where I’ve just returned from and almost definitely in San Francisco and Berkeley where Judith works. From Primary Care Trusts in East London formulating faith-based sex education to Housing Associations where Muslims, Lesbians and everyone else share tea, cakes and car lifts to monthly meetings, to youth groups and social health programmes – we live coalition politics, its difficulties, its failures and its gains on a daily basis. We chronicle it too! and how we make progress that is different to the Eurocentric telos of Progress she is rightly critical of. Pointedly she only gave examples of where a common interest in a counter hegemonic block lay, rather than giving any examples at all of where such a politics is actually enacted. Oblivious to Judith’s eyes, this politics is not only possible since the War on Terror but has been a daily occurrence since it began. Previous to this context, coalition politics has been central to the banal routines of living in the city for as long as I can remember. But although we live and say this exists it doesn’t start to count until Judith says this politics is possible. Our insights into what this means for democracy and replacing Progress with progress don’t count.

That so many people at the event found it thrilling, that it is the central piece of a British Journal of Sociology special which other eminent academics have been invited to discuss within its pages, says something about academia’s violence: (1) that the Whitelands of North American and European feminist and lesbian academia need someone of their ‘own’ to tell them coalition politics is possible (even if they haven’t twigged that its happening) and (2) that who you are dictates what you can say and how valid it is with a wildly out of touch Academy. And writers who don’t suit the photo-fit should know their demeaned place within white sociology. Racist, no?

Article printed from darkmatter Journal: http://www.darkmatter101.org/site

URL to article: http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2007/11/02/why-what-judith-butler-has-to-say-means-more-than-what-i-do/