Judith Butler is influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis, phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, George Herbert Mead, etc.), structural anthropologists (Claude Levì-Strauss, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, etc.) and speech-act theory (particularly the work of John Searle) in her understanding of the “performativity” of our identities. All of these theories explore the ways that social reality is not a given but is continually created as an illusion “through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign” (“Performative” 270).
A good example in speech-act theory is what John Searle terms illocutionary speech acts, those speech acts that actuallydo something rather than merely represent something. The classic example is the “I pronounce you man and wife” of the marriage ceremony. In making that statement, a person of authority changes the status of a couple within an intersubjective community; those words actively change the existence of that couple by establishing a new marital reality: the words do what they say. Continue reading