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Studies in Philosophy and Education 18: 309317, 1999.

1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Performativity: Lyotard and Foucault Through

Searle and Austin

Department of Education, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Abstract. Lyotard talks of performativity or the subsumption of education to the efficient functioning
of the social system. Education is no longer to be concerned with the pursuit of ideals such as that
of personal autonomy or emancipation, but with the means, techniques or skills that contribute to the
efficient operation of the state in the world market and contribute to maintaining the internal cohesion
and legitimation of the state. But this requires individuals of a certain kind not Kantian autonom-
ous persons but Foucaults normalized and governable individuals. In constituting such individuals
discourse is critically important. But how discourse effects this through the force of language is not
fully developed by Foucault. This paper draws upon the performative account of language offered by
John Austin to develop more fully comments made by Foucault on the force or effects of language
in constituting normalized and governable individuals for the march of performativity.

In a paper delivered in Japan in April 1978, Michel Foucault said:
For a long time one has known that the role of philosophy is not to discover
what is hidden, but to make visible precisely what is visible, that is to say, to
make evident what is so close, so immediate, so intimately linked to us, that
because of that we do not perceive it. Whereas the role of science is to reveal
what we do not see, the role of philosophy is to let us see what we see (Foucault,
1978, pp. 5401).
Here Foucault talks of analyzing power not in terms of theory but of an analytics of
power based upon Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy, which he sees as an empirical
task of considering the everyday use that one makes of language in different types
of discourse . . . on the basis of the way in which one says things. But whilst this
would bear not so much on language games but rather on power games, language
is not to be thereby abandoned (1976, p. 124). He continues, Discourse is, with
respect to the relation of forces, not merely a surface of inscription, but something
that brings about effects. Thus we should study discourse as ways of conquering,
of producing events, of producing decisions, of producing battles, of producing
victories (1974, p. 539).
Whilst Foucault is sensitive then to Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy and to the
force or effects of language that language is not merely used to describe and

aware of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle, he does not appear
to turn explicitly to sources such as J. L. Austin where the performative use of
language is extensively discussed, to show how language can have force. Thus, to
augment Foucaults position, in this paper I turn to Austin primarily with back-
ground from Searle. But, I begin with performativity from Foucaults compatriot,
Jean-Francois Lyotard.

According to John Austin (1970, p. 233; also 1962) in relation to performative
utterances, performative is a new word and an ugly word. Performativity is also
a relatively new word (e.g., Jean-Franois Lyotard, 1984) and it is ugly too, but it
does mean a lot though the meaning is ugly. Austin said of performative (loc.
cit) that it is not a profound word (Austin, 1970, p. 233), but in Lyotards (1984)
account performativity becomes profound as it refers to a concept that provides
new insights into the modern condition: that is, where we are now, and in the bleak
and devastating revelation which the condition has for us as human beings and
as educationalists. Bleak indeed is the desire for perfection. In this condition, the
demands of performativity mean not the pursuit of educational ideals, like personal
autonomy, or emancipation but, instead, the subsumption of education under the
demands of efficiency for the total social system.
Performativity, post-Lyotard, has become almost a term of abuse to be used
for the ideology and efficient practices of those institutions which, based upon the
human sciences, are increasingly dominated by bureaucracy wherein goals are set
in ever narrowing demands of reporting, and where accountability is measured by
outputs. In the general cry for efficiency and accountablity, in social welfare, in
general, the Western World has shifted from inputs and professional discretion as
to how objectives are to be achieved, to an emphasis of less discretion as to how to
achieve aims or ideals. This emphasis on outputs is highly specific, wherein they
are not only recorded but used as the basis for any further inputs. The debate there-
fore has shifted from aims or ideals to means or techniques for obtaining efficient
outcomes the most efficient way of using the (now limited) welfare dollar.
Furthermore, performativity in education, according to Lyotard (1984, pp. 57
59), has been subsumed under the performativity of the wider social system
because education is required to create the skills which are indispensable if the
wider social system is to perform efficiently. These skills are of two kinds: those
that contribute specifically to enable a country to participate in the markets of
world competition and those that contribute to maintaining internal cohesion and
legitimation. Thus, education is not to pursue or to produce ideals, or to provide an
elite capable of guiding a society or nation towards emancipation but, instead, to
supply the system with players capable of acceptably fulfilling their roles at the
pragmatic posts required by its institutions (pp. 5759). Consequently universities
are no longer democratic institutions, modeled along emancipationist/humanist

lines as they have undergone realignment to the performance of the wider social
system. There are no longer grand narratives available to ground education. Rather
there has been a splintering and proliferation of language games. Performativity
can then be seen as a new language game: as science, for example, simply produces
more work, makes more statements, and generates new ideas. Science simply
performs (Peters, 1995, p. 34).
What I wish to pursue here is not Lyotards notion of performativity but how
students are being changed; in Lyotards terms, they are no longer from the liberal
elite more or less concerned with the great task of social progress, understood
here in terms of emancipation (Lyotard, 1984, p. 59). It is educational institu-
tions that change people away from the former liberal humanist ideals to people
who, through an organized stock of professional knowledge, pursue performativity
through increasingly technological devices and scientific managerial theories. In
contrast to Lyotards notion of institutional emphasis, I will retrace a philosophical
notion of performativity to the writings of John Austin (1962, 1970) concentrating
on the idea of performative utterances as constituting selves or subjects. Whilst
not discussing Searles related account of speech acts in detail, there is one notion,
however, that I wish to take from him to contribute to the concept of performativity
and provide an initiating example.

John Searle
Searle (1965) drew an important distinction between constitutive and regulative
rules in language usage. Constitutive rules were to say how a game of rugby,
for example, was constituted. It is the rules of rugby football which provide
constitutive and general parameters for the game but not necessarily regulative
rules as to how any one individual player within that game should play the
game either in general or in the position to which (s)he has been allotted. For
Searle constitutive rules are almost tautologous as they set up the game, whereas
regulative rules exist independently of the game, and are designed to regulate a
pre-existing activity, though this is not an absolute distinction.
What I argue is that whilst one can draw a distinction between constitutive
rules and regulative rules which govern performative utterances (after Searle), it
is the regulative rules which have gained credence in modern welfare states, being
advanced under the umbrella of the former constitutive rules. In New Zealand, for
example, under neo-liberal ideology we are being asked to respond to a govern-
mental mail sendout about various social and welfare issues. But the wording to
which we have to respond is in the form of a constitutive rule for example, do we
accept that we are responsible for the care of the family and the responsibility of
people to one another? Framed as constitutive rules that one must care for X
these are open to a wide variety of interpretation as to how in a particular family,
or particular ethnic or social setting, this might be done best. However, positive
responses to, e.g., take responsibility for x, may be tracked out as just that, and

various financial and legal possibilities will then be applied, and will be interpreted
as regulative rules i.e., as rules which tell us what we have to do. Initially in my
response I may have framed my answers within a continuing (though diminishing)
provision for public welfare, but instead my response may be seen as evidence for
further privatization of welfare agencies. Similarly in education regulative rules
have become constitutive rules. Today intelligence is measured by IQ tests but
IQ scores count as intelligence. The regulative rule to measure IQ in a certain
way has become almost a constitutive rule or definition about what intelligence
is. Thus the replacement of constitutive rules that education is concerned with
developing personal autonomy for example by regulative rules that eventually
become constitutive as the measurement of IQ and of intelligence itself is one way
the education system is being subsumed under the general march to performativity.

John Austin
In returning to Austins (1962) notion of performative utterances I wish to consider
the performative nature of statements made in educational institutions when, in
characterizing people in various ways we constitute them as people of a certain
kind. Does Austins work help us to understand the self or the individual as being
constituted in certain ways? My argument is that it does, for we were offered
conceptual tools from him two decades ago for understanding how selves might
be constituted as subjects of performativity.
First a return here to Foucault to frame the issue of selves and performativity.
An account of constituting selves is to be found in his writings, especially in
Discipline and Punish (1979) and The History of Sexuality Vol I (1980), where
he talks of people being turned into useful, docile and practical individuals by
processes of normalization in the disciplinary institutions of the human sciences.
For Foucault, being classified in certain ways leads to outcomes of normalization
(or of delinquency). But although Foucault was aware of the work of Searle on
speech acts, for example, he does not discuss how a classificatory statement about
an individuals behaviour marching in the military for example turns that person
into a soldier, i.e., a person of a certain kind. Being constituted as a soldier is an
effect of power/knowledge, but what is it about a statement by a minor functionary
that changes the recruit into a soldier? What is it about the particular statement, or
the judgement or appraisal or verdict of the quality of the recruits marching, that
does this?
To provide answers, first we will consider Austins approach to performatives.
Initially he draws a distinction between constatives and performatives (Austin,
1962, see chapter 1). Essentially constatives are true or false. The term differs
from statement or description or fact, for he wishes to talk about utterances
which have been assimilated to straightforward statements of fact whereas they
are intended as something quite different. In particular he wishes to avoid the
descriptive fallacy, that something is how it is described. In contrast to constatives,

the category of the performative is used for utterances which do not describe, report
or constate, are not true or false. Here the utterance is a part of doing an action and
not a mere saying of something. Thus I do (uttered in a wedding ceremony), I
name this ship the Queen Elizabeth (said as smashing the bottle against the bow
of a ship at launching) are seen as examples of the performative category (p. 5).
Furthermore, within the performative category Austin draws distinctions
between the locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary aspects of language.
Briefly these three correspond respectively to the utterance of a statement which
is to do something in the very utterance (provide a description, make a report,
etc.), to doing something else in making that utterance (I do), and to bringing
about something different by making the utterance (I convinced him that . . . ).
Some statements, such as descriptions, are either true or false and are locutionary
acts roughly equivalent to uttering a certain sentence with a certain sense
and reference, which again is roughly equivalent to meaning in the traditional
sense (p. 108). But other statements, whilst having a similar grammatical struc-
ture actually involve an act of doing something and are illocutionary. In uttering
the statement, I do, something else in addition to saying something occurs
it is part of the act of marriage. Similarly in christening a ship by smashing
a bottle of champagne on its bows and uttering I name this ship Queen Eliza-
beth I am not merely saying something but doing something. Other illocutionary
acts are informing, ordering, warning, undertaking, i.e., utterances which have a
certain (conventional) force (Ibid.). Finally, for the third class, perlocutionary, by
saying something I may bring about or achieve something, such as convincing,
persuading, deterring, surprising (Ibid.), i.e., change a person, by convincing,
persuading etc. I can of course get a person to do something else, by e.g., saying
Watch the cliff because I may not only warn a person (illocutionary act) but
get them to change direction away from the edge. However, this is an indirect
consequence of my illocutionary act of warning but it is not a perlocutionary act.
Indeed my warning may have been successful as an illocutionary act though the
person concerned did not move back from the cliff because, e.g., whilst warned
the person did not see the situation as sufficiently dangerous to move back. In his
writings, Austin concentrates on illocutionary acts to distinguish them, as far as
possible, from the other two categories.
In addition, within performative verbs Austin identifies a class of cases where
we deliver verdicts and make estimates and appraisals of various kinds (Austin,
1970, p. 244). These are, he says, straightforward utterances with ordinary verbs
in the first person present indicative active that couldnt possibly be true or false
(p. 235). From above, significantly, these are the sorts of statements used in the
classification of people in Foucaults disciplinary institutions: I find you are guilty
(failing, inadequate, etc.) is a verdict: I grade you as A, is an appraisal; and, I
estimate (think, hope) that you will be an A student is an estimate. However,
these are not mere descriptions or reports, and they are not true or false as
performatives are to be characterized by Austin, because they involve judgments,

estimates, and appraisals in fields which, in general, are constituted by rules and
conventions. Austin talks of the conventional force of such statements because they
are made by professionals in institutions which have certain purposes or functions.
But importantly he does not develop the notion of the force of performatives.
Finally, according to Austin there must be an accepted conventional procedure
which permits the situation in which certain words (such as I do) count as
perfoming the act of marriage this is to include the particular persons (that they
are not already married for example) and the circumstances (for example that their
partner is not of the opposite sex, or it is not said in an appropriate approved place
or site). Moreover, for the act to be proper (or happy, or felicitous, in Austins
discussion), the participants should have the right intentions, feelings, and attitudes
towards the act and its consequences otherwise, for example, the act of marriage
is not consummated or becomes null and void because participants do not conduct
themselves accordingly. This of course represents many ways in which the act of
marriage, as a doing, can fail legally for various reasons, or because of bad faith
on behalf of one or other of the participants.
In such a manner then Austin distinguishes broadly between statements which
are descriptive, or (mere?) reports, and statements in which, by uttering certain
words, one does something else, over and above the mere utterance of words.
Austin tries to identify performatives by the use of the first person I, the active
and the present tense; and sometimes by the addition of the term hereby. Thus
I do, I promise, I warn are included in the category, and in their third person
equivalent on signed notices and documents.

Constituting the Subject

That performatives operate in education is obvious. We grade, appraise and make
judgements about students work and students worth with the latter often arising
from the former. We make statements such as, I grade you as . . . , or l classify
you as . . . or, You are a good student (or person). What is at issue here is
whether such statements are just descriptions, and capable of truth or falsity, or
whether they are performatives which make things happen, like the final I do or
the pronouncement of Guilty by the judge in a court of law. The crucial point
here, and we will now turn to and conclude with educational examples, is how we
are to treat and understand the utterance, or written mark or grade of the teacher,
when he or she grades an assignment or marks an examination script. Is this a mere
description of the students work, something which is possibly true or false, or is
it some kind of performative utterance making the assignment into a piece of work
graded A or C, or also, making the student into an A or C person?
In Michel Foucaults Discipline and Punish these two issues seem to run
together: To classify someones assignment in a certain manner as A or C is
to turn them into people of a certain kind and people who are either normalized or
needing (deserving of) treatment as A or C students and eventually A or C

people (or worse as e or deviants and beyond normalization). Both Foucault and
Austin note that the circumstances which exist when such statements are made are
crucial. They must be made in a teaching/learning institution (or encounter), the
person who makes the judgement must have academic and institutional authority,
the learner must accept the grade and so on. Austin talks of a conventional force
which governs the appraisal but my point is that this is more than a locutionary act,
a description made as a report of the students work. The academic authority of the
teacher in a formal educational setting makes it so. To this extent it is more like
an illocutionary act an I do act in Austins categories. Similarly the writing of
a final report, that the student is an a A or C student, and/or person, seems also
to be an illocutionary act. But there are also perlocutionary effects because said by
a professional in an educational setting, and with the normal academic authority
relationships which apply, students will become convinced that not only their work
is A or C but that they are A or C students and perhaps A or C persons. It
is this convincing that turns the act into the perlocutionary category. (Convincing a
person was a clear example of a perlocutionary act for Austin.)
As just indicated, Foucault does not distinguish between an illocutionary act like
warning and a perlocutionary act like convincing. In his discussion of the consti-
tution of subjects in disciplinary blocks it seems evident that it is a perlocutionary
act of grading or appraising that is required, i.e., the illocutionary act of appraisal
or judgement must also, or instead, be a perlocutionary act. The individual must
also be convinced that he or she is a subject of a certain kind for the constitution
of the subject to occur. Foucault runs these two notions together in talking of the
effects of such examination/surveillance procedures as he describes in Discipline
and Punish: that is, whilst he is talking about the performative uses of language
he does not distinguish between an illocutionary and a perlocutionary act. A clari-
fication: to a certain extent even if the subject is not convinced that he or she is a
subject of a certain kind, the classification by the professional will result in certain
further treatments in the processes of normalization including the final category
of rejection, the delinquent.
Towards the end of How to Do Things With Words, Austin also begins to doubt
that the distinction between these two categories can be drawn in any absolute
sense. Hence Foucault might be forgiven for running the two categories together.
It is not clear however whether Austins doubts are over the distinction itself or
where exactly to draw the distinction. There do seem to be clear examples like I
do and I name . . . in which by making the utterance we make things so, and
examples like I convinced him . . . where I do something else i.e., change the
person by making that utterance. That the border between the two categories is
confused or fuzzy may be a pity, but perhaps it is the philosophical search for clear
boundaries that is the problem. (Certainly Wittgenstein would not have pursued
such an issue in language, because for him the rules of language did not permit
such hard and fast boundaries to be drawn.) However, Foucault certainly needs to

talk about something like perlocutionary acts if he is to talk about the constitution
of the subject and if it is not to be left as a hazy effect of something called power.

In this paper I have tried to track the Lyotard notion of performativity via Foucault
and the constitution of subjects, in ways necessary for education as forecast by
Lyotard, to the earlier writings of Searle and especially Austin. If Foucault saw
similarities between his work and Searles speech acts there must also be simi-
larities between his work and Austins account of performative utterances. Searles
work is less valid here because of his attempt to characterize speech acts by formal-
izing rules for language (Searle, 1965). But Austin resisted this approach with his
more Wittgensteinian approach to rules. Whilst Foucault does not address issues
of language per se in Discipline and Punish (it had been central to earlier works
like Archaeology of Knowledge), it is clear that it is something like performative
language acts in appraisals that normalize individuals. In Foucault, however, they
obtain their force in Austins sense not only from the institutional conditions that
make performatives felicitous or happy (Austin), but also and importantly, from
the underlying power/knowledge (Foucault), or historical a prioris that legitimate
the appraisals. The appraisals themselves, masquerading as descriptions, in turn
mask the underlying power/knowledge in the force of the performative utter-
ances. Unfortunately Austin did not dwell on his notion of force perhaps from
within his Anglo-American tradition he was unable to take a Nietzschean turn to
Returning at the close to Foucault as in the beginning, in commenting on his
work and Searles Foucault had said that it was not the ordinary everyday speech
acts that he was concerned with but, instead, important speech acts. It was here that
power/knowledge obtained, in a set of general historical a prioris such as these: the
individual can be known; the individual can be improved; the individual can be
normalized; the individual must be known. Indeed for Foucault, there are certain
techniques concerned with space and time, activities, surveillance, examination
and classification, that permit individuals to be known; and so on. But it is not
these deep truths (Hacking, 1981) that get articulated in the performatives of
minor functionaries in educational institutions. Foucault should have concentrated
more on these ordinary everyday utterances and the force which they carry, for
the force is not merely in the underlying power/knowledge but also in the uses of
language in everyday speech acts. If the argument is correct that Foucault is impli-
citly employing a performative notion of language in his talk of the constitution of
subjects, and if constitution of subjects is necessary to achieve performativity in
Lyotards sense then we can see the significant connections between Austins ugly
word performative and Lyotards ugly word performativity. These connections,
as just indicated, have important implications for a Post-Lyotard education.1

1 A version of this paper was given as part of the symposium, Transgressing Boundaries: Calling
Performance/Performativity into Question, Division B, SIGs Philosophical Studies in Education and
Arts-Based Educational Research, American Educational Research Association, San Diego, 1998.

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