This review considers the impact of recent performance theory, especially the theory of gender performativity, on anthropological efforts to theorize sex and gender. In brief, the theory of performativity defines gender as the effect of discourse, and sex as the effect of gender. The theory is characterized by a concern with the productive force rather than the meaning of discourse and by its privileging of ambiguity and indeterminacy. This review treats recent performance theory as the logical heir, but also the apotheosis, of two anthropological traditions. The first tradition is feminist anti-essentialism, which first distinguished between sex and gender in an effort to denaturalize asymmetry. The second tradition is practice theory, which emphasized habitual forms of embodiment in its effort to overcome the oppositions between individual and society. In concluding, questions are raised about the degree to which current versions of performance theory enact rather than critically engage the political economies of value and desire from which they arise.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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