Negotiating Norms, Recreating Normativity

Negotiating Norms, Recreating Normativity

imagesFrom my experience in social justice communities, it seems as though there is a collective struggle within and against the normativity of the status quo.  We are always negotiating the normative systems we find ourselves in, that we find ourselves compelled to recapitulate or resist through our gender performances.  But it is not all about gender.  In fact, it is about a coherent constellation of social justices issues that affect people in intersecting ways.  These social justice fronts, such as racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and gender justice, are all interrelated through a set of normative claims that exist as the water to the fish in social justice communities.  However, for those not involved in social justice communities,  this form of normativity may seem very severe, as there is a constant policing of speech, especially humour.  Dialectically, however, the very limit of our freedom is the essential condition of our freedom, for if we had no limits we would be limited by limit itself.  Internalizing, embodying, and performing the limit on our speech, which may seem like the negation of free speech, is actually producing communities where people who are inscribed by multiple systems of oppression can find a place which accepts their existence as a founding principle of that form of sociality.

What do we do? I think the first thing to notice is that different cultural groups have different normative systems in place, and that as we traverse cultural space we are interpolated to play different roles according to different context. However, the key point Judith Butler makes is that we have the performative freedom to recapitulate or resist the normative systems we find ourselves in; we may not, however, have the existential freedom over which normative system we are located in – though, sometimes we do.  Recapitulation is what the normative system desires of the subjects that subsist within it, as it survives by being reiterated. The other option is resistance, however that is always a pushing off from an original; resistance is always constituted as being against something, it is defined relationally, not substantially.  If everyone decided to resist, one king would be replaced with another, and a new form of resistance would take the place of the old. I think the key is to strive for the continual transcendence of normative systems.  Although there is the truth of each normative system, the greater truth is the movement underlying all forms of normative systems.  Just as individuals go through successive stages in their lives, and seem to have lives within lives, and transform from one self to another self and yet have an abiding awareness, normative systems change form, and may even develop into more just and more equal normative structures, there is an underlying ethical impulse driving the transformation. Just as technology is compelled to always outdo its last version, we should always strive to continually embrace the most people, sentient beings, or existents possible.

Beyond recapitulation and resistant, is the temporality within which performativity occurs.  The point is not to resist or be subversive – those are simply moments of a movement to recreate – and not simply reorder the same component parts in a novel way, but to genuinely create a form of normativity that exists as an emergent property of our current cultural formation.

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