Over the last three decades, Judith Butler's theories have been extensively applied within work on gender, sexuality, the body and identity. Performativity is recognised as one of Butler's most influential ideas, describing 'reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces effects that it names'. Butler's work on performativity has been explored within disability studies, in which applications have focussed on visible disabilities. Nonvisible disabilities, representing unmarked social identities, have been invisible in these works.
After surviving a traumatic injury to the brain, the majority of people achieve full physical recovery but may experience a range of nonvisible disabilities, objectified in terms of impaired cognitive, psychological, emotional and social functioning. In this presentation, I will consider application of the theory of performativity to nonvisible aspects of experience following traumatic brain injury, moving focus away from the body, and exploring the extent to which Butler's work can be disconnected from the gender-identity categories for which it was developed.
Through one narrative case study, I aim to illustrate the potential relevance of this application for the provision of support for people after traumatic brain injury. Butler asserts that a person's identity becomes intelligible only when it adjusts itself to the recognisable structures and norms of that identity. Individuals may not perceive themselves to fit the existing norms of healthcare contexts or social expectations and, by choosing to act differently, expressions of agency then challenge assumptions about "having a brain injury".