Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Applied Linguistics Review

Editor-in-Chief: Wei, Li

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 1.286

See all formats and pricing
More options …

Linguistic precariat: Judith Butler’s ‘rethinking vulnerability and resistance’ as a useful perspective for applied linguistics

Susan SamataORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9130-467X
Published Online: 2017-10-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0060


In the twenty years since the publication of Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech, more so since Gender Trouble (1990), political and cultural landscapes have changed considerably. One general aspect of this change has been a move away from binary oppositions and discrete categories, and towards recognition of multiplicity and plasticity across many areas, including Butler’s central focus of gender, but also perceptions of race, nationality, and language. Butler’s recent publication, ‘Rethinking vulnerability and resistance’ (2016), may also have significance for the field of Applied Linguistics. It is not only the intentional act, for example of promising (Austin 1962) or incitement (Butler 1997), but any utterance has elements of performativity in that it situates a speaker vis-à-vis their surroundings. In any situation that crosses some socio-linguistic boundary, be it across languages, dialects, or markers of class, a delicate calculus of identification and subjectivity is in play. There are echoes here of Bourdieu’s (1991) notion of the types of personal capital, and of Claire Kramsch’ observation that language indexes social relations; ‘Any harmony or disharmony … is registered on this most sensitive of Richter scales.’ (Kramsch 1998: 77) (Italics in original). This paper will discuss the possible application, to language-centred issues facing second generation migrants and others, of Judith Butler’s theory of vulnerability in resistance (Butler 2016). In this theory, vulnerability is framed not as a prima facie need for protection, but as the very ground for resistance.

Keywords: migrant languages; heritage languages; Judith Butler; precarity; resistance


  • Austin, J. L. 1962. How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Bang, J. C. & W. Trampe. 2014. Aspects of an ecological theory of language. Language Sciences 41. 83–92.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Barthes, R. 2000. Camera Lucida. R. Howard, Trans. London: Vintage.Google Scholar

  • Blommaert, J. & B. Rampton (2012). Language and superdiversity. MMG Working Paper 17-05. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religion and Ethnic Diversity. www.mmg.de/workingpapers (accessed 21 February 2016).

  • Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. R. Nice, Trans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Bourdieu, P. 1991. Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar

  • Butler, J. 1997. Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Butler, J. 2004. Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. London: Verso.Google Scholar

  • Butler, J. 2016. Rethinking vulnerability and resistance. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti & L. Sabsay (eds.), Vulnerability in resistance, 12–27. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar

  • Connor, S. 2000. Dumbstruck: A cultural history of ventriloquism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Connerton, P. 2009. How modernity forgets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Crystal, D. 2000. Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Derrida, J. 1998. The monolingualism of the other or the prosthesis of origin. P. Mensah, Trans. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Duchêne, A. & M. Heller. 2008. Discourses of endangerment: Ideology and interest in the defence of languages. London: Continuum.Google Scholar

  • Fineman, M. A. 2008. The vulnerable subject: Anchoring equality in the human condition. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 20(1 article 2). http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlf/vol20/iss1/2 (accessed 09 May 2017).

  • Harris, R. 2001. The language myth in Western Europe. Richmond: Curzon.Google Scholar

  • Hirsch, M. 2016. Vulnerable times. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti & L. Sabsay (eds.), Vulnerability in resistance, 76–98. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar

  • Kramsch, C. 1998. Language and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Kramsch, C. 2016. The multiple faces of symbolic power. Applied Linguistics Review 7(4). 517–529.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Lieberson, S. 1981. Language and ethnic relations: A neglected problem. In A. S. Dill & A. S. Dill (eds.), Language diversity and language contact: Essays by Stanley Lieeberson, 1–18. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Love, N. 2003. Rethinking the fundamental assumption of lnguistics. In H. G. Davis & T. J. Taylor (eds.), Rethinking linguistics, 69–94. London: Routledge Curzon.Google Scholar

  • Love, N. 2004. Cognition and the language myth. Language Sciences 26. 525–544.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Love, N. 2007. Are languages digital codes?. Language Sciences 29. 690–709.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

  • Pennycook, A. 2015. Metrolingualism. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Robbins, P., & Aydede, M. 2009. A short primer on situated cognition. In P. Robbins & M. Aydede (eds.), The Cambridge handbook of situated cognition (pp. 3–10). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Rumbaut, R. G. 1994. The crucible within: Ethnic identity, self-esteem, and segmented assimilation among children of immigrants. The International Migration Review 28. 748–794. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2547157 (accessed 28 February 2016).Crossref

  • Samata, S. 2014. The cultural memory of language. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar

  • Samata, S. 2016. Language, exclusion and violent jihad: Are they related?. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Standing, G. 2014. A precariat charter: from denizens to citizens. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar

  • Steffensen, S. V. & A. Fill. 2014. Ecolinguistics: The state of the art and future horizons. Language Sciences 41. 6–25. doi:CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Zhu, H. & W. Li. 2016. “Where are you really from?”: Nationality and ethnicity talk (NET) in everyday interactions. In H. Zhu & C. Kramsch (eds.), Applied linguistics review, 7(4)(Symbolic power and conversational inequality in intercultural communication), 449–470. doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2017-10-25

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0060.

Export Citation

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in