The Uses of Use

I began research for a project on ‘the uses of use’ when I was a visiting professor at Cambridge University in Spring 2013. When I returned to Goldsmiths that summer, circumstances changed, and I decided to begin a blog on feminist killjoys and write a book Living a Feminist Life instead. In the summer of 2016, after leaving my post and the university system, I returned to the project. Since then I have written a first draft of a book (entitled, What’s the Use? On the Uses of Use) and will be editing the draft in 2017.

The book is the third in a trilogy: the first being The Promise of Happiness (2010), the second being Willful Subjects (2014). I call these books a trilogy as they share a method of following words around. I gather materials from following the words happiness, will and use in and out of their intellectual histories; words are like muscles that are exercised in philosophy as well as everyday life. Use is particularly suited to this method because we learn about use from use: use is how we get a handle on things when we are occupied as well as offering a way of talking about occupations and handles. My aim has also been widen the scope of what we mean by utilitarianism by thinking how the concept of utility exercised within that tradition relates to more ordinary uses of use. I also investigate utilitarianism as an administrative history that helps us to understand how use becomes a way of building worlds. I am especially interested in how a requirement to be useful falls unevenly on subjects, or how utility as a referential system (useful for, useful to) is tightened or loosened depending on one's location in that system.  I combine three registers: a philosophising from the everyday (chapter 1), a genealogy of an idea and of an apparatus (chapter 2 and 3), and an ethnographic description of an organisation (chapter 4).

Chapter Outline

Introduction: A Useful Archive

Chapter 1: Using Things

Chapter 2: Biology of Use and Disuse

Chapter 3: Useful Knowledge

Chapter 4: Utility and the University

Conclusion: Queer Use, Useless Queers