Judith Butler: on COVID-19, the politics of non-violence, necropolitics, and social inequality


In this event (hosted by the Whitechapel Gallery and British Library, on the occasion of Verso's 50th anniversary), Judith Butler presents a lecture taking in all the complexities of the global pandemic, followed by a live Q&A chaired by Amia Srinivasan.

The pandemic is a crisis in itself but also one that exacerbates pre-existing crises of capital, care, race, and climate. If we seek to repair the world or the planet then it must be unshackled from the market economy that profits from its distribution of life and death. The state directed imperative to open the economy mid-pandemic, comes at the cost of human lives, and those lives are generally Black and Brown lives working in service economies. In short, the global pandemic has revealed "the death drive at the heart of the capitalist machine".

"If Foucault thought there was a difference between taking another’s life and letting another die, we see that police violence works in tandem with health systems that let people die. It is systemic racism that links the two forms of power." – Butler

Watch the event in full, here:

Amia Srinivasan is the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College, Oxford. She is currently finishing two books. The first is about the practice of critical genealogy, entitled The Contingent World: Genealogy, Epistemology, Politics. The second is a set of feminist essays entitled The Right to Sex, forthcoming with Bloomsbury in the UK and FSG in the US. She is a contributing editor of the London Review of Books, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, the Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, The New York Times and TANK.

This event is hosted by the Whitechapel Gallery, and presented in collaboration with the British Library as part of Feminist Resistance: Strategies for the 21st Century. It is part of a programme of live events, and series of author videos, to mark 50 years of radical publishing at Verso Books. See more here!

Judith Butler's most recent book, The Force of Nonviolence, argues that nonviolence is often misunderstood as a passive practice that emanates from a calm region of the soul, or as an individualist ethical relation to existing forms of power. But, in fact, nonviolence is an ethical position found in the midst of the political field:

Considering nonviolence as an ethical problem within a political philosophy requires a critique of individualism as well as an understanding of the psychosocial dimensions of violence. Butler draws upon Foucault, Fanon, Freud, and Benjamin to consider how the interdiction against violence fails to include lives regarded as ungrievable. 

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