What is Troublemaking?

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?