PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Bonnie Honig, a professor of modern culture and media and political science at Brown University, has been awarded a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the organization announced on Wednesday, April 5.
Honig is one of 171 new Guggenheim fellows, chosen through a peer-review process from a pool of almost 2,500 applicants. The fellows, who are selected based on their past achievements and future promise, represent 48 scholarly fields and artistic disciplines; among them are painters, geoscientists, novelists and public health experts.
The fellowship will fund a year of research and writing time for Honig’s new book, “Doing Things with Words: Virality and Performativity in Democratic and Queer Theory.” In the book, Honig will demonstrate how the definition of performative speech has changed over the decades — and why it’s important to reclaim the term’s original meaning, which acknowledges the awesome power of words to transform situations and societies.
Honig explained that the British philosopher J. L. Austin coined the term “performative utterances” to describe words that doubled as actions. In the seminal 1962 book “How To Do Things With Words,” Austin wrote that performative utterances, in contrast to so-called “constative utterances,” don’t just describe things as they are but in fact change the social reality. The wedding vow “I do,” for example, is a performative utterance. The words don’t just describe one person’s love for another, Honig said. They double as action, committing one person to another but also injuring those excluded from taking part in traditional wedding ceremonies. For the latter group, the “I do” is also a “not you.”