Press Release

Judith Butler wins Mellon Award

| 19 March 2009

Judith Butler, the Maxine Elliott Professor in the University of California, Berkeley's departments of comparative literature and rhetoric, is a winner of the 2008 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award for her exemplary contributions to scholarship in the humanities.

Judith ButlerJudith Butler (Jerry Bauer photo)
Butler is a leading scholar of gender and sexuality studies, feminist theory, political philosophy, critical theory, and cultural criticism. She writes frequently about contemporary politics, cultural and literary theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminism and sexual politics.

The Mellon prize carries with it an award of up to $1.5 million over a three-year term, with funds being granted to and overseen by the recipients' institutions. The awards generally underwrite a portion of award recipients' salaries and research expenses, while providing support for collaborating colleagues and students.

Butler said she is honored to receive the award and hopes that it can help fund new research projects for the campus's recently created program in critical theory, which permits UC Berkeley students to minor in critical theory and get certification in it while pursuing a Ph.D. in their home department.

"I am interested in how new forms of war call for new modes of critical theory, and I am hoping to fund several collaborative efforts dedicated to meeting this important intellectual challenge," Butler said. "I am especially pleased that the monies might be used to help fund doctoral and post-doctoral research and visiting positions during a time of financial restrictions. My hope is that the award is able to offer UC Berkeley something important during these times."

Janet Broughton, acting executive dean of UC Berkeley's College of Letters and Science and dean of the division of arts and humanities, said she is "delighted that Professor Butler's remarkable work is being recognized in this way, and I'm deeply impressed by her plan to use her Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award to broaden the ways in which the humanities can address fundamental questions about war and peace."

Other UC Berkeley recipients of the award that began in 2001 include history professor Thomas Laqueur in 2007 and art history professor T.J. Clark in 2005.
Butler is the sole author of ten books, including "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity," a classic and one of the most popular books in the fields of feminist theory. In the book, Butler questions traditional and feminist - or nature vs. culture - sex/gender distinctions and develops a performative theory of gender.

Some of her other books include "Precarious Life" (2005), "Giving an Account of Oneself" (2005), "The Psychic Life of Power" (1997) and "Bodies That Matter" (1993). Her work has been the subject of a dozen monographs, and Jay Bernstein, a professor of philosophy in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York City, has called Butler "simply one of the most probing, challenging, and influential thinkers of our time."

Butler's latest book, "Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?" is due out later this year.
In it, Butler explores the roles that the state and the media play in making war through the framing of how populations are regarded. She examines how those who make war produce a disparity between lives worth sheltering and grieving and those that are not, thus influencing why and when people feel horror, outrage, guilt, loss and righteous indifference in the context of war and everyday life. Such frames, Butler argues, affect the political acceptance of war and, under certain conditions, facilitate its rejection.

Prior to joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 1993, Butler taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University. Her courses have ranged from literary theory, modern philosophical fiction, feminist and sexuality studies, to 19th- and 20th-century European literature and philosophy, Kafka and loss, mourning and war.

Butler is on sabbatical this academic year. She recently led seminars at the École des hautes études and the École normale supérieure in Paris.

Other awards received by Butler include the Brudner Prize for Lifetime Achievement at Yale University in 2004, a Laurance S. Rockefeller Fellowship in 2001, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1999 and grants from the Ford Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies in 2008-2009. She received a fellowship in 1987-1988 from the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. In 2004-2005, she was named the Faculty Research Lecturer at UC Berkeley. And in 2007, she was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, the country's oldest and most selective learned society.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Butler earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1984.