Notes: Sara Ahmed, “A Killjoy Manifesto” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). A killjoy manifesto. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 251-268.


Ahmed develops a killjoy manifesto that assembles the figure of the killjoy from principles of how a feminist is in the world.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, killjoy, theory


“A manifesto not only causes disturbance, it aims to cause this disturbance. To make something manifest can be enough to cause a disturbance” (p. 251).

“To think of killjoys as manifestos is to say that a politics of transformation, a politics that intends to cause the end of a system, is not a program of action that can be separated from how we are in the worlds we are in. Feminism is praxis. We enact the world we are aiming for; nothing less will do” (p. 255).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Trying to Transform” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Trying to transform. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 93-114.


Drawing on her own experiences and with interviews with diversity workers, Ahmed writes how diversity work is willful work, is feminist work, articulating how spaces are shaped by the bodies that can access them and how diversity work is the sustained labor of changing that access.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, killjoy, diversity, access


‘[I]t is through the effort to transform institutions that we generate knowledge about them” (p. 93).

“When we have to think strategically, we also have to accept our complicity: we forgo any illusions of purity; we give up the safety of exteriority” (p. 94).

“Diversity work becomes about diversifying the pathways for information so it is more likely to get to the right destination” (p. 95).

“The mechanical aspect of diversity work is revealed most explicitly when the system is working. In other words, a system is working when an attempt to transform that system is blocked” (p. 96-97).

“Universal = white men. In making this equation, we are showing how a universal not only universalizes from particular bodies, but is an invitation to those very bodies, providing a space in which they can be accommodated” (111).

“[A] fantasy of inclusion is a technique of exclusion” (p. 112).

“In order for some things that have appeared not to disappear, we have to keep up the pressure; we have to become pressure points” (p. 112).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Willfulness and Feminist Subjectivity” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Willfulness and feminist subjectivity. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 65-88.


Ahmed traces the willfulness as part of feminist subjectivity, as part of how one becomes feminist, and as how one takes up or raises arms in a feminist revolution.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, killjoy, intersectionality


“This perception of feminist subjects as having too much will, or too much subjectivity, or just as being too much, has profound effects on how we experience ourselves as well as the worlds we come up against” (p. 66).

“[T]o suffer the cost of a judgment can be about who you are rather than what you do” (p. 68).

“The willfulness of women relates here not only to disobedience but to desire: the strength of her desire becoming a weakness of her will. In the history of willfulness, women are found wanting” (p. 70).

“Her will becomes a willful will insofar as it is defined against a collective will or general will. Her own will is deemed to get in the way of what the collective wills. A willful will becomes identified as the will to govern others. Her willfulness, in other words, is interpreted as a will to power, as if protesting against something masks a desire for that very thing. And then when she speaks the language of injustice, that speech is heard as just another way she imposes her own will on others. The language of injustice is treated as a screen behind which a will lurks: a will that is wanting” (71).

“When you are assumed to be for others, then not being for others is judged as being for yourself. Perhaps willfulness could be summarized thus: not being willing to be owned. When you are not willing to be owned, you are judged as willing on your own” (p. 74).

“When separation becomes a command, willfulness is what returns; willfulness not as severance but as perseverance” (p. 79).

“Willfulness: a life paradox. You might have to become what you are judged as being” (p. 82).

“A feminist army that gives life and vitality to some women’s arms by taking life and vitality from other women’s arms is reproducing inequality and injustice” (p. 86).

“Willfulness: how some rise up by exercising the very limbs that have been shaped by their subordination. And: it is those women who have to insist on being women, those who have to insist willfully on being part of the feminist movement, sometimes with a show of their arms, who offer the best hope for a feminist revolution” (p. 88).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “On Being Directed” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). On being directed. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 43-64.


Ahmed describes how power and expectation create directions toward conditions of living a certain way and how feminism highlights these lines and provides support for moving differently or toward different lines.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, affect, killjoy


“[P]ower works as a mode of directionality, a way of orientating bodies in particular ways, so they are facing a certain way, heading toward a future that is given a face” (p. 43).

“We can use a path insofar as we do use the path. Can is here a consequence of doing. If we can because we do, then we do can rather than can do” (p. 46).

“To sustain a direction is to support a direction” (p. 46).

“Not giving up: feminism can be experienced or narrated as giving life, or as taking one’s own life back, a life that you might have experienced as what you have given to others or even what has been taken by other people’s expectations” (p. 47).

“Queer and feminist worlds are built through the effort to support those who are not supported because of who they are, what they want, and what they do” (p. 48).

“When you are alienated by virtue of how you are affected, you are an affect alien. A feminist killjoy is an affect alien. We are not made happy by the right things” (p. 57).

“We would understand unhappiness not as the failure to be happy and thus causing yet more unhappiness, but a refusal, a claim, a protest, or even just some ordinary thing, a texture of a life being lived” (p. 58).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Feminism is Sensational” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Feminism is Sensational. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 21-42.


Ahmed describes/shares becoming/being feminist through the ways of noticing how violences and assignments are directed.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, memory, killjoy


“If a sensation is how a body is in contact with a world, then something becomes sensational when contact becomes even more intense” (p. 22).

“My body its memory: to share a memory is to put a body into words” (p. 23).

“Violence becomes instruction when it is accompanied by a narrative, an explanation. When you have learned something, when you have received the message of this instruction, your feelings are given direction and shape. Your body reacts in the right way” (p. 25).

“Gendering operates in how bodies take up space” (p. 25).

“Feminist theory taught me that reality is usually just someone else’s tired explanation” (p. 29).

“If a world can be what we learn not to notice, noticing becomes a form of political labor” (p. 32).

“Feminist and antiracist consciousness involves not just finding the words, but through the words, how they point, realizing how violence is directed: violence is directed toward some bodies more than others” (p. 34).

When you expose a problem, you pose a problem” (p. 37, original emphasis).

Rolling eyes = feminist pedagogy” (p. 38, original emphasis).

“If alienation is sensation, it is not then just or only the sensation of negation: of experiencing the impress of a world as violence, although it includes those feelings. Alienation is studious; you learn more about wishes when they are not what you wish for. We can think of alienation as wonder: we wonder about things; we marvel at their assembly” (41).