College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree



critical philosophy, affect, race and racism, ethics, gender and sexuality


In Ethics and affects: a critique of social intelligibility with Adorno, Butler and Spivak I offer a critical analysis that can help to disentangle the reliance of social legitimacy on social intelligibility. I maintain that legitimacy and intelligibility are woven into a kind of double-bind, wherein the illegitimacy of some social identities contributes to a continued unintelligibility of some experiences, while that unintelligibility in turn works to preclude legitimacy. There is thus an injustice, or at least something rather like an injustice, to the ways social intelligibility and social legitimacy are entangled. The central argument here is that critique that best serves to disentangle social legitimacy and social intelligibility is affectively invested critique.

I develop an account of affectively invested critique by drawing on the work of Judith Butler, Theodor Adorno, and Gayatri Spivak, making three arguments that allow me to use their works together productively. First, I show how each of these thinkers arranges their method of critique such that the social-political production of epistemic blindspots can be exposed for critical reflection. Next, I maintain that ethically-informed critique should engage with a notion of the human being who is not transparent to hirself, and questions of value must be brought into conversation with a historically grounded analysis of social-political power. Finally, I suggest that by writing affective comportments into their work these thinkers produce stronger arguments in favor of social justice. I thus examine how these thinkers are able to use affect to make meaning that “sticks” more effectively.

I conclude by claiming that ethical, social, political philosophy should resist prescribing in advance the proper or correct ethical actions in favor of articulating the conditions under which a nuanced critique could occur, one attentive to the concerns of social context and power operations, and this applies also to the one who theorizes. My intention is that thinking through the affects that attend political sensibilities and understanding them as socially constituted judgments can help to reconfigure customary impasses so that affectively different readings of social life can flourish.