What′s the Use?

On the Uses of Use

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 52 illustrations Published: October 2019

Author: Sara Ahmed

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Queer Theory

In What’s the Use? Sara Ahmed continues the work she began in The Promise of Happiness and Willful Subjects by taking up a single word—in this case, use—and following it around. She shows how use became associated with life and strength in nineteenth-century biological and social thought and considers how utilitarianism offered a set of educational techniques for shaping individuals by directing them toward useful ends. Ahmed also explores how spaces become restricted to some uses and users, with specific reference to universities. She notes, however, the potential for queer use: how things can be used in ways that were not intended or by those for whom they were not intended. Ahmed posits queer use as a way of reanimating the project of diversity work as the ordinary and painstaking task of opening up institutions to those who have historically been excluded.


“In this close reading of use, Sara Ahmed leads the reader from object to object at a pace that moves with the deliberateness of a philosopher and the grace of a literary scholar. With this and other books, Ahmed has established herself as one of the most important feminist thinkers in the world.” — Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

“With characteristic verve and force, Sara Ahmed explores the uses of use. More than a history of an idea and much more than a philosophical investigation of use and value, Ahmed’s book teaches us how to locate use, usefulness, used-upness, used objects, and useful and useless knowledge in relation to time, space, queerness, and more. Read this book; you need it, and more importantly, you will use it. It is useful and useless in equal proportion and compelling precisely because of its mixed-use value. Before you know it, you will get used to use and you will carry it with you always.” — Jack Halberstam

“How lucky we are that feminist killjoy Sara Ahmed takes us on her learned, witty, and insightful journey. With her evocative exasperation at the state of affairs with regard to the (im)possibilities of diversity work and complaint, she dismantles the sexist and racist structures of the modern university. Now as a courageous, independent scholar, Ahmed continues to shine her characteristic phenomenological lights on walls and doors and more. She is still here; she refused to get used to it!” — Gloria Wekker

"By crafting different routes, travelling lesser-known paths, and finding alternate ways of telling stories about use, Ahmed invites her readers to see the world from these non-normative subject positions and to rethink and reshape their own worldviews in the process." — Sohel Sarkar, AC Review of Books

"A well-written, engaging text. Highly recommended. All readership levels." — C. R. McCall, Choice

"Ahmed sought to write a text that intervenes in the everyday, that elevates a threadbare backpack to a place of unbound theoretical play. And she has done so. Although some readers may find themselves frustrated by Ahmed’s deflections of tangible directive, that seems to be precisely the point. Accessible and innovative, What’s the Use? will be of serious interest to activists, artists, and academics working at the intersections of queer and critical race studies." — Caitlin Mackenzie, QED

"As with many of Ahmed’s writings, What’s the Use?, with feminist solidarity radiating from its pages filled with her characteristic rhetorical and language-repurposing writing, will allow readers to question and contest their lived realities and surroundings. . . . Ahmed leaves another landmark impression on intersectional feminist thinking, praxis, and pedagogy, and develops new modes for examining the co-constitution of spaces, bodies, and social relations that will animate feminist and queer geographical study." — James D. Todd, Gender, Place & Culture

“In the last part of her trilogy, Sara Ahmed adds another crucial dimension to the analysis of the quite complex socio-political dynamics of social exclusion and marginalisation, and the ways in which the world-as-it-is stays as-it-is, namely, the use of use and its accompanying designations, especially the interplay and the conditions of being designated as useful or useless.” — Nina Perger, Šolsko Polje

“Ahmed follows an unexpected and fascinating pathway through the history of use, one that brings together scientific theories, institutional histories, and everyday life.... Ahmed’s explorations are animated by a spirit of reinvention that challenges both the conventions of philosophical practice and the taken-for-granted boundaries of feminist thought.” — Eden Kinkaid, Feminist Formations

"What’s the Use? combines an intellectual history and a philosophical exploration of the concept of use with ethnographies and personal reflections on institutional diversity work. . . . Ahmed’s paradoxical undertaking reveals one must first subvert institutional diversity practices, in order to truly diversify an institution." — Velina Manolova, Public Books


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sara Ahmed is an independent scholar and author of Living a Feminist Life and several other books also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xiii
Introduction. A Useful Archive  1
1. Using Things  21
2. The Biology of Use and Disuse  68
3. Use as Technique  103
4. Use and the University  141
Conclusion. Queer Use  197
Notes  231
References  257
Index  271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0650-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0584-1