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Theorizing Butler: Performance and Performativity in the 21st Century Labour Market

Special issue call for papers from Gender in Management


Dr Corina Sheerin, Lecturer in Finance, National College of Ireland, EIRE
Dr Adelina Broadbridge, Senior Lecturer in Management, Work and Organisation, University of Stirling, UK

Since  the  1990  publication  of Gender  Trouble:  Feminism  and  the  Subversion  of  Identity, the  prolific work  of  Judith  Butler  has  influenced inquiryacross  a  range  of  disciplines  from  Gender  Studies  to Marketing, Management,  Business  and  Media  Studies.  At  the  core  of  Butler’s  work  is  the conceptualisation  of gender  identity  as  malleable, flexible  and fluid (Gherardi, 2005).  She further contends that the constant and repetitive performance of gender is what underpins gender identity and ultimately   gender   structures. Dependent   on   societal   spaces   and   places,   the   cultural understanding  of  gender  comes  into  being  due  to  the enactment  and physical performance of gender.  Often  that  agency  is  prejudiced  by  the dominant  social  conventions  of  gender  and the continual maintenance of ‘norms’ which are socially and culturally scripted and often restrictive and heterosexual.

The concept of performativity is often presented alongside the notion of ‘(un)doing gender’. The expression ‘(un)doing gender’ is used to exemplify gender as a social construct which is embodied in everyday rituals and acts. It’searly proponents, West and Zimmerman (1987) theorise how gender is enacted and embodied within social interactions, situations and environments with individuals held accountable for how they ‘do gender’. They propose that one cannot opt not to ‘do gender’ as it is a fundamental element of individual identity and as such societal norms. As a consequence, the doing and  undoing  of  gender  plays  an  important  role  in  the  formation  and  maintenance  of hierarchical structures within society as well as how inequalities are formed and manifested.

The  labour  market  is  an  important construction site  for  power  relations, gender  identity  formation and  structural  gender  inequalities. Over  the  years the  work  of  West  and  Zimmerman  (1987)  and Butler (1990) have gained prominence in gender, work and organisational studies with their theories of gender performance and undoing of gender. While there are differences in these two theoretical constructs  and  in  the  issues  they  are  addressing  they  do  have  a  common mainstay  in  their assumption that gender is a social practice and the formation of gender identity is variable and shifts between  contexts. Over  the  last  decades  a  growing  body  of  literature  has  used  the  work  of  West and  Zimmerman  (1987)  as  well  as  Butler  (1990)  to  explore  the  social  practices  of  doing  gender (Martin  2003; Linstead  and  Brewis,  2004;  Gherardi  and  Poggio  2007; Pullen  and  Simpson  2009; Powell et al. 2009; Kelan 2010; Mavin and Grandy 2012; O’Connor 2014, O Connor et al. 2017).

This interdisciplinary call  for  papers  is  interested  in ‘doing gender’ within  the  context  of the  21st century labour  market.  The  modern  labour  market  is  considered  flexible,  dynamic  and technology driven.  It  is presented  by  some as  a  space  where  women  are  empowered agents  who  have boundaryless  choice and  are  agents of their own  destiny. While this  view may be  prevalent  among the  media  and  others,  it  is  not  one  that  is supported by feminist  scholars.  Indeed,  Gill  and  Scharff (2013)  contend  that  such  notions  of  empowerment  exacerbate  and  conceal  a  range  of  inequalities which impact young women’s lives and in particular frame their experiences in the labour market.

Within  this  journal  edition, focus  is  placed  upon  uncovering  the gendered  structures  which  are embedded across the 21st century labour  market; where and  how gender  is  performed  and  in particular  where and  how the conventional doing  of  gender  is disrupted. Drawing upon  Nentwich and Kelan’s (2014)  topology  of  doing  gender  the  following broad themes are  suggested.  Themes outside of those suggested are also welcome and will be considered by the editors.

Theme and Potential Discussions


Occupational/Organisational gendering

How gender is performed in certain sectors



Doing masculinity /Doing Femininity

How men and women’ work is valued

Symbolic hierarchies and male privilege



Constructing identity in gendered occupations

Difference:     Disclosure     or     conformance in forming identity

Social Closure


Flexible and Context Specific

Norms according to labour market location

Who is gendering the activity

Dirty Work/Emotional Work


Gender as gradually relevant and subverted

Gender binaries

Beyond Gender binaries-Queer Theory

Workplace  context  and Gender as  an  external reality

Men as the other


This  journal  edition  will  provide  an  important  and  substantive  theoretical contribution  to post -structural debate   reconfiguring   gender,   work   and   organisations.   It   opens   up   the   discussion concerning  gender  in  the  21st century  workplace  and  brings  into  focus  the  value  of  gender performativity as well as ‘doing gender’ in explaining how  gender  identities  are  constructed  and altered as well as how gender structures are maintained.


Submission Guidelines

Manuscripts  must be  original,  unpublished  works  not  concurrently  under  review  for  publication  at another   outlet. Submissions   should   be   prepared   according   to   the   Author   Guidelines   found at:

When submitting your manuscript, please ensure you select this special issue from the relevant drop down menu on page four of the submission process.

Submission must  be  made through  the  ScholarOne  site: by 20 April 2018.

Initial queries can be directed to the Guest Editor, Dr Corina Sheerin at [email protected]


Butler, J., 1990. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York.

Gherardi, S., 2005. Feminist theory and organization theory. A dialogue on new bases. The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory, Oxford University Press.

Gherardi, S. and Poggio, B., 2007. Gender telling in organizations: Narratives from male-dominated Environments, Copenhagen: Liber.

Gill,  R.  and  Scharff,  C.  eds.,  2013. New  femininities:  Postfeminism,  neoliberalism  and  subjectivity, Springer.

Kelan, E.K., 2010. Gender logic and (un) doing gender at work. Gender, Work and Organization,Vol. 17, No. 2, pp.174-194.

Linstead, A. and Brewis, J. (2004). Editorial: Beyond Boundaries: Towards fluidity in theorizing and Practice, Gender, Work and Organization, Vol.11, No. 4, pp.355-362.

Martin, P.Y., 2003. “Said and done” versus “saying and doing” gendering practices, practicing gender at work, Gender and Society, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp.342-366.

Mavin,  S.  and  Grandy,  G.,  2012.  Doing  gender  well  and  differently  in  management, Gender  in Management: An International Journal, Vol.27, No.4, pp.218-231.

Nentwich, J.C. and Kelan, E.K., 2014. Towards a topology of ‘doing gender’: An analysis of empirical research and its challenges, Gender, Work and Organization, Vol.21, No.2, pp.121-134.

O'Connor, P., 2014. Management and gender in higher education, Oxford University Press.

O’Connor, P.,  O’Hagan,  C.  and  Gray,  B., 2017.  Femininities  in  STEM:  Outsiders  within, Work, Employment and Society, p.0950017017714198.

Powell,  A.,  Bagilhole,  B.  and  Dainty,  A.,  2009.  How  women  engineers  do  and  undo  gender: Consequences for gender equality, Gender, Work and Organization, Vol.16, No.4, pp.411-428.

Pullen, A. and Simpson, R., 2009. Managing difference in feminized work: Men, otherness and social practice, Human Relations, Vol.62, No.4, pp.561-587.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D.H.,1987. Doing gender. Gender & Society, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.125-151.