Foucault’s genealogy of modern power challenges the commonly held assumption that power is an essentially negative, repressive force that operates purely through the mechanisms of law, taboo and censorship. Today, a decade after his death, it seems appropriate to reflect critically upon the central exchanges between feminist thought and Foucauldian theory. Foucault insists on the historical specificity of the body. If, as Foucault suggests, freedom exists only in being exercised and is, thus, a permanent struggle against what will otherwise be done to and for individuals, it is dangerous to imagine it as a state of being that can be guaranteed by laws and institutions. On Foucault’s account, the spread of bio-power is intimately connected to the social science discourses on sex and sexuality which proliferated during this period. The key problems identified by feminist critics as preventing too close a convergence between Foucault’s work and feminism – his reduction of social agents to docile bodies and the lack of normative guidance in his model of power and resistance – are indirectly addressed by Foucault in his late work on ethics. Habermas, J. Read writing about Foucault in Gender Theory. Bartky, S., ‘Foucault, femininity and the modernization of patriarchal power’ in I. Diamond & L. Quinby (eds), Bordo, S., ‘Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallization of Culture’ in I. Diamond & L. Quinby (eds), Brown, W., ‘Postmodern Exposures, Feminist Hesitations’ in, Foucault, M., ‘Body/Power’ and ‘Truth and Power’ in C. Gordon (ed.). Thus, like Bartky, Bordo finds Foucault’s work useful to explain women’s collusion with patriarchal standards of femininity. ... Foucault goes on to mention the ways that students, factory workers etc are all docile to the organization in charge of x y or z. In this, he is an ally of feminists who seek to demonstrate and challenge the false inclusion and equality of hu-manist discourse. In Grimshaws formulation, Foucault evades the vital question of ‘when forms of self-discipline or self-surveillance can … be seen as exercises of autonomy or self-creation, or when they should be seen, rather, as forms of discipline to which the self is subjected, and by which autonomy is constrained’ (Grimshaw 1993: 66; McNay 1992: 74). Firstly, Foucault’s analyses of the productive dimensions of disciplinary powers which is exercised outside the narrowly defined political domain overlap with the feminist project of exploring the micropolitics of personal life and exposing the mechanics of patriarchal power at the most intimate levels of women’s experience. Sawicki, J., ‘Foucault, feminism, and questions of identity’ in ed. ( 1987 ), A Realistic Theory of Science, Albany , State University of New York Press . Although many feminist theorists remain critical of Foucault’s questioning of the categories of the subject and agency on the grounds that such questioning undermines the emancipatory aims of feminism, others have argued that in his late work he develops a more robust account of subjectivity and resistance which, while not without its problems from a feminist perspective, nevertheless has a lot to offer a feminist politics. In the complex story that Foucault tells, this new form of ‘bio-power’ coalesced around two poles. He calls the method of historical analysis he employs ‘genealogical’. A History of Foucault’s Thought. Not all feminists, however, are comfortable with Foucault’s anti-naturalistic rhetoric. He explains that: ‘The individual is not to be conceived as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom, a multiple and inert material on which power comes to fasten or against which it happens to strike, and in so doing subdues or crushes individuals. Hartsock, N., ‘Foucault on power: a theory for women?’ in L. Nicholson (ed. These discourses, he claims, tended to understand sex as an instinctual biological and psychic drive with deep links to identity and, thus, with potentially far-reaching effects on the sexual and social behavior of individuals. Foucault argues that, since modern power operates in a capillary fashion throughout the social body, it is best grasped in its concrete and local effects and in the everyday practices which sustain and reproduce power relations. For Bordo, this association is a stark illustration of the way in which disciplinary power is linked to the social control of women. Gender Theory. Foucauldian resistance neither predates the power it opposes nor issues from a site external to power. Firstly, Foucault’s analyses of the productive dimensions of disciplinary powers which is exercised outside the narrowly defined political domain overlap with the feminist project of exploring the micropolitics of personal life and exposing the mechanics of patriarchal power at the most intimate levels of women’s experience. For example, Sandra Bartky’s appropriation of Foucault takes the form of a detailed examination of the subjection of the female body to disciplinary practices such as dieting, exercise and beauty regimens that produce a form of embodiment which conforms to prevailing norms of feminine beauty and attractiveness. While social-scientifically based theories of gender caused less stir, gender theories that incorporated ideas of Foucault, Derrida, and French femininists initially provoked incredible debate and tension among historians. For Hartsock, Foucault’s perspective functions to preclude the possibility of feminist politics which, she claims, is necessarily an identity-based politics grounded in a conception of the identity, needs and interests of women. It is Foucault’s insight into the productivity of the practices and technologies characteristic of normalizing bio-power that underpins his general conclusion that power in modern societies is a fundamentally creative rather than repressive force (Foucault 1977: 194). Foucault remains best-known for his analyses of power, indeed his name is, for most intellectuals, almost synonymous with the word ‘power’. It is the way in which that self-fashioning, when allied to critique, can produce sites of contestation over the meanings and contours of identity, and over the ways in which certain practices are mobilized’ (Lloyd: 1988: 250). The sex/gender distinction represents an attempt by feminists to sever the connection between the biological category of sex and the social category of gender. In Foucault’s presentation of identity as an effect Butler sees new possibilities for feminist political practice, possibilities that are precluded by positions that take identity to be fixed or foundational. Elizabeth Grosz argues that, unlike some other versions of poststructuralist theory which analyze the representation of bodies without due regard for their materiality, Foucault’s insistence on the corporeal reality of the body which is directly molded by social and historical forces avoids the traditional gendered opposition between the body and culture. Here Soper articulates a common feminist concern about the potentially conservative political consequences of Foucault’s version of social constructivism. Against the claim that feminist politics is necessarily an identity politics, Butler suggests that: ‘If identities were no longer fixed as the premises of a political syllogism, and politics no longer understood as a set of practices derived from the alleged interests that belong to a set of ready-made subjects, a new configuration of politics would surely emerge from the ruins of the old’ (Butler 1990: 149). The anorexic woman takes to an extreme the practices to which women subject themselves in their efforts to conform to cultural norms of an ideal feminine form. The key feature of disciplinary power is that it is exercised directly on the body. Foucault rejected the view of a person having an inner and fixed 'essence' that is the person's identity. This article looks at three "waves" of Foucauldian literature by feminist In the case of the social sciences, for example, it is the refinement of disciplinary techniques for observing and analyzing the body in various institutional settings that facilitates the expansion of new areas of social research. It is in order to signal the mutually conditioning operations of power and knowledge that Foucault speaks of regimes of ‘power/knowledge’ or ‘discourses’; that is, structured ways of knowing and exercising power. Michel Foucault: key concepts This page offers brief definitions of some of the key concepts in Foucault's work. these areas. By this, I mean that, in certain ways, we like to "group" him with the French post-structuralists such as Derrida, Lacan (more of a In his discussion of ethics, Foucault suggests that individuals are not limited to reacting against power, but may alter power relationships in ways that expand their possibilities for action. Butler discerns at least two problems in the attempt to ground politics in an essential, naturalized female identity. In addition to his anti-essentialist view of the body and sexuality, Foucault insists on the corporeal reality of bodies. Michel Foucault was one of the most controversial and provocative thinkers of this century. Some argue that queer theory is a by-product of third-wave feminism, while others claim that it is a result of the valuation of postmodernminoritizing, that is, the idea that the smallest constituent must have a voice and identity equivalent to all others. 1 – Foucault traces the emergence of some of the practices, concepts, forms of knowledge, social institutions and techniques of government which have contributed to shaping modern European culture. Drawing on Foucault’s account of the historical construction of sexuality and the part played by the category of sex in this construction, feminists have been able to rethink gender, not as the cultural meanings that are attached to a pregiven sex, but, in Judith Butler’s formulation, ‘as the … cultural means by which “sexed nature” or “a natural sex” is produced and established as…prior to culture’ (Butler 1990: 7). Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Like Foucault, Bartky and Bordo envisage modern disciplinary power as ubiquitous and inescapable. This description suggests that the production of ‘truth’ is never entirely separable from technologies of power. It is this emphasis on the body as directly targeted and formed by historically variable regimes of bio-power that has made Foucault’s version of poststructuralist theory the most attractive to feminist social and political theorists. The… Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Zijn belangrijkste thema is de relatie tussen macht en kennis en de taal waarin de heersende kennisopvattingen worden uitgedrukt (episteme).Het idee van wisselende epistemes in verschillende historische periodes werkt Foucault uit in de invloedrijke studie De woorden en de dingen (1966). These were \"theories,\" it was charged, with little relevance to real people's problems. Foucault, M., ‘The ethic of care for the self as a practice of freedom’ in J. Bernhauer and D. Rasmussen (eds). a brief overview of Post-Structuralist gender theory that paved the way for Foucault’s theory. He suggests that these practices were first cultivated in isolated institutional settings such as prisons, military establishments, hospitals, factories and schools but were gradually applied more broadly as techniques of social regulation and control. Jana Sawicki explains that the problem faced by this kind of feminist appropriation of Foucault is its inability to account for effective resistance to disciplinary practices. Such a theory, he said, was simply not the goal of his work. These domains of exclusion reveal the coercive and regulatory consequences of that construction, even when the construction has been elaborated for emancipatory purposes. While feminists have found Foucault’s analysis of the relations between power and the body illuminating, they have also drawn attention to its limitations. Brown argues that identity politics entails a commitment to the authenticity of women’s experiences which functions to secure political authority. In the figure of the anorexic Bordo sees an association of power and self-control with the achievement of a potentially fatal slenderness. The idea of practicing freedom is central to Foucault’s exploration and analysis of the ethical practices of Antiquity. In such societies, he claims, power was centralized and coordinated by a sovereign authority who exercised absolute control over the population through the threat or open display of violence. The individual, that is, is not the vis-à-vis of power; it is … one of its prime effects.’ (Foucault 1980: 98). Yet he did not himself offer a philosophy of power. Rather than assuming that the movement of history can be explained by the intentions and aims of individual actors, genealogy investigates the complex and shifting network of relations between power, knowledge and the body which produce historically specific forms of subjectivity. Foucault tried to balance between the state theory, which revolves solely around essential properties of the state and the political theory, that gives too much importance to institutions but not practices. @¹¥Fþþ”д]¸Åƒ(6KàŠÒ£ì[‹â ìcc, The Prisoner of Gender: Foucault and the Disciplining of the Female Body. without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout history’ (Foucault 1980: 149). about gender not only to deconstruct other modern theories of gender, subjectivity and the self, but to present her own, arguably modernist, theory of gender based on an amalgam of Freud and Foucault. It is not, however, only the body that disciplinary techniques target. [4] Foucauldian discourse analysis, like much of critical theory, is often used in politically oriented studies. One thing I've noticed about Foucault is that the body (no pun) of his work seems to straddle two "schools" of Critical Theory. For this reason, she believes that, while Foucault fails to consider the issue of sexual difference, his thought may contribute to the feminist project of exploring the relation between social power and the production of sexually differentiated bodies (Grosz 1994). • foucault’s work set about showing that the way we think about sexuality (and other topics) isn’t “essential” or “inevitable.” that, rather, all of the things we believe about sexual identity are attached to other types of … She claims, moreover, that a feminist identity politics that appeals to a fixed ‘feminist subject,’ ‘presumes, fixes and constrains the very ‘subjects’ that it hopes to represent and liberate’ (Butler 1990: 148). University of Queensland He believed that the state has no essence, but is … Some feminists have responded to these concerns by claiming that, although Foucault rejects the idea that resistance can be grounded in a subject or self who pre-exists its construction by power, he does not deny the possibility of resistance to power. Increasingly, however, this assumption is being called into question by other feminists who are concerned to counter what they regard as the oversimplified conception of power relations this view entails, as well as its problematic implication that women are simply the passive, powerless victims of male power. He suggests that a key struggle in the present is against the tendency of normalizing-disciplinary power to tie individuals to their identities in constraining ways. By contrast, Lois McNay argues that although Foucault’s model of the relation between the body and power precludes the view that the body and sexuality might be liberated from power, it leaves room for the possibility that existing forms of sexuality and gendered power relations might be transformed. This involves two related conceptual moves. July 10, 2019 Daniel ... my acknowledgement that masculinity is restrictive for men and yet my avowed critical analysis of the theory and practice of transitioning children. Foucault’s own analysis was curiously gender-neutral. This emphasis on the everyday practices through which power relations are reproduced has converged with the feminist project of analyzing the politics of personal relations and altering gendered power relations at the most intimate levels of experience ‘in the institutions of marriage, motherhood and compulsory heterosexuality, in the ‘private’ relations between the sexes and in the everyday rituals and regimens that govern women’s relationships to themselves and their bodies (Sawicki 1998: 93). Thus, in claiming that the body is directly targeted and ‘produced’ by power and, thus, unknowable outside of its cultural significations, Foucault breaks down the distinction between a natural sex and a culturally constructed gender. She argues that the assertion of the category ‘woman’ as the ground for political action excludes, marginalizes and inevitably misrepresents those who do not recognize themselves within the terms of that identity. Rather than focusing on the centralized sources of societal power in agencies such as the economy or the state, Foucault’s analysis of power emphasizes micro level power relations. Because Foucault’s anti-essentialist account of the body is nevertheless attentive to the materiality of bodies it has been attractive to feminists concerned to expose the processes through which the female body is transformed into a feminine body. Google Scholar Hooker, C.A. Butler follows Foucault by saying that there is no "true" gender behind gender identity that constitutes its biological and objective fundament. FOUCAULT, GENDER, AND THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY 273 adopts Foucault's critique of functionalist and structuralist models of power and causality. Neither is it a sufficient condition of liberation to throw off the yoke of domination’ (Sawicki 1998: 102). In Foucault’s conception of freedom as a practice aimed at minimizing domination, Sawicki discerns an implicit critique of traditional emancipatory politics which tends to conceive of liberty as a state free from every conceivable social constraint. It is, Foucault contends, because disciplinary practices limit the possibilities of what we can be by fixing our identities that the object of resistance must be ‘to refuse what we are’ – that is, to fracture the limitations imposed on us by normalizing identity categories. ), Lloyd, M., ‘A Feminist Mapping of Foucauldian Politics’ in, Rouse, J., ‘Power/Knowledge’ in Gary Gutting (ed), Sawicki, J., ‘Feminism and the Power of Discourse’ in J. Arac (ed.). University of California, Riverside. Rather, a Foucauldian approach to identity production demonstrates the role played by cultural norms in regulating how we embody or perform our gender identities. In the context of this debate, Foucault’s work on power has been used by some feminists to develop a more complex analysis of the relations between gender and power which avoids the assumption that the oppression of women is caused in any simple way by men’s possession of power. The other pole, which Foucault labels ‘disciplinary power’, targets the human body as an object to be manipulated and trained. According to Foucault, this ‘juridico-discursive’ conception of power (Foucault 1978: 82) has its origins in the practices of power characteristic of pre-modern societies. The idea that modern power is involved in producing rather than simply repressing individuals has also played a part in a controversial move within feminism away from traditional liberationist political orientations. Like Fraser, Hartsock finds Foucault’s conception of modern power problematic in so far as it reduces individuals to ‘docile bodies’ rather than subjects with the capacity to resist power. According to this view of social construction, gender is the cultural meaning that comes to be contingently attached to the sexed body. Lloyd explains that ‘it is not the activity of self-fashioning in itself that is crucial. (1986), ' The Genealogical Writing of History: On Some Aporias in Foucault's Theory of Power ', Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 10, 1-2, 1-9. The affinities and tensions between Foucault’s thought and contemporary feminism are discussed below. At the same time, however, most feminists wish to acknowledge that feminine identity and experience are constructed under patriarchal conditions. These criticisms of Foucault are directed at the conception of the subject and power developed in his middle years. In light of these inadequacies, Brown calls for the politics of resistance to be supplemented by a political practices aimed at cultivating ‘political spaces for posing and questioning political norms [and] for discussing the nature of “the good” for women’ (Brown 1995: 49). I look to other gender and sexual theories to help inform my critique of Foucault, like Difference Feminism, Cultural Feminism, and also the Matrixial Borderspace theory.
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