One form of troublemaking in which I am very interested is the use of words and terminology and how they shape collective and individual thinking. Specifically, when is word choice (including naming) simple navel-gazing or a distraction from action and when is it actually subversive and necessary to troubling? What ways/forms are necessary to challenge "coded language" (Saul Williams, see below) and how that language shapes worldviews? When are silences or lack of curiosity forms of submission? On the other hand, when is using subversive or troublemaking words a way to hide behind inaction--talking a good game and not walking the walk?
I started thinking about this again after reading the Introduction to Cynthia Enloe's The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire. One of the foundations upon which empire-building and other oppressive structures of power rest, as Enloe asserts, is collective assumptions of what is "natural." And often, what is natural/normal is defined by the words we use to describe it and the (usually unspoken) assumptions behind those words that mask oppression, privilege, and power.
For instance, I have long opposed the use of the term "America" to describe the United States, as the Americas (a problematic term in and of itself) include several dozen nations on two continents. Sometimes this refusal seems petty and messy (do I call myself a United Statesian?); at other times, my use of different terminology has led other people to question their own terminology and the empire-building/sustaining assumptions behind it--currently, for instance, in what it might mean for the criminalization of immigrants from other parts of America. (What does this criminalization/demonization mean for the "American dream"? How can you be American and not American at the same time? When are certain people allowed to be "American"?) Yet, as Enloe asserts, traditions are energy-saving for us; we don't have to ask questions such as these when America/American are generally used. But they definitely serve to reinscribe empire (along with a host of other oppressions).
This premise also applies to other forms of empire-building and oppression. For instance, last weekend I caught part of Car Talk on NPR. The hosts were reading from a letter written by someone was name was rather gender-ambiguous (e.g., Jesse). One of the hosts questioned the other on why he was referring to the letter-writer as she. They then determined that it was because the letter mentioned a husband. Funnily enough from a show broadcasting out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a state that legalized gay marriage, there was not a question of whether "Jesse" could be a man with a husband. Yet, a male Jesse using such terminology would definitely (in my opinion) be a method of troublemaking, of shaking up what is considered normal or natural. It calls attention to inequities in social relations and in law; it challenges the hearer to consider definitions and prejudices about marriage, gender relations, and heteronormativity.
Terms in such an example could also be a concrete example of naming who and what we are. As Maria del Guadalupe Davidson and George Yancy say in their Introduction to Critical Perspectives on bell hooks, "Naming is the active process of breaking through forms of imposed silence. Naming the world, naming reality, is a mode of problem-posing, a way of calling attention to the social world and its appearance of self. . . .Naming, then, is both about renaming the self and renaming reality. Renaming the self and renaming reality are coconstituative, a hermeneutics of transformation that presupposes and valorizes the unity between theory and practice" (p. 4). Given that oppression often works through naming people for them, through shaping the possibilities of how they think about themselves and the world and their positions within it, when is naming ourselves troublemaking? How do we respect and validate others' ways of naming themselves? If terms and names are important and troublemaking, how do we answer charges of "political correctness"?
I'm also intrigued by using sources outside the "traditional academic canon," so I will close with this question and spoken word performance: How, individually and collectively, do we "Let your children name themselves and claim themselves" (Saul Williams, in "Coded Language")?