difficult, obstreperous, curious, questioning, refusing to obey, unruly

But in the moment we begin to ask ourselves about the legitimacy of this power we become critical, we adopt a point of view that is not completely shaped by the state and we question ourselves about the limits of the demands that can be placed on us. And if I am not wholly formed by this power of the state, in what way am I, or might I be, formed?  Asking yourself this question means you are already beginning to form yourself in another way, outside this relation with the state, so critical thought distances you to some extent…Many people ask about the basis on which Foucault establishes this resistance to power.  What he is saying to us is that in the practice of critical thought we are forming ourselves as subjects, through resistance and questioning (Butler, cited in my talk, Troublemaking as a Virtue)

See my blog, TROUBLE
What is Troublemaking? from TROUBLE

Troublemaking is an approach to looking at and acting in the world.
Troublemaking is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of practices.
Troublemaking is thinking critically all the time.
Troublemaking is the willingness to challenge the status quo.
Troublemaking is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced.
Troublemaking is not only destructive but productive.
Troublemaking is asking questions and being curious.
Troublemaking is about pushing at the limits of our most sure ways of knowing.

Troublemaking is dangerous.
Troublemaking is creative.
Troublemaking is virtuous.
Troublemaking is needed.

Over the past few years I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the value of troublemaking for individuals and communities who are engaged in ethical, political, personal, theoretical projects of social transformation. I have studied it, written about it and taught it in undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Minnesota.

Troublemaking (as a wide range of practices, an attitude, a virtue) is a compelling way to organize my feminist and queer thinking about the world. When I reflect on what moves me (as a writer, as a scholar, as a thinker, as a critic, as a person), I am perpetually drawn to the idea of troublemaking.

Before saying anything more, I must admit that my thinking about troublemaking is inspired by Judith Butler (Yes, I am a big fan who has read almost everything she has ever written). I first read Gender Trouble as a graduate student in Claremont, California in 1996. And, like many others, I was deeply moved and changed forever. But, what moved me about her work were not simply her ideas about troubling gender or about performativity. What moved me about her work was the attention and value she gave to troublemaking as an important way of living.

In the preface to Gender Trouble, she writes, “…trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it” (vii).

  • But, what would it mean to embrace trouble? To develop strategies for making it and being in it in ways that could produce compelling and potentially transformative ideas and actions?
  • What would it mean to take troublemaking seriously—as an important way of living life? As an object/subject of analysis? As a virtue that guides our moral and ethical practices?
  • What would it mean to encourage the troublemaker and troublemaking within us—to listen to the voice that tells us that something isn’t right and that demands that we challenge the ideas that are being forced upon us? To refuse to merely accept what we are told without question or careful consideration? To perpetually ask why things are the way that are and who benefits from them being so? And, most importantly, always to think and reflect on our lives and our actions and relationships to others?
Making Trouble in Teaching from the Undisciplined Dossier

 Even before I started writing on my TROUBLE blog, I thought about trouble a lot. It started in the spring of 1997, when I first encountered Judith Butler’s infamous lines in the preface to the first edition of Gender Trouble. 

“trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.”

Embracing trouble and developing ways, in my scholarship and teaching, for how best to make it and to be in it—and stay in it, have been central to what I do, and in many ways who I am, as a thinker, writer, and undisciplined educator. Directly and indirectly, I used the classes that I taught at the University as laboratories for testing out various troublemaking methods and tactics. 

By the time I stopped teaching in 2011, I had developed a troublemaking system: 

Lists: Troublemaking is…*
  • an interdisciplinary method for putting a wide range of ideas across disciplines and the academic/non-academic divide into conversation with each other. 
  • a critical and playful approach for engaging with ideas and theories. 
  • a compelling way to describe and understand a central theme and task underlying many social justice movements. 
  • the basis for my pedagogy inside and outside of the classroom. 
  • a central virtue in my vision of a feminist virtue ethics. 

*Taken from a discussion of my areas of interest in a 2011 job application cover letter.

Looking back at my teaching materials, I can find evidence of trouble everywhere, including: entire courses about making trouble and required readings and discussion topics assigned to trace genealogies of troublemakers and critically interrogate troublemaking methods. Lectures and class activities designed for making and staying in trouble. And blog posts from my TROUBLE blog, incorporated into discussions and used for pedagogical experiments and modeling my approaches to engaging with texts and completing assignments.

Make Trouble from the Inside
Feeling Troubled in the Classroom
from my essay, P A T E L L A R S U B L U X A T I O N

S trange, deranged words. Words can intimidate, alienate, overwhelm. My brain used to shut down when confronted with medical jargon. I would try, but just couldn’t listen to the doctor discussing patellafemoral pain syndrome or oseophytes. I’m trying to overcome this by engaging with these scary words creatively. Rearranging letters to weaken their power over me. This is working. Patellafemoral pain syndrome might sound really bad, but O Moral Leap Felt! pain syndrome or A Feral Poem Toll pain syndrome don’t. And who can be scared of oseophytes (bone spurs), when they’re transformed into a hot eye post or hot pot eyes or yo, the poets?

A cronyms. Sometimes I play with medical acronyms, converting their tedious explanations into whimsical wonderings. MRI is transformed from Magnetic Resonance Imaging to Musk Rat Infatuation. RICE, from Rest Ice Compress Elevate to Rapture is Coming Early or Red Indigo Copper Ecru or Rancid Icky Curdled Eggs or Random Isotopes Create Elements or Rhode Island Can’t Even.

be difficult and useless

To resist in place is to make oneself into a shape that cannot so easily be appropriated by a capitalist value system. To do this means refusing the frame of reference: in this case, a frame of reference in which value is determined by productivity, the strength of one’s career, and individual entrepreneurship (Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing).

a boulder
not a stone too
big to be stacked too
much trouble to be moved (Sara Lynne Puotinen).