Institutional arrangements, while constituting subject positions, also relegate others to inhabit unlivable abject positions. Such a perspective on identity begs the question on the possibilities of institutional reform given that abjects must seek recourse, if any, from the very institutions that marginalized them. One source for reform can be found in the functioning of institutional forums vested with performative powers, such as the Supreme Court. But how do these institutional forums legitimately bring about social transformation given that precedents bind them? To address this puzzle, we analyzed two Supreme Court rulings that showcase the performativity of institutions in materializing subject/abject positions, and the reforms that are possible. One is the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling providing marriage rights to same-sex couples. The other is the 2014 Indian Supreme Court ruling that legalized a third gender. An analysis of these two rulings and a comparison across them highlights the historical yet contingent nature of identity. The analysis also highlights “citational grafting” as a key mechanism underlying institutional reform, i.e., citations to earlier instances of social transformation serving as precedents for bringing about additional changes given new circumstances.
We thank Lu Chang, Joel Gehman, Trish Reay, and Paula Ungureanu for their useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
Garud, R. and Tharchen, T. (2016), "The Performative Puzzle: How Institutions Matter in Marginalizing and Reconstituting Identities", How Institutions Matter! (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 48B), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 235-260. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X201600048B008
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