September 3, 2012 § 33 Comments
Judith Butler is a queen, perhaps the queen, of poststructuralist philosophy. A pioneer of queer theory and one of the world’s leading feminist philosophers, she made her name with her 1990 book, Gender Trouble, which dismisses the idea of sex and gender as fixed categories, viewing them instead as forms of social artifice. Butler introduced in the book the concept of gender as ‘performativity’: by behaving as if there were male and female ‘natures’ we create the social fiction that these natures exist.
Next week Butler is due to receive the prestigious Adorno Prize. Awarded by the city of Frankfurt to honour its most celebrated philosophical son, Theodor Adorno, the triennial award is given for ‘outstanding work in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film’. Previous winners have included such luminaries as Jurgen Habermas, Zygmunt Bauman, Norbert Elias, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Luc Goddard and György Ligeti.
This year’s award has caused a major controversy. Critics have described the award of the prize to Butler as ‘monstrous’, a ‘scandal’, and ‘morally corrupt’. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 28, 2011 § 4 Comments
A decade ago the American journalist Patrick Tierney published an incendiary book called Darkness in El Dorado. Tierney had spent more than ten years investigating the work of the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, and of Chagnon’s mentor, the geneticist James Neel. He accused Chagnon, among other things, of scientific fraud, sexual abuse, political corruption and, most sensationally, of genocide.
Chagnon was one of the most distinguished anthropologists of his generation, who had made his name as a pioneer of sociobiology and of evolutionary accounts of violence. He had spent a lifetime studying the Yanomamo, an Amazonian tribe that live on borderlands of Brazil and Venezuela. Chagnon presented the Yanomamo as a fierce, primitive tribe, given to murderous violence, whose mores opened the window onto the human past (‘our contemporary ancestors’ as he described them). Most controversially, he linked Yanomami violence to genetic success. The more people a man had killed, Chagnon claimed, the more wives and children he was likely to have. Violence, in his view, enhanced Yanomami men’s reproductive success. « Read the rest of this entry »