, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 97-110
Date: 10 Apr 2010

Expressivity and performativity: Merleau-Ponty and Butler

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Abstract

Until now post-structuralism and phenomenology are widely regarded as opposites. Contrary to this opinion, I am arguing that they have a lot in common. In order to make my argument, I concentrate on Judith Butler’s poststructuralist concept of performativity to confront it with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological concept of expressivity. While Butler claims that phenomenological theories of expression are in danger of essentialism and thus must be replaced by non-essentialist theories of performativity, I hold that Merleau-Ponty’s concept of expressivity must strictly be understood in anti-essentialist terms. Following this line of interpretation, “expressivity” and “performativity”—as well as phenomenology and post-structuralism—are not opposites but partners in the search for an anti-essentialist gender concept. Consequently, feminist phenomenology turns out to be a non-essentialist approach that combines phenomenological and post-structural insights.