Book Chapter

Improvisation in the Disorders of Desire: Performativity, Passion and Moral Education


Munday I (2015) Improvisation in the Disorders of Desire: Performativity, Passion and Moral Education. In: Smith R (ed.) Philosophy of Education II. Major Themes in Education. London: Taylor and Francis.

In this article, I attempt to bring some colour to a discussion of fraught topics in education. Though the scenes and stories (from education and elsewhere) that feature here deal with racism, the discussion aims to say something to such topics more generally. The philosophers whose work I draw on here are Stanley Cavell and Judith Butler. Both Butler and Cavell develop (or depart from) J.L. Austin's theory of the performative utterance. Butler, following Derrida, argues that in concentrating on the illocutionary force of utterances (their capacity to do things), Austin fails to account for the force of words themselves. The iterability of language means that words are never at one with themselves. They carry their old contexts with them as they enter into new ones. This has important consequences for ethical issues that pertain to what Butler calls the ‘performativity’ of gender and race. Though we are performed by language, this performance has a dynamic quality that leads to the reshaping of identity. In contrast, for Cavell, the disappointing aspect of Austin's thought relates to the latter's neglect of the perlocutionary effect of language – what is done ‘by words’. By taking on this project, Cavell embraces the unconventional aspects of language characterised by ‘passionate’ expression and exchange. Butler and Cavell approach the performative utterance from different directions. In the last part of this article, the significance of this difference is discussed in relation to the provision of a moral education with regard to tackling issues surrounding racism.

performative utterance; passionate utterance; performativity; iterability; perlocutions

Title of seriesMajor Themes in Education
Publication date31/12/2015
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Publisher URL
Place of publicationLondon