Notes on Isaac West’s Transforming Citizenships, NYUP, 2014.

West offers several case studies of how transgender articulations of law can change our perspectives. He also offers “performative repertoire” as a concept to get beyond acontextual legal rhetorics (see more below). Following are selected quotations and contextualizing notes.

“Academic critique that is limited to official state texts, including legislative debates, statutes, and court opinions, embraces an impoverished sense of the rhetoricity of citizenship and its corresponding agencies” (p. 17)

“an exclusive focus on litigation does not provide an accurate picture of legal subjectivities” (p. 20)

“contextualized critiques of articulations of citizenship are necessary correctives for conceptualizing the law not as an external force acting on culture, but rather as an actually existing set of cultural effectivities” (p. 21)

“agency must be understood as a ‘performative repertoire,’ or as embodied practices enabled by and negotiated through the logics of subjective recognition” (p. 39)

“Returning to the body as a locus of identity and knowledge production does much to allay the fear sof those who mistakenly read theorists like Butler as advancing a playful politics detached from the material conditions of our lives” (p. 54)

“performative repertoires ask us to consider how agency is developed and practiced in ways that are not immediately apparent if we restrict ourselves to the immediate moment of the public transcript” (p. 55)

West offers a useful history of Critical Legal Studies (CLS) in the 70s and 80s (including discussion of scholars such as Derrick Bell, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, and Patricia Williams), and how it has informed critical race theory and other modern critical theories. (p. 100)

“sometimes the legal remedy itself is not as important as the work done in its name” (p. 137)

“For some, an agentic subject is one who acts rationally and publicly within the boundaries of cultural norms to achieve some goal. For others, agency is impossible once one invokes dominant discourses as they are irrevocably tainted by hegemonic norms” (p. 178)

“If agency is defined as action in accordance to one’s recognition within dominant norms, conformity trumps intention when norms are understood as external forces constraining individuals to a narrow range of preapproved subjectivities, Conversely, if agency is dependent upon one’s rejection of all institutions and norms due to their ideological saturation, individuals experience agency only if they make themselves unintelligible to others. Where the first view of agency accepts normalization in exchange for recognition, the later incorrectly assumes that we can somehow stand at an instrumental distance from power and critique it from outside” (p. 178-179)

“agency is not found in heroic actions within or outside cultural formations but rather in performative repertoires, or the everyday contestations of identity informed by one’s experiences but not determined in advance by these same experiences” (p. 179)

“Through the enactment of performative repertoires, wherin subjects operate through logics of recognition but are not subservient to them, individuals employ a reservoir of corporeal knowledges to navigate the discursive circuitries of hegemonic norms” (p. 183)

 

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