Judith Butler: theorist and political activist

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Judith Butler, a hugely influential but also controversial theorist, is a philosopher whose writings are not often found on the bookshelves labelled ‘philosophy’. Her job title is ‘Professor of Comparative Literature’, but her work on literature is a very small part of her oeuvre. An avowed feminist, her early, major books on ‘Gender Trouble’ and ‘Bodies that Matter’ are seminal within Queer Theory . What is in no doubt is that she is one of the most important theorists in Feminist and Gender Studies and her influence extends across disciplines, contributing not only to feminist, gender or queer accounts in those disciplines, but to new ways of thinking through and theorizing some major issues for academia in the 21st century. These include, for example, what form of left-wing politics might emerge to combat the rise of far-right extremism; who can and cannot be classed as ‘human’ and therefore disposable or protected; and whose lives are made precarious by the actions of governments?
Butler’s work has provoked significant interest in management and organization studies, both through its influence on feminist or gender theories of work but also because her thesis of performativity (whose meaning will be unfolded in the next section) offers ways of understanding management, organizations and work more generally. Sometimes inadequate attention has been paid to the nuances of this influential theory, perhaps not surprisingly because her earlier works in particular are very difficult to absorb even after several readings. It could be tempting, after struggling with her early work, to ignore her later publications. This would be wrong because her account of performativity has developed. This chapter tracks those changes, showing how an increasingly sophisticated but more accessible account of performativity has evolved in her writing. Butler’s more recent work focused on developing a new radical politics through a feminist ethics of precarity and relationality, and continues to build on her account of performativity. This chapter barely touches the surface of Butler’s influence in management and organisation studies to date due to space constraints; rather it will look to the future and how, through tracking Butler’s evolving thought, possibilities for a new politics of working lives may be developed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge focus on women writers in organisation studies
EditorsR McMurray, A Pullen
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Publication statusAcceptance date - 2019


  • Judith Butler


Dive into the research topics of 'Judith Butler: theorist and political activist'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this