Gender undone: subversion, regulation and embodiment in the work of Judith Butler

Nayak, Anoop and Kehily, Mary Jane (2006). Gender undone: subversion, regulation and embodiment in the work of Judith Butler. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27(4) pp. 459–472.



Judith Butler's philosophical writings on identity have provided inspiring, if occasionally 'troubling', ways of rethinking gender. A key contribution has been the challenge to conventional social constructionist ideas and thinking on subjectivity. In developing a paradigm of performativity, Butler's work takes us beyond the territory of identity secured in much previous feminist poststructuralist debate. She does so in part by providing an ontological critique - a type of 'queering' if you will - of such seemingly knowable categories as 'man', 'woman', 'girl' or 'boy'. In addressing the radical interruption in identity theorising offered in Butler's writing, we consider the arresting claim that identity is a type of 'doing' that is only made manifest at the point of action. To explore the theoretical, empirical and political issues at stake, we draw especially upon Butler's writings on identity and ally this to some of our own ethnographic research on gender, youth and schooling. Here, we explore young people's compulsion to enact and display stylised forms of gender embodiment, and the spectacular enactments of transgression that can elicit a practice of gender dissimulation. Our focus is upon the subversion, regulation and embodiment of gender identities and its implications for the sociology of education.

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