Anagramatic ABC



In 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.


  • Storytelling in Daily Life. Performing Narrative.  Kristin M. Langellier & Eric E. Peterson 2004, Philadelphia: Temple University Press

  • Actos performativos y constitución de género: un ensayo sobre fenomenología y teoría feminista. Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Judith Butler, 1988,

  • Diásporas y transiciones en la Teoría del Actor-Red. B.Callén, M.Domènech, D.López, I.Rodríguez Giralt, T.Sánchez-Criado, F.Javier Tirado Serrano 2011, Revista Atenea Digital. Vol. 11, nº1

  • re.act.feminism. A Performing Archive  ,
    A continually expanding, temporary and living performance archive travelling through six European countries from 2011 to 2013. It presents feminist, gender-critical and queer performance art by over 120 artists and artist collectives from the 1960s to the beginning of the 1980s, as well as contemporary positions.

  • Revolutionary Love: I am Your Worst Fear, I am Your Best Fantasy. Sharon Hayes (USA), 2008,
    New York artist Sharon Hayes mounted two large-scale public performances titled Revolutionary Love 1: I Am Your Worst Fear and Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2008. On each occasion groups of approximately 70-100 people recited texts about love, politics, gay power, and gay liberation, written by Hayes. Drawing on both the history of the Gay Liberation movement, which forged a new and deep relationship between love and politics, and the political climate at a time when the war in Iraq figured as a central element in the Presidential campaign, Hayes’ work challenged simplistic oppositions between love and war. Conflating grassroots political activism, performance art, queer theory, and national politics, Hayes’ two public performances included speakers drawn from the gay, lesbian, and transgendered community.