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  • Writer's picturePritika Chowdhry

7 Books by Judith Butler we must read

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Here's a list of six books by Judith Butler, a path-breaking gender and queer theorist. I have provided here a quick conceptual summary for those new to Butler, for Butler dilettantes, and seasoned Butler scholars, this will be a useful list.

Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity, 1990

In this book, Butler argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance, is learned behavior, and culturally taught. Distinct from sex, which is purely biological. Arguing that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, 'essential' notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender, Butler starts by questioning the category 'woman' and continues in this vein with examinations of 'the masculine' and 'the feminine'. Best known however, but also most often misinterpreted, is Butler's concept of gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of a prior reality.

Here's the full PDF text of this important book -

Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, 1996

In this book, Butler argues that the theorization of gender should go back to the basics, i.e., the body, because the body is the most basic material of sex and sexuality. Butler argues that the power of the heterosexual framework forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that the dominant ideas of heterosexually conforming bodies defines what counts as a viable sex.

Undoing Gender, 2004

Drawing from feminist and queer theory, Butler considers the norms that govern--and fail to govern--gender and sexuality. Butler argues that to "do" one's gender in certain ways sometimes implies "undoing" dominant notions of personhood. She writes about the "New Gender Politics" that has emerged in recent years, a combination of movements concerned with transgender, transsexuality, intersex, and their complex relations to feminist and queer theory.

Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, 2004

In her most impassioned and personal book to date, Judith Butler responds in this profound appraisal of post-9/11 America to the current US policies to wage perpetual war, and calls for a deeper understanding of how mourning and violence might instead inspire solidarity and a quest for global justice.

Butler's concept of "Ungrievable Lives" inspired my anti-memorial to 9/11, titled "Ungrievable Lives: The Ghosts of 9/11."

Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? 2010

In this urgent response to violence, racism, and increasingly aggressive methods of coercion, Judith Butler explores the media’s portrayal of armed conflict, a process integral to how the West prosecutes its wars. In doing so, she calls for a re-conceptualization of the Left, one united in opposition and resistance to the illegitimate and arbitrary effects of interventionist military action.

Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, 2013

In this book, Butler engages Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism and its practices of illegitimate state violence, nationalism, and state-sponsored racism. Recovering the arguments of Jewish thinkers who offered criticisms of Zionism or whose work could be used for such a purpose, Butler disputes the specific charge of anti-Semitic self-hatred often leveled against Jewish critiques of Israel.

The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind, 2020

Judith Butler’s new book shows how an ethic of nonviolence must be connected to a broader political struggle for social equality. Further, it argues that nonviolence is often misunderstood as a passive practice that emanates from a calm region of the soul, or as an individualist ethical relation to existing forms of power. But, in fact, nonviolence is an ethical position found in the midst of the political field. An aggressive form of nonviolence accepts that hostility is part of our psychic constitution, but values ambivalence as a way of checking the conversion of aggression into violence.


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