Judith Butler, the oft-cited post-structuralist, feminist, and queer theorist, is coming to Columbia.
Butler, currently a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, accepted an offer from Columbia to become a visiting professor in the English and comparative literature department during the Spring 2012 and 2013 terms, according to Jean Howard, chair of the department. After that, she may be offered a position as a full-time faculty member, Howard said.
“We have every expectation that she will join this faculty full-time, but now she is just visiting,” Howard said.
“The faculty is utterly overjoyed with this possibility,” she added.
Butler has authored pioneering works during her career, including “Gender Trouble,” which introduced the concept of gender performativity, and “Giving an Account of Oneself,” which discusses the limits of self-knowledge.
“She is one of the leading feminist theorists in the world. Many people in literature departments have learned from her books. We use them in this department all the time,” Howard said.
Butler also takes philosophical approaches to literature, which Howard would like to see more of in the English department.
“To the English department, she brings her groundbreaking work in literary theory. Books like ‘Giving an Account of Oneself,’ ‘Antigone’s Claim,’ ‘Precarious Life,’ and ‘Frames of War’ all resonate greatly with the interests of faculty and students alike—interests in literature and philosophy, ethics, psychoanalysis, history,” English professor Marianne Hirsch said.
When Butler becomes a visiting professor, Howard said she could teach courses on philosophical approaches to the novel, philosophical novels, feminist theory, or literary theory.
“This will be a great boon to both the English department and also the growing Institute for Research on Women and Gender and its affiliate, the Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference,” Jenny James, a Columbia Ph.D. candidate in English, wrote in an email. “I know from my experience working in gender studies that it is not every day that one has the opportunity to work with a theorist who has not only shaped a discipline but positively affected how people actually live and relate to each other in the world.”
“For those of us in the queer community who grew up reading queer theory post-Butler’s Gender Trouble, her acceptance is especially exciting,” she added.
Bruce Robbins, the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, said that he uses Butler’s “Subjects of Desire,” which explores the survival of German philosopher Georg Hegel in contemporary French philosophy, in one of the classes he teaches that discusses Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit.”
“All my students are really excited,” Robbins said.
James also said that with this appointment, universities might pay more attention to and better fund gender studies.
“This seems to be one of the first contentious hirings of a woman scholar who specializes in gender studies—a field that is not usually well funded by institutions across the board,” James said.
“Columbia has really upped the ante for funding top scholars in the field and shown this to be a priority.”
“I think Columbia has behaved very well by pulling this off,” Robbins said, adding that Butler received offers from many different schools.
Hirsch, who is also the co-director of the new Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference, said she is looking forward to Butler’s work with the center.
“Her interests intersect with a number of our research projects and we hope she will participate in one or more of our working groups. She is presently conducting two major research projects on ‘Why War?’ and ‘Translating Feminisms’ and we hope that she will share her insights with some of our working groups on related topics,” Hirsch said.
Butler confirmed in an email that she has agreed to visit Columbia during Spring 2012-2013.
“In the meantime, I remain a faculty member at UC Berkeley and will be on sabbatical under the auspices of the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Grant in the Spring of 2011,” she wrote.