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December 2021

Subject, psyche and agency - The work of Judith Butler

Journal/Book: Theor Cult Soc. 1999; 16: 6 Bonhill Street, London, England EC2a 4Pu. Sage Publications Ltd. 175+.

Abstract: This article considers two themes in Butler's work: the dialectic of subject formation - that the autonomous subject is instituted through constraint - and the relation between the psyche and the social. With regard to the former, the introduction of a notion of historicity into a conception of the symbolic yields a concept of agency. Nonetheless, this concept of agency still lacks social specificity. By reconfiguring the psyche as an effect of the interiorization of social norms, Butler introduces the destabilizing force of the category of the unconscious into constructivist accounts of identity. This sociocentric reworking of the psyche-social relations provides a nuanced account of gender identity, but it results in a negative model of action as the displacement of constraining social norms. It is also important for a conception of agency to include an account of the creative dimensions of action where actors actively appropriate conflicting socio-cultural values to institute new collective forms of identity.

Note: Article McNay L, Univ Oxford Somerville Coll, Oxford OX2 6HD, ENGLAND

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