SourcesIn J. L. Austin’s speech acts theory, a performative is a type of utterance which performs an action by being issued. Performative utterances are sentences which are not just passively describing a given reality, but changing the (social) reality they are describing. In the 1990s, queer theorist Judith Butler applied the theory of the performative to the production of gender, deconstructing essentialist notions of sexuality or gender identity, and arguing that gendering is a reiterated performative process that begins when someone says about a baby ‘it’s a girl’. This utterance is not a “statement of fact” communicating some essential, natural truth, but a performative utterance that assigns a cultural role. Making use of Derrida's theory of iterability, which emphasises that Speech Acts only function through regularised iterations within normative contexts, Butler emphasizes the role of repetition in performativity. The performance of gender, sex, and sexuality is not a voluntary choice for Butler, but operates within regulative discourses and disciplinary regimes which decide in advance what possibilities are socially acceptable. Iterability makes gendered identity possible, but may also open it to the possibility of its incoherence and contestation, perhaps allowing for a space where subjects can re-appropriate their own power to produce behaviour and actions in different situations. Performance is a bodily practice that produces meaning, simultaneously transforming and generating reality. Collective bodily practice, activated when groups of people join together in this performative dimension, harbours a great potential for the transformation of social and political reality.
Genealogies of practice
- Documental performativo / Performative Documentary
Performative documentaries (which appeared in the 1980s and ‘90s) privilege subjective narration and self-reflexive experience as the film-maker interacts or negotiates with people being filmed. Cinematic enunciation is interrupted by oral testimonies providing an element of relational interplay which challenges authorial control/authority as constructed in dominant documentary forms.
- Paris Is Burning (EUA) Jennie Livingston, 1990
Paris Is Burning is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African American, Latino, gay and transgender communities involved in it. In the film the elaborately-structured Ball competitions are shown in all their intricacy as parodies of normative aesthetics- from clothing to walking in fashion shows- which denaturalised hetero-normative masculinity or femininity, and drag is presented as a complex performance of gender, class and race, in which one can express one's identity, desires and aspirations along many dimensions. The film depicts people with different gender identities or communities and their different forms of expression. It also explores how its subjects dealt with the adversity of racism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty.