Collective Subject

The philosopher Judith Butler coined the term collective subject. It points out that people who share an identity-forming characteristic are often spoken of in singular terms as a homogeneous group. Butler uses this term to reveal that the focus on social groups is no longer about a concrete individual and diversity, but rather an imagined collective subject is created through various attributions. In the example of “the man likes soccer,” “the man” does not mean an individual, but all men.

With regard to marginalized groups, the journalist and author Kübra Gümüşay speaks of the “burden of representation” that reveals itself in the collective subject. She reports on devout Muslim women who wear headscarves, describing them as “faceless beings, components of a collective [perceived] by society. Each of their expressions, each of their actions is attributed to the collective, individuality is not granted to them. […] Many people in our society can walk the streets and simply be themselves. They can be unfriendly, angry, give free rein to their emotions, without drawing a general conclusion about all those who look like them or practice the same religion. If I, a visible Muslim woman, jaywalk, 1.9 billion Muslim* women jaywalk with me.” With this example, Gümüşay holds that individuals fade away within a group, thereby equally linking the Muslim* as a collective subject to essentialism.