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An Afternoon with Judith Butler: On the Pandemic and Our Shared World

General Programming

dateMarch 24, 2023 timeFriday, 4:00pm–5:30pm EDT location Jerome Greene Hall (Law School), Room 101, Columbia University
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Zip Code Memory Project
  • Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender
  • Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought
  • Office of the Dean of Humanities
  • Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
  • Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement
  • Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life
  • Society of Senior Scholars
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • RSVP suggested
Cover of What World Is This? A Pandemic Phenomenology by Judith Butler

The pandemic compels us to ask fundamental questions about our place in the world: the many ways humans rely on one another, how we vitally and sometimes fatally breathe the same air, share the surfaces of the earth, and exist in proximity to other porous creatures in order to live in a social world. What we require to live can also imperil our lives. How do we think from, and about, this common bind?

In What World Is This? A Pandemic Phenomenology, Judith Butler shows how COVID-19 and all its consequences—political, social, ecological, economic—have challenged us to reconsider the sense of the world that such disasters bring about. Drawing on the work of Max Scheler, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and critical feminist phenomenology, Butler illuminates the conditions in which we seek to make sense of our disorientation, precarity, and social bonds. What World Is This? offers a new account of interdependency in which touching and breathing, capacities that amid a viral outbreak can threaten life itself, challenge the boundaries of the body and selfhood. Criticizing notions of unlimited personal liberty and the killing forces of racism, sexism, and classism, this book suggests that the pandemic illuminates the potential of shared vulnerabilities as well as the injustice of pervasive inequalities.

Exposing and opposing forms of injustice that deny the essential interrelationship of living creatures, Butler argues for a radical social equality and advocates modes of resistance that seek to establish new conditions of livability and a new sense of a shared world.


Judith Butler is a Distinguished Professor in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. They are the author of several books, most recently The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (2020). Butler’s previous Columbia University Press books include Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012), Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (2000), and Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (1987).


Mia Florin-Sefton is a PhD in the English and Comparative Literature Department and Literature Humanities Instructor at Columbia University with research interests in contemporary and modernist literature and film, social reproduction theory, feminist and queer marxisms, and critical theory. Her academic and public-facing writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Feminist Review, Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, Literature & Medicine, Modernism & Modernity Print Plus, Post45 Contemporaries, Lit Hub, The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Last year she was a Public Humanities Fellow with the Zip Code Memory Project, and the year prior to that, as the graduate fellow for ISSG, she organized a conference on Radical Care.

Rishi K. Goyal is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center and founding director of the major in Medical Humanities. Professor Goyal completed his residency in Emergency Medicine as Chief Resident while finishing his PhD in English and Comparative Literature. His research interests include the health humanities, the study of the novel, and medical epistemology. His writing has appeared in The Living Handbook of Narratology, Aktuel Forskning, Litteratur, Kultur og Medier, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other places. He is a Co-Founding Editor of the online journal, Synapsis: A Health Humanities Journal

Marianne Hirsch is the William Peterfield Trent Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Professor in the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a former President of the Modern Language Association of America. Along with a group of local scholars, artists and activists, Hirsch is currently co-directing the Zip Code Memory Project, an initiative that seeks to find art and community-based ways to repair the devastating losses resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic while also acknowledging its radically differential effects on Upper New York City neighborhoods.