August 2016 Archways

The Flexner Lectures

Bonnie Honig—recently announced as the holder of Bryn Mawr’s 2017 Mary Flexner Lectureship—is interested in public things, specifically their role in politics and public life.

Honig is the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Political Science at Brown University and an affiliated research professor at the American Bar Foundation, Chicago. A leading scholar of democratic, feminist and legal theory, Honig specializes in democratic theory, with scholarship that serves as a critique of liberal political theory.

Her most recent book, Antigone, Interrupted, is a re-reading of Sophocles’ tragedy of dissidence and sovereignty. A previous title, Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy, looked at the threat posed to democratic life by political emergencies.

As for her preoccupation with things, she explains, “This interest is occasioned by the contemporary neoliberal impulse to privatize everything and the difficulty, in such a context, of preserving public things and of articulating the importance of public things to democratic life.”

Exploring that interest, she is currently at work on a book titled Public Things.

While in residence at Bryn Mawr, Honig will deliver three public lectures on her new work, which explores the politics of refusal. The lectures will be held on October 30, November 6, and November 13, 2017.

Established in honor of Mary Flexner (Class of 1895), the Lectureship has brought some of the world’s best-known humanists to campus for a brief residency. In addition to public lectures, the residency often includes seminars or discussions with undergraduate and graduate students. By agreement with Bryn Mawr, the Flexner Lectures are subsequently published by Harvard University Press. (See “Judith Butler Publishes Her Flexner Notes” below.)

“The Flexner Lectureship allows faculty and students to delve deeply into the work of a preeminent scholar as a community,” says President Kim Cassidy. “Judith Butler brought real electricity to campus when she was our Flexner Lecturer. I look forward to a similar experience when Bonnie Honig joins us. Her interdisciplinary reach and her interest in political action will engage many of our students and faculty.”

Judith Butler Publishes Her Flexner Notes

Tahrir Square, Occupy, Ferguson—these recent instances of public assembly are at the heart of Judith Butler’s Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. The book, published in agreement with Harvard University Press, presents the Mary Flexner Lectures she delivered at Bryn Mawr in 2011.

Butler is best known for her theory of performativity, in which one’s identity is understood as a performance constituted of, and reinforced by, one’s actions and speech. In Notes, she sees public protests as plural forms of performative action that “say” something—in this case, about the contemporary condition of precarity (in which people are consigned to a life without predictability and hence without security).

In her Times Higher Education review, London School of Economics Professor Mary Evans writes, “Butler’s book is everything that a book about our planet in the 21st century should be.… Butler demonstrates a clear engagement with … the idea that capitalism, certainly in its neoliberal form, is failing to provide a livable life for the majority of human beings. The rhetorical question that Butler asks at the conclusion to her introduction—of how we might act together when we live in worlds in which so many forms of solidarity are diminishing—is a central question for politics throughout the world.”