Dispossessed by Norms Like Autonomy: Rethinking Relational Autobiography with Butler and Berlant

Kim Schoof*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


From the 1980s onwards, relationality has been a key term in autobiography scholarship and life-writing studies, as it describes how the self in many instances of autobiographical literature emerges in relation to others. Yet, confusion reigns about the exact meaning and applicability of the term relational autobiography. Are all works of autobiographical literature to an extent relational, or only those in which the author's relationships with others form a central theme? Or is relational autobiography a genre on its own; a contemporary genre, clearly distinguished from the traditional genre of the autonomous autobiography? This article casts new light on the history of relationality and autonomy as concepts in autobiography studies, and suggests that contemporary works of relational autobiography ask for an approach of their relationality that does not place it in opposition with autonomy. Adopting the account of relationality developed by Judith Butler and Lauren Berlant's perspective on affective attachments to generic conventions, this article proposes to understand relationality in autobiographical texts as both their “dispossession by” and “working upon” generic norms for autobiographical writing such as depicting oneself as an autonomous being.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12700
JournalLiterature Compass
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • affective attachments
  • contemporary life writing
  • Judith Butler
  • Lauren Berlant
  • relational autobiography
  • relational life writing
  • relationality


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