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Melancholic FreedomAgency and the Spirit of Politics$
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David Kyuman Kim

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195319828

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195319828.001.0001

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 The Agency That Difference Makes

 The Agency That Difference Makes

Judith Butler's Theory of Performativity and the Irony of the Political

Chapter:
(p.83) 4 The Agency That Difference Makes
Source:
Melancholic Freedom
Author(s):

David Kyuman Kim (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195319828.003.0004

This chapter focuses on an alternative vision of agency found in what has come to be called the politics of difference. It presents a critical engagement with one of the most influential contemporary theorists of agency: Judith Butler. The chapter begins with some background on the politics of difference, specifically in the context of how it developed within feminist theory. It then moves to a sketch of Butler's work on agency, specifically her theory of performativity: from her early critiques of subjectivity and the (near) totalizing effects she grants to power, to her more recent work that nuances the claims about power and agency, specifically in light of her use and appropriation of the idea of melancholy/melancholia. It is argued that a comparison between Taylor and Butler shows how each of their projects begins with distinctive forms of melancholy that create the conditions for the possibility of agency. Butler's focus on the relationship between the social and the psyche/psychic life is a search for possibility and hope under conditions of subjection by power. This search also effectively marks Butler's work as a project of regenerating agency.

Keywords:   problem of agency, politics of difference, Judith Butler, theory of performativity, equality, melancholy

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