The Consulate General of France in San Francisco awarded comparative literature and critical theory professor Judith Butler the insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters on Jan. 26 for her research.
Consul General of France Pauline Carmona awarded Butler with the insignia, given for the impact of her work in philosophy, ethics and political and literary theories on French society. Butler said she was commended specifically for her theoretical contributions to gender studies and commitment to human rights.
The Order of Arts and Letters was established under the jurisdiction of the French minister of culture and communication in 1957 to recognize individuals who have contributed to furthering arts in France and throughout the world. The award’s three levels consist of chevalier — which Butler received — followed by officer and commander. A UC Berkeley alumnus, Charlotte Eyerman, also received the insignia of Chevalier in 2014.
Butler, who has been teaching at UC Berkeley for 22 years, has been affiliated with several departments and programs, including comparative literature, rhetoric and performance studies. She also co-founded the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture and was a founding director of the Program in Critical Theory.
Butler said in an email that she is currently working on a project about nonviolence, as well as a collaborative Franco-American project about gender in translation. She said gender gains some meanings and loses others as it is translated into different languages and cultural histories. Butler said her work has been translated into French and is “engaged with French thought.”
“I hope this (Franco-American) project will assume more global dimensions with time,” she said.
She said she is writing a book about public assemblies, including demonstrations and vigils. The thesis of her book, she said, is that political discourse is often conveyed by means other than vocalized speech.
Robert Kaufman, a campus comparative literature professor and Butler’s colleague, said Butler’s work is noteworthy in the field of academia and the larger public sphere where philosophy, literature, politics and culture are always at issue. He said Butler’s work questions and analyzes the process in which social norms are established.
Butler is always willing to give advice and input during discussions and with her colleagues and students’ projects, Kaufman said.
“What’s most evident to me is her generosity,” he said. “My impression of her is someone who is always in the mix and trying to further what critical conversations have been going on.”
In 2012, Butler received the Adorno Prize from the city of Frankfurt for her work in feminist and moral philosophy and the Brudner Prize from Yale University for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies. She also received the Faculty Research Award at UC Berkeley.