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Thinking feminism through Foucault

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Thinking feminism through Foucault
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Ghandour, Najah
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 100-103).
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Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
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by Najah Ghandour.

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Full Text
THINKING FEMINISM THROUGH FOUCAULT
by
Najah Ghandour
B.A., The University of Texas at Austin, 1992
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
1999


This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Najah Ghandour
has been approved
by
Marie Wirsing


Ghandour, Najah (Master of Social Science)
Thinking Feminism Through Foucault
Thesis directed by Professor Mitchell Aboulafia
ABSTRACT
This thesis deals primarily with the possible convergence between Foucault
and feminism, an issue which has been the subject of debate for a long time. Many
accuse Foucault of neglecting womens issues, and of speaking from a privileged
position. However, his accounts of madness, confinement, disciplinary power, and
sexuality show that power produces norms that define and manufacture individuals
identities including womens. Hence, his view of subjectivity has been completely
rejected by some feminists who claim that without a subject, the feminist work
toward autonomy would be in jeopardy. They also contend that since Foucault does
not locate the source of power, it will be very difficult to launch a feminist
oppositional politics.
In the first half of this thesis, I extensively review Michel Foucaults main
philosophical concepts: power, knowledge, discourse, disciplinary practices, and
resistance. Then, various debates among some Foucauldian and non-Foucauldian
feminists are discussed. Foucauldian feminists use his analysis of disciplinary
in


practices to show their effect on women (e.g., practices that lead to anorexia, and
which make women strive to maintain an aesthetic ideal). Following Foucault, they
maintain that these practices are indeed the effects of power, sustained and
reinforced by the authority of knowledge (i.e., scientific authority consulted in order
to legitimate practices).
In the second half of this thesis, an analysis of Foucaults philosophy
suggests a serious reconsideration of his work, and shows its viability to feminism.
Here, it is shown that Foucault and feminists have more views in common than
some feminists are willing to admit. The thesis concludes with a summary of the
discussions therein, and asks new questions pertinent to the subject and which will
guide with future research.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
IV


DEDICATION
To Zeyna


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I thank professors Mitchell Aboulafia, Myra Bookman, and Marie Wirsing
for their support and critical reading. Dr. Myra Bookman has been especially helpful
in guiding me throughout this project. She also has been an intellectual inspiration.
My heartfelt thanks to Jeff Schweinfest, Joe Cahn, and Bette Smith; they
have been wonderful friends. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Jeff and Joe for
their critical reading and their immensely helpful suggestions. Their editorial help is
greatly appreciated.
I have been fortunate to have equally caring neighbors. I thank Lena Mae and
Ray McCarthy for their continuous support throughout my studies and my thesis.
Also Gene Rice and Dee Berry have been warm friends, their constant
encouragement, which none of us can do without, was much needed, I thank them
for that.
Finally and most importantly, I express to Marwan, the gratitude I feel for his
consistent support for all my commitments, I couldnt have done this without him.
And although six years of life experience may not seem much to consider,
nevertheless, my wise and beautiful Zeyna has been a great challenge and a
wonderful joy.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION................................................ 1
2. MICHEL FOUCAULT ............................................ 7
Background .............................................. 8
Power/Knowledge as Discourse............................ 10
Knowledge and the Construction of the Subject........... 11
Knowledge/Discipline/Truth.............................. 13
Operations of Power: Discipline/Subjection/Surveillance. 15
Madness, Reason, and Confinement........................ 17
Disciplinary Power and Individual Production ........... 19
Resistance ............................................. 21
Body and Discourse...................................... 25
The Deployment of Sexuality........................... 27
Foucaults Influence.................................... 31
3. FEMINISTS AND FOUCAULT.................................... 35
Gender Understanding.................................... 36
Feminists Appropriate Foucault.......................... 39
vn


Body Politics ......................................... 41
Sandra Lee Bartky and The Imperative of Femininity..... 50
Public/Private Issues ................................. 54
Womens Subjection/Womens Subjectivity................ 58
Feminists Versus Foucault.............................. 58
4. RETHINKING FOUCAULT....................................... 69
Analysis............................................... 69
Man/Subject............................................ 72
Disciplinary Power..................................... 76
Knowledge.............................................. 79
5. CONCLUSION ............................................... 92
REFERENCES......................................................... 100
Vlll


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Over the past twenty years, feminist theorizing has undergone major
changes. Earlier assumptions of a shared oppression that united women have given
way to a recognition of difference and diversity. In the meantime, with the rise of
postmodernism, the notion of human subjectivity has been shaken to its core.
Foucault declared the death of the subject (although it was not originally his idea
as we shall see) disappointing many feminists, some of whom from the outset,
believed that they had to reinforce the issue of subjectivity in order to be able to
progress in their political project. Without a subject, they believed that their work
towards autonomy would end. However, the very question of autonomy is, and has
been, prone to harsh critical scrutiny. The critics target the fact that autonomy for the
individual is a concept that is purely modem which means that feminists will have to
cling to Enlightenment ideals in order to achieve a respectable position for women.
However, this becomes problematic because the modem idea of an independent
autonomous individual is what feminists have called a universal male.
Nonetheless, many feminists have (and still do), as Norma Alarcon notes in The
Postmodern Turn, uncritically absorbed the dominant male-centered Enlightenment
1


view of the individual as a separate, autonomous, and unitary self. And this is,
undoubtedly problematic (p.140).
In light of this some feminists scholars argue that the traditional voices of
authority have been almost altogether male. Hence, the importance of challenging
the truths that patriarchal institutions have produced whether in science, medicine,
religion, or politics. One of patriarchal powers construction is the making of the
individual and the inscription of the body with all kinds of cultural meaning. The
female body in specific has been culturally and socially constructed.
Such construction is parallel in Foucaults discourse. He best describes it by
tracing the history of many conceptions to stress the temporal and cultural relativity
of those conceptions. He talks about the effects of power on the body where he
focuses on social practices that normalize behavior, and where ones identity is
subject to domination of cultural norms.
Foucault, like other postmodernists, is concerned with knowledge which is
no longer held in terms of the knower; it is rather a transaction between knower and
known. The importance of knowing the conditions and causes that underlie concepts
is crucial in determining and rendering clear what used to be thought of as absolute
and unquestioned truth. Hence, the dualisms shift from what was once mind/body,
male/female, reason/affect, all of which suppose a superior position of one over the
2


other, to something like Foucaults concept of power/knowledge, in which the two
go hand-in-hand.
Furthermore, knowledge is no longer akin to established truth. And its whole
notion no longer springs from scientific authority, speculative philosophy, or grand
narratives. For Foucault, however, knowledge will never be complete. It will never
reach the stage of maturity. There will always be the historical part which makes
up our realities. He agrees with Nietzsche that knowledge can never be of an
absolute or final nature. On one level, it already is a form or expression of the will to
power, because it represents certain issues and disregards others. Knowledge picks
out what to emphasize and what to present positively or negatively. Knowledge
shapes the world it describes (Foucault, 1980).
Foucault maintains that knowledge is implicated in power, therefore, it
cannot be complete and there can be no pure knowledge. His critique of all
traditional forms of thinking enables us to see that knowledge cannot be a pure
achievement apart from the conflicts of history. Furthermore, he sees that traditional
theory relies on deduction, induction and interpretation, all of which assume it is
possible to uncover the essential principles of truth. However, Foucaults aim
throughout all of his works is that of critique. I shall return to this issue later in
this paper.
3


Foucaults work, together with that of other postmodernists, is important
because their discourses are all deconstructive, in that they seek to distance us from
and make us skeptical about beliefs concerning truth, knowledge, power, the self,
and language that are often taken for granted. These so-called truths and knowledge
serve as legitimation for contemporary Western culture. Foucault, Jane Flax
maintains in Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory, like other
postmodern philosophers, casts into radical doubt those beliefs which are still
prevalent in 20th-century culture but derive from the Enlightenment (p. 41). Hence,
his importance in exposing philosophical underpinnings of systems, institutions,
and of the whole social order. That is why I find his work so vital for understanding
our situation today.
Therein lies my interest in pursuing both Michel Foucaults philosophy and
feminism. Although neither Foucault nor feminists necessarily identify themselves
as postmodern thinkers, I maintain that their work merits the term, in that both
disrupt and dismantle inherent beliefs in society today.
Substantial scholarly research of feminist issues exists, along with feminist
interpretations of Foucault. As a result, we are confronted with a large body of
information. Nonetheless, this information is not sufficient, simply because there are
conflicting opinions. However, these differing views are not necessarily negative.
On the contrary, I see it as a sign of scholarship that feminists recognize the
4


differences among themselves, and among all women for that matter, and that each
one approaches Foucaults philosophy differently.
A few feminists take Foucaults discourse seriously and appropriate it to
their work. On the other hand, others have and are still misreading his works. They
claim that his oeuvre cannot be of help to feminist writing because female subjects
are virtually non-existent in his work, and that he does not locate the source of
power, which makes it difficult to launch an emancipatory resistance (Hartscok,
1990). Hence, my objective in this paper, is to show the viability of Foucaults work
and its value to feminism. I believe that there is much to gain from a consideration
of Foucault's work, which is and will remain for a long time to come rich in
conceptual insights for almost every discipline including feminism. Against this
background, I hope that my research will create an easier way to understand the
different ways of thinking, and the different debates among feminists today. I would
like to offer a new reading and provide a different angle from which to examine
feminist as well as Foucauldian concepts.
This research will offer a broad view of recent feminist issues and debates,
many of which still rage feminist circles. They are, I believe, extremely important
for understanding feminist issues. These debates discuss the issues of gender which
include questions of body, subject/identity, and difference. First, I explore the
philosophy of Michel Foucault (Chapter 2), focusing on his analyses of
5


power/knowledge, disciplinary power, and resistance. Then, I address the debates
among feminists regarding the value of Foucault to feminism (Chapter 3). Here both
feminists who oppose and support Foucault, will be invoked. In the process, the
various debates that occupy feminist circles today will also be discussed,
hi Chapter 4,1 will give my own analysis about the possibility of convergence
between Foucault and feminism. From there, I move to the conclusion where most
of the ideas discussed in the paper, will be distilled and summed up.
6


CHAPTER 2
MICHEL FOUCAULT
In Quest-ce-que la litteraturel Jean-Paul Sartre (1947) discussed an issue
that has since occupied people in the fields of literature, philosophy, and social
science: the question of engagement. Sartre greatly opposed those (writers) who
could easily distance themselves from their time and could cede to the temptation of
irresponsibility. He assigned intellectuals a precise task: to work towards the
liberation of their contemporaries by participating in the political struggles of their
time. Sartres work shows that it was and still is possible to reconcile engagement
with literaiy, philosophical, and theoretical value. A work linked to praxis can, at the
same time, be a work of quality (Desalmand, 1977).
Although Michel Foucault was not as avowedly involved as Sartre, his
works, nevertheless, speak louder than physical engagement itself. Foucault saw a
relationship between subject and commitment. However, he did not embrace
universalism in its traditional description, or as Sartre used it in the issue of the
engagement of the intellectual.
7


Background
Foucault criticizes any systemization of thought. He does not attack power as
an oppressive agent. For him, the question lies in how power draws from
systemization, categorization, and discourses. It is this systemization which gives
power something to subsist on in order to grow. He does not see (at least in his
earlier work) an essential nature to human beings and rejects a priori categories and
binary oppositions generated by such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes,
Kant, Husserl and many others. In Foucaults view, these a priori categories resulted
in a hegemonic system which has silenced many voices, including those of women,
and that such system was carried by the Enlightenment.
In all his studies, Michel Foucault has searched for a marking of time
throughout history, for a turn which has led and perhaps still leads to changes in
issues such as sexuality, power, and knowledge. However, it is important to point
out that Foucault does not look for causes per se. As Walter Kaufmann (1997)
notes:
Foucault held that history, rather than being linear, is marked by
ruptures. These ruptures create discontinuous epochs, which, like
layers in an archeological dig, are not causally connected, (p. 342)
Clearly, Foucault is not looking for causes. He is investigating the relationships
between knowledge and power, the role of discipline and discourse in reinforcing
8


the effects of power. His work is powerful in that it transforms political discourse by
seeing power as not intrinsically repressive. He envisions discourse as a network of
power relations. He learned from Nietzsche that man or the subject does not have
much importance. This man is and remains nothing until culture and the meshes of
power begin to shape him. He (the Foucauldian subject, or lack of subject for that
matter) is constituted by the operations of power that are diffused throughout
society. He saw the self as being situated in relation to dominant discourses, and as
a response to power effects (Foucault, 1978).
Michel Foucault emphasizes the way in which the social sciences have
served as instruments of the disciplinary society. That is he emphasizes the
connection between knowledge and power, rather than that between knowledge and,
say, human solidarity. He abandons traditional notions of rationality, objectivity,
method, and truth. We can say that he is beyond method. He believes that rationality
is what society and history make of it. He also moves beyond the traditional ideals
of method and rationality as antecedent constraints upon inquiry, but he views this
move as the Nietzschean realization that all knowledge-claims are moves in a
power-game. He says in Power/Knowledge (1980): We are subject to the
production of truth through power, and we cannot exercise power except through the
production of truth (p. 93). How is this truth produced?
9


The truth Foucault propounded is a production of the patriarchal system
which achieves power and creates truth through discourse. Discourse itself is a
creation of language which in its turn, is created by the structures of power.
Power/Knowledee as Discourse
Foucaults knowledge/power regime is crucial in that it renders studies of
certain issues (sex, for example) in terms of discourses. In tracing the roots of
sexual repression in his genealogy, the focus is not given to the actual fact of
repression but rather to the reasons which silenced talk of sex, while transforming it
into a discourse. As a discourse, sex can be monitored as a science. In The
History of Sexuality (1978), Foucault talks about an ideal of the will to truth that
is a norm. This norm is used by power as a protection, meaning that power protects
itself by mystifying its control over knowledge. He also uncovers political tactics
aimed at controlling peoples sexual life, their confessions and so forth. In this work,
Foucault argues that sexuality is a general mechanism, and that the
power/knowledge of sexuality is not determined only by class relations. This view is
different from that of class theory which holds that the repression of bourgeois
sexuality is a function of domination by which working class sexuality is merely the
acceptance of an imposed dominant ideology (Lemert and Gillan, 1982). Foucault
does not deny, however, that class relations exist, but for him power is a very
10


concrete phenomenon, and power/knowledge is the more important and explanatory
concept of relations.
Power/knowledge, in Foucaults work is unlike the Marxian concept of
power. In other words, power is not domination by the ruling class. He states in The
History of Sexuality, Vol, 1:
Power comes from below; that is there is no binary and all-
encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled and the root of
power relations...one must suppose rather that the manifold
relationships of force that take shape and come into play in the
machinery of production, in families, limited groups, and institutions,
are the basis for wide-ranging effects of cleavage that run through the
social body as a whole, (p. 94)
Knowledge and the Construction of the Subject
Theoretically, Foucault studied the human sciences in order to uncover how
the human examines itself. He discovered that the knowledge produced in this
process is riddled with error and incomplete. He talks about the invention of the
human sciences in The Order of Things. In the nineteenth century, man became
as Lemert and Gillan (1982) put it the object of thought by being made the
principal subject of history. Knowledge of the human required, contradictorily, the
transcendence of the human (p. 18). By going beyond himself, he can think
himself. This transcendental man continued, throughout the nineteenth century and
maybe beyond that, to be, and came to perhaps represent the image of the universal
subject. Undoubtedly, Foucault is very critical of this position because the
11


nineteenth century placed man at the center of thought and of historical being. He
asserts that man was liberated only superficially, and in the guise of humanism.
Nineteenth-century philosophy secretly controlled thought by subjugating it to a
transcendental ideal. Hence, Foucaults famous post-Nietzschean announcement of
the death of man. According to Foucault, the human can think itself only by
investigating without annulling the limits of the human, and knowledge of the
human should be decentered, at the margin between truth and error. Foucault
writes in The Order of Things (1966):
Man has not been able to describe himself as a configuration in the
episteme without thought at the same time discovering both in itself
and outside itself, and its borders yet also in its warp and woof, an
element of darkness, an apparently inert density in which it is
embedded, an unthought which it contains entirely, yet in which it is
also caught. The unthought (whatever name we give it) is not lodged
in man like a shrivelled-up nature or a satisfied history; it is in
relation to man, the Other; the Other that is not only a brother but a
twin, bom not of man, nor in man, but beside him, and at the same
time, in an identifical newness, in an avoidable duality, (p. 326)
What is this unthought Foucault talks about? Since Foucault explains things with
respect to what they are not, unthought could be what thought is not. In other
words, unthought is not within the boundaries of what is socially acceptable,
whereas thought is. Hence, the social acceptability of a certain concept (say
thought) does not necessarily mean that this concept represents any kind of truth.
Truth is not, for Foucault, rigidly fixed as it was in the philosophy of the
Enlightenment. Truth is decentered, it does not emanate from a single locus.
12


Lemert and Gillan (1982) clarify Foucaults idea of the unthought in an
illustration that is worth repeating. They write:
The Unthought relies on the assumption that knowledge, being
historical, not pure, is always created by the imposition of some limit.
Knowledge is controlled knowledge. Beyond its limits is knowledge,
which, in a given historical period, is forbidden or otherwise ignored.
Beyond the incest taboo, for example, is always the very idea of
incest, a social unthinkable. The Unthought, therefore, forms the
limit within which actual knowledge is produced. The Unthought
involves the concept of the Other. Thinking is mans reflection on the
Other in which he knows himself. It can also be considered as
politically suppressed knowledge that must be exposed, (p. 137)
Knowledge/Discipline/Truth
Critical thinker that he is, Foucault investigates the disciplines that rendered
man the way he is today, controlling him through a false exterior under the pretense
of reform. Human behavior thus, was controlled through psychology, penology,
and other disciplines, which represented knowledge, hence truth. And that is
precisely how power spreads itself insidiously, in order to control subjects, by
learning the (pseudo) truth from the fields that possess knowledge. And what is
more authoritarian than knowledge?
Knowledge is usually taken for granted. However, as Foucault enables us to
see, knowledge is sustained by a hidden authority, which in turn produces political,
ideological, and ethical biases. Foucault, in all his works, seeks to discredit the voice
of such authority (or authorities), and perhaps to replace it with a multiplicity of
13


other voices. Hence, feminists and Foucault can be seen as being on the same side of
the issue. The feminist project has entailed the demystification of authoritarian
voices. Most feminists have argued that the traditional voices of authority have
been, almost without exception, male. Hence, they claim that it is important to
challenge the truths that patriarchal institutions have produced, whether in
science, medicine, religion, or politics.
In The Birth of the Clinic (1963), and in The Order of Things (1966),
Foucault attacks modem philosophy for creating man as both subject and object of
knowledge. He rejects these enlightenment ideals and declares that disinterested
truth is non-existent because power creates knowledge. Since Foucault saw the
individual as being both subjectified and objectified by science {The Birth of the
Clinic [1963]) and by law (Discipline and Punish, [1975]), he attributed it to, what
he calls operations of power. He talks of operations of powef first on the
mind, on the body, then on the soul. These operations of power, he
confirms, are indeterminate in character and are diffused throughout society. How
does this power operate? And what is the role that knowledge plays in order to
sustain the operations of power Foucault talks about?
14


Operations of Power: Discipline/Subiection/Surveillance
Knowledge is important for Foucault because, like power, it is specific. It
appears in the form of discursive practices of historical action. In The Archaeology
of Knowledge (1969), he writes:
Instead of analyzing this knowledge which is always possible
in the direction of the episteme that it can give rise to, one would
analyse it in the direction of behavior, struggles, conflicts, decisions
and tactics. One would thus reveal a body of political knowledge that
is not some kind of secondary theorizing about practice, nor the
application of theory. Since it is regularly formed by a discursive
practice ...it is inscribed, from the outset, in the different practices in
which it finds its specificity, its functions, and its networks of
dependency, (pp. 175-95)
These discursive practices have knowledge as their politics. One has to know the
subject in order to control him or her. This accounts for the creation of the
psychologist, the social worker, the doctor, the educator and so forth. Thus, the
objectification of the individual is bom. This is done, according to Foucault,
through the gaze (of the professional) under which the criminal or the sexual
individual is placed. By monitoring each individuals behavior, power is given to
that who monitors, to the knower (Foucault, 1975).
Surveillance becomes a powerful tool in trying to control peoples activities.
However, this use of power does more than regulate or control activities. It, in fact,
creates a resistance which progressively reinforces the desires and habits of the
15


individual. In other words, what is forbidden becomes desperately wanted. As a
result, the use of power becomes necessary to both the controlled and the controller.
That is why Foucault does not portray power as a force fixed to specific institutions;
its rather mobile. Power is about relations, and it is not as explicit as one tends to
think.
Knowledge and discipline perform the job of power, although Foucault does
not agree that knowledge is power or power is knowledge (Foucault, 1980). He
certainly sees a relationship between the two, and it is this relationship that he
examines and investigates. In Foucaults observation of the relationship between
knowledge and power, knowledge seems to have more importance. In order to better
understand power, it is important to grasp knowledge firmly because it is right at the
heart of the matter. For Foucault, however, while power and knowledge imply each
other, one cannot be reduced to the other. As John Ransom argues in Foucaults
Discipline (1997), the fact that a relation and not an identity exists between
knowledge and power means that there must be some distance separating them. And
it is this distance that must be traced and exploited for critical purposes (p.24).
I think that Ransom is referring to the possibility of resistance. He thinks that
knowledge holds an extremely powerful place, relative to power, in that it can be
used to oppose forms of power. Nonetheless, Foucault does not necessarily see
knowledge as a way of emancipation (especially because he does not see it as
16


stable). It is rather a tool one can use in order to understand the bodies of knowledge
that have played a crucial role in forming individuals. Such knowledge will perhaps
present options and expose political possibilities: only possibilities, nothing
concrete. Foucault does not give his readers a formula to oppose forms of power. He
does not spell anything out. What he does, however, is force the reader to do his or
her work. Since he refuses authorship, he also refuses the responsibility of
exposing the truth of things.
Foucault is concerned, in all of his works, with the relations between rules
and practices. He talks about the practice of confinement in Discipline and Punish
(1975). This practice is explained, in part, by the economic imperatives of early
capitalism. One could even say that the emergence of power/knowledge as a
concept in this work, is a critique of Marxist economism and traditional class
analysis. Power, as power/knowledge, is not domination by the ruling class.
Madness. Reason, and Confinement
Foucaults first major study, his doctoral dissertation, is Madness and
Civilization. In this work he addresses the question of the historical conditions of the
emergence in the seventeenth century of a distinction between reason and
unreason, and between reason and madness. For Foucault, from this point on,
modem science emerged in order to exercise dominion over human experience. We
17


can see the categorization of the individual germinate in Madness and Civilization,
and from The Birth of The Clinic to Discipline and Punish and The History of
Sexuality.
In the seventeenth century madness became a category, which led to the
confinement of the mad. Eventually came the medicalization of madness. Foucault
sees this medicalization in terms of an attempt to purify institutions. In other
words, what seemed a progressive gesture towards reforming old, brutal means of
confinement was nothing more than an elaboration of institutions, in which the mad
(or the diseased person) could be kept as far away as possible from society, so as to
prevent contagion. By this reasoning, purifying institutions was hardly a
humanitarian gesture or an effort towards scientific advance.
Madness became closely linked to confinement, where the insane were
dominated through the exercise of practices. However, even when the asylum
realized its ideal, treating the mad with the utmost care and scientific
professionalism, its inmates were not liberated from such dominating power. In
fact, they were being reconstituted as subjects of power and objects of knowledge
within the asylum where systematic forms of control were practiced. The aim was to
confine madness in a system of rewards and punishments (Smart, 1985).
18


Disciplinary Power and Individual Production
Institutional confinement, regulation and the formation of new knowledge
and new forms of subjectivity are found in all of Foucaults subsequent work. In The
Birth of the Clinic (1966), Foucault reveals the formation of the individual, or rather
the individuals body, as an object of scientific medical examination and analysis.
This goes further in Discipline and Punish (1975) in which Foucault explores the
relations of power, knowledge and the body, and renders explicit his conceptions of
power/knowledge relations, and of the body as the object of the exercise of
technologies of power. He addresses the transformations in punishment and the
emergence of prison as the modem penal institution. In addition, he turns attention
specifically to the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and
subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge (p.28).
Discipline and Punish addresses punishment as a practice, and the prison as
its institutional locus in order to trace the emergence of a new technology of power,
discipline, and interrelated new forms of knowledge, through which human beings
are constituted as both subjects and objects. Put simply, disciplines do not function
through consent. What disciplinary power does is normalize. It guides individuals to
strive for optimum performance relative to some norm. Although disciplines do
19


not require consent; coercion plays no part in its practices. Foucault writes in
Discipline and Punish (1975) :
Disciplinary power...refers individual actions to a whole that is at
once a field of comparison, a space of differentiation and the
principle of a rule to be followed. It differentiates individuals from
one another, in terms of the following overall rule: that the rule be
made to function as a minimal threshold, as an average to be
respected or as an optimum towards which one must move. It
measures in quantitative terms and hierarchizes in terms of value the
abilities, the level, the nature of individuals. It introduces, through
this value-giving measure, the constraint of a conformity that must
be achieved, (pp. 182-183)
If neither consent nor coercion is used by disciplines, how do their practices involve
people without opposition? Its simply that individuals do not, according to
Foucault, exist prior to disciplinary power. They are, instead, produced by it. He
states that disciplinary power...manufactures individuals (p. 170). Disciplinary
power is about evaluating, correcting and encouraging individuals to respond to a
norm.
It is difficult to follow the functioning of disciplinary power since, instead of
analyzing power in terms of its sovereignty, or as an ideology of the state, Foucault
looks for its meshes through the mechanisms and technologies it deploys in order to
penetrate private as well as public issues. When he talks about the subjection of the
human body to disciplinary technology, he asserts that:
This technology is diffuse, rarely formulated in continuous,
systematic discourse; it is often made up of bits and pieces; it
implements a disparate set of tools or methods....Moreover it cannot
20


be localized in a particular type of institutions, of state apparatuses,
and institutions operate, in a sense, a microphysics of power, whose
field of validity is situated, in a sense, between these great
functionings and the bodies themselves with their materiality and
their forces, (p. 26)
Foucault here makes the point that exercise of disciplinary power is not easy to
locate. Consequently, it is difficult to launch resistance against such exercise. As we
shall see later, some feminists object to the issue of resistance in Foucaults
philosophy. Anticipating this, I still think that its possibility or impossibility, as
Foucault sees it, warrants discussion.
Resistance
Foucault has consistently maintained that there is no power without
potential refusal or revolt. At the same time, he also warns against criticizing
specific institutions or practices since such criticism will not help them fully resist
or rebel. What Foucault encourages people to do is to question how relations of
power are rationalized. He writes in Politics, Philosophy, Culture (1988):
As for all relations among men, many factors determine power. Yet
rationalization is also constantly working away at it. There are
specific forms to such rationalization. It differs from...that of
scientific discourse. The government of men by men whether they
form small or large groups, whether it is power exerted by men over
women, or by adults over children, or by one class over another
involves a certain type of rationality, (p. 84)
21


It is this kind of rationality that Foucault wants us to question. Protests against
police brutality, for example, certainly will not get us anywhere. For Foucault, it is
political rationality that needs to be uncovered and questioned because its
inevitable effects are both individualization and totalization. Liberation can only
come from attacking, not just one of these two effects, but political rationalitys very
roots (PPC, p. 85).
Hence, resistance cannot exist unless implicated in relation to power: the
power of rationalization, the power of practices, the power of dominion. All three
are important to question. However, the one that underlies their functioning is that
of rationalization, whose role in justifying power cannot be ignored. As a result,
resistance, according to Foucault, exists where power is. Such resistance, he asserts
in The History of Sexuality (1978) is never in a position of exteriority in relation to
power(p. 95). That is why to conclude that there is no escaping power would be
to misunderstand Foucault. For him,
This would be to misunderstand the strictly relational character of
power relationships. Their existence depends on a multiplicity of
points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support,
or handle in power relations. These points of resistance are present
everywhere in the power network. Hence there is no single locus of
great Refusal, no soul of revolt...or pure law of the revolutionary.
Instead there is a plurality of resistances, (pp. 95-96)
Resistance works in many different ways, and like power, it is mobile and transitory.
Its effects are felt just like those of power, for resistance disrupts, mobilizes,
22


fractures groups, remolds them and so forth. Resisters could be everywhere; they do
not necessarily have to be prisoners, abused individuals, or mental patients.
Resisters can also exist at the micro-level: a student, a teacher, a child, a patient.
Take, for example, teachers who do not approve of their schools curriculum
because its underpinnings reflect certain philosophies to which teachers object. A
reaction would be (although we have to be careful not to think of reaction as
parallel to rebound)1, to propose alternatives to such curriculum and eventually
change it. Similarly, students who revolt against a certain dress code put forth by
their school, may raise their voices, get heard, and finally force the school to change
its sartorial rules.
Resistance, in Foucaults work, is about denouncing authorities. Although he
stresses that authorities are hidden, that does not mean that there is no one
responsible for the promulgating of certain laws. In the public school system, for
example, a student knows that he or she can defy first a teacher, then a principal,
then a school board committee, working his/her way up to defying the lawmakers on
the state level and eventually on the national level. The standardization of tests in
schools today, and the organization of curricula are not just enacted by the teacher.
1 Foucault states in The History of Sexuality that resistances are not only a reaction
or rebound, forming with respect to the basic domination an underside that is in the
end passive, doomed to perpetual defeat...they are the odd terms in relations of
power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite (p. 96).
23


Nevertheless, the teacher practices some kind of power, as does the principal, the
state official and the lawmaker. Such power, however, is made invisible. Its object
(the student in this case) is made very visible. Although the student does not see
power being explicitly exercised on him/her, it is palpable in terms of the strict and
rigid rules that force the student to rebel or at least to disrupt the order of such
system.
David Shumway in Michel Foucault (1989), talks about resisting
disciplinary power, he writes:
Foucaults analysis of micro power is like a manual for the resister
who remains in the disciplinary institutions. I am not speaking only
of prisoners or mental patients here, but of employees, students,
teachers, all those whose bodies and souls are subject to repeated
examination and normalizing judgement, (p. 161)
Shumway goes on to point out that we pay doctors a lot of money, and listen to what
they have to tell us because we are confident that they know more than we do or
anyone else for that matter about our bodies and diseases. Nevertheless, if we
suspect (and recognize) that doctors are exercising power over us as patients (by
virtue of their knowledge), then we will not hesitate to resist it. Nowadays, such
resistance is certainly obvious in the malpractice suits filed against doctors. The
patient now supposedly knows his/her rights, and feels empowered to disagree with
professional advice.
24


Foucaults description of resistance is rather accurate. He states in The
History of Sexuality(191S):
[Resistances] too are distributed in irregular fashion: the points,
knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at
varying densities...more often we are dealing with mobile and
transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that
shift about, fracturing unities and reflecting regroupings, furrowing
across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them,
marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds.
(p. 96)
Like power, resistance traverses institutions, apparatuses, social stratifications and
individual unities. For Foucault, such resistance can be effective enough to create a
revolution (Foucault, 1978).
Since resistance traverses individual unities, it can also use the body of the
individual as power does, and inscribe it permanently. Wars are an example of how
resistance manifests itself through the body. People get killed in the name of defense
against the enemy, of resisting the enemy. Proclaiming their patriotism, they kill and
get killed. The suicide bomber uses his/her body to resist the invader, the colonizer.
The body, therefore, is inscribed with political ideologies and cultural meanings, and
serves as a connection between power and its ends.
Body and Discourse
The body has been, according to Foucault, subject to power. First during the
ancien regime, it was publicly tortured and humiliated. Corporal punishment was a
25


spectacle for everyone to see, a dramatic demonstration of the monarchys power.
Eventually, disciplinary techniques emerged which did not necessarily dominate the
body as a whole. Rather, this disciplinary power, as Barry Smart (1985) puts it,
achieves its hold [through] hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement, and
the examination (p. 85).
The body was subjected to monitoring, surveillance, and then in the
laboratory it served as a site for the production of knowledge. Eventually,
disciplinary mechanisms diffused to invade the social body as whole. That is what
Foucault calls a carceral network which acted as a normalizing power (and
perhaps still does in institutions today). Furthermore, intrinsic to the growth of such
normalizing power were particular relations of knowledge that led to the emergence
of the human sciences.
The human sciences continued the disciplinary practices and the exercise of
power on the body. Foucault describes the significance of the carceral network to
the formation of the human sciences; he states in Discipline and Punish (1975) that
this significance lies in the fact that it:
constituted one of the armatures of this power-knowledge that has
made the human sciences historically possible. Knowable man (soul,
individuality, consciousness, conduct, whatever it is called) is the
object-effect of this analytical investment, of this domination
observation, (p. 305)
26


Disciplinary power is a theme throughout Foucaults work. In The History of
Sexuality and The Use of Pleasure, the body returns to the center of analysis. In The
History of Sexuality (1978), Foucaults focus is on nineteenth-century sexuality.
Here, he denounces the repressive hypothesis and in its stead puts forward the idea
of the deployment of sexuality, and the proliferation of discourses on sex. His
questions on the formation of discourse of truth in sex reveal the local power
relations that work towards making possible discourses, such as the discourse of
truth. Beyond that, he asks how these discourses sustain power relations.
No discourse on sex can escape from the body. Foucault describes a specific
type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing
historically and in specific places (around the childs body, apropos the womens
sex, in connection with practices restricting births and so on) (p. 97).
It is in discourse that power and knowledge are joined together. For
Foucault, sexuality is an element that is endowed with the greatest instrumentality
(of power), which means that it is useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and
capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies
(p.103).
The Deployment of Sexuality
How did sexuality come to be this way? And how did it become a discursive
element of power? Foucault describes the deployment of sexuality in the eighteenth
27


century. In order to fully understand such deployment, its manifold objectives
should be taken in consideration. According to Foucault, four strategic unities
formed specific mechanisms of knowledge and power centering on sex. These
strategic units are: 1) hysterization of womens bodies; 2) pedagogization of
childrens sex; 3) socialization of procreative behavior; and 4) psychiatrization of
perverse pleasure (Foucault, 1978).
The first strategic unit will be of special interest here, its feminist
implications, to be taken up later. The woman is a site of examination. Her body is
analyzed with its sexuality, then made into a medical case. In short, the image of the
Mother is reduced to the nervous woman. Foucault shows how this image of the
Mother and that of the feminine body were considered one and the same by
virtue of what he calls a biologico-moral responsibility (p.104).
Then there is the pedagogization of childrens sex. The childs suspected
sexual activity was monitored closely by the parents, the teacher, the doctor and
others. Any activity indicated, for them, dangerous play, which had to be controlled.
Here again the body is subjected to rules and interdictions. Furthermore, sexual
behavior (including procreation) was medically socialized to gain control of it.
A persons specific sexual interest (perverse pleasure) was treated as an
anomaly. Such anomaly called for a corrective technology. With all this, however,
Foucault maintains that what went on was not necessarily a struggle against
28


sexuality or even an effort to control it. He stresses that it was, in fact, the very
production of sexuality. Sexuality, Foucault stresses,
must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to
hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries
gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical
construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great
surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the
intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the
formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and
resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few
major strategies of knowledge and power, (pp. 105-106)
In short, what Foucault means is that even in the area of the sexuality of the
individual, the power/knowledge axis is still at work. Hence, sexuality is deployed,
in a very productive manner, ensuring that it is intensified and concerned with the
sensations of the body, the quality of pleasures (p. 106).
The four strategies that Foucault talks about represents four subjects: the
hysterical woman, the masturbating child, the Malthusian couple, and the
perverse adult. These subjects are the site of practice of the deployment of
sexuality, wherein relations of power and knowledge are articulated in medical,
pedagogical, psychiatric and economic discourse. The deployment of sexuality is
totally different from what Foucault calls the deployment of alliance (p.106) (from
the nineteenth century onwards), which is a system of rules and practices that define
what is and is not permitted between sexual partners. The deployment of sexuality
operates through techniques of power. Rules do not govern it. Here, the body is
29


certainly the center of attention, where it is cultivated through forms of regulation
as to be of use to the economy. The body produces and consumes (p. 107).
What is this connection between the sexual body and the economy?
According to Foucault, the bourgeoisie sought to affirm its present and future
specificity, using biological, medical and eugenic discourses in order to create a
sound body and a healthy sexuality (Foucault, 1987).
The body is integral to Foucaults analyses throughout his work. It is
subjected to discursive practices, which are carried on through relationships of
power and knowledge. The body is a site for inscription. In The History of Sexuality,
Foucault talks about the discipline of the body from the seventeenth century
onwards. He distinguishes between two poles that evolved from the power over
life. The first pole, affirms Foucault:
centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization
of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of
its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient
and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of
power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the
human body. (p. 139)
The second pole focused on the body as a basis for biological processes (including
births, mortality, health, life expectancy). These biological processes were
supervised through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a
biopolitics of the population (p. 139). In short, a power over life. Sovereign power
was seen through power over death (the torturing of bodies, and killing of subjects),
30


whereas modem powers concern was (and still is perhaps) to administer bodies and
to manage life (Foucault, 1978). As we shall see later, the body is an integral part of
investigation for feminists. It is a crucial site of debate.
Foucaults Influence
Michel Foucaults effect on scholars varies greatly. Some find him especially
helpful in demystifying certain areas where authoritarian voice is absent. Some
completely reject his ideas even without fully understanding them. And, of course,
there are some who make abundant use of his theories, but still criticize him. The
readers relationship with Foucault is one of doubt and uncertainty. The fear comes
perhaps from the lack of a definitive, totalizing theory in his work. Nothing in his
analysis points to a coherent, tangible theory which will rescue everyone from their
miseries, and find solutions to their problems.
However, it is this very lack of a definitive theory in Foucaults work that
attracts me personally and convinces me of the usefulness of his concepts. His
account of surveillance and discipline, whether in schools, prisons, hospitals, or
bedrooms, shows his disinterest in providing us with a definition that is absolute. He
warns against the seduction of totalizing theory, which appears to resolve all
differences and contradictions through unified and cohesive explanation.
31


Foucaults concern lies more in the deployment of discipline throughout
institutions, and, by extension, everyday life. It is clear that he does not separate
public issues from private ones. He, on the other hand, does not locate the source
that dominates by exercising. It is for this reason that he is much criticized even by
those who do appropriate his theories. Sandra Lee Bartky, for example, asserts that
if power, in Foucauldian terms, constitutes the very individual upon whom it
operates, it would make no sense to speak of resistance to discipline at all (p. 81).
This is perhaps a point that many feminists find problematic since resistance is
crucial to their project.
This in mind, however, some feminists are ignoring the fact that Foucault
does not separate public from private issues. He problematizes issues on many
levels, in many settings. He problematizes relationships between teacher/student,
employer/employee, parent/child, man/woman and so forth. He points to the
intricate details that form relationships, be they sexual, political, social or religious.
And for this alone, I believe that Foucault offers insights (ways and tools) that no
theoretician before him has done. He states in Power/Knowledge (1980):
One needs to investigate historically, and beginning from the lowest
level, how mechanisms of power have been able to function. In
regard to the confinement of the insane, for example, or the
repression and interdiction of sexuality, we need to see the manner in
which, at the effective level of the family, of the immediate
environment, of the cells and most basic units of society, these
phenomena of repression or exclusion possessed their instruments
and their logic in response to a certain number of needs. We need to
identify the agents responsible for them, their real agents (those
32


which constituted the immediate social entourage, the family,
parents, doctors, etc.), (pp. 100-101)
Instead of analyzing power in terms of its sovereignty and as an ideology of
the state, Foucault searches for its meshes through the mechanisms it deploys. In
short, he wants to analyze power through the study of the techniques and tactics of
domination. When such issues as childrens sexuality, family relations, and the care
of the self surface in Foucaults discussions of the effects of power, one need not
search beyond that in order to see the inextricably linked relationship between
private and public. In this sense, the usefulness of Foucaults analyses cannot be
surpassed.
It is an article of faith for feminists that the personal is the political. On
these grounds, Foucaults conception of power and his investigation of its
mechanisms should not be disregarded especially since the state and the economy
still hold sway of the private as well as the public issues. It may be that feminists are
either able to appropriate his methods or are completely ambivalent toward his
philosophy. As Edward Said notes in Society in Criticism, they should not in any
case, let his methods or anyone elses method override what they are trying to put
forward (Salusinszky, 1987).
Elizabeth Grosz makes the same point as Said does noting, in Ontology and
Equivocation, that feminists must be:
33


prepared to accept that any position has its limits, that no position can
encompass the entire field, and that to prevent a position, to provide a
strategy, to make specific claims is always to exclude, to deny and to
problematize other, competing positions, (p. 74)
Foucaults work is important in that it transgresses traditional rules. He provides his
readers neither with a general theory of society nor one of Man. Nonetheless, his
investigations of hospitals, prisons, academies, confessionals and bedrooms are
crucial to our understanding of the power of discourse and its role in sustaining
relations of power. Foucault characterizes power as a multiplicity of force
relations, the interplay of various discursive fields with their immanent necessities
and developments (Foucault, 1978). Unlike leftists, who, stress centralization and
abstraction in their theories, Foucault stresses that power and authority are not
vested in a central point.
In the next chapter, I explore the work of some feminists who oppose
Foucaults philosophy, and others who support him. Foucauldian feminists such as
Susan Bordo, Honi Haber, Sandra Lee Bartky, and Jana Sawicki, and some others
will be invoked in order to better understand some recent issues in feminism such as
gender understanding. Their work will show the viability of Foucault and the
legitimacy of appropriating his theories. I explore Bordos analysis of anorexia
nervosa, and Habers use of a muscled woman image in order to problematize
seeing. Sandra Lee Bartkys analysis of the disciplinary practices that target women,
elaborates on Foucaults account of disciplinary power.
34


CHAPTER 3
FEMINISTS AND FOUCAULT
Foucault rejects the whole system that derives its tenets from the
Enlightenment and which makes of the Other a difference to be rejected. The
contemporary patriarchal system, which is a reflection of Enlightenment philosophy
(which in turn can be a reflection of Greek thought), has always rejected and
repressed the feminine (or as Foucault would see it, has produced femininity but still
kept it under subordination). As a result, we live in a society in which men have
more power than women. It would make sense, as Jane Flax notes in Postmodernism
and Gender Relations (1990), to assume that what is considered to be more worthy
of praise may be those qualities associated with men. However, feminists have the
right.... to suspect that even praise of the female may be (at least in part) motivated
by a wish to keep women in a restricted place(p. 55). Hence, the need to search in
all aspects of society for the expressions and consequences of relations of
domination. Foucault stresses that relations of domination exist always in order to
keep the system working. Such domination reproduces itself and is manifested
through relations between employer/employee, mother/child, man/woman,
doctor/patient and so forth (Foucault, 1980).
35


The veiy issue of domination has been an important part of feminist
theorizing. However, in order to understand how it works, feminists had to consider,
first how gender relations/construction operate in a patriarchal system. The issue is
not as it proved as simple as the binary split man/woman. In what follows, I
shall give a brief background about questions surrounding gender.
Gender Understanding
Gender categories as they have stood and still stand today, support gender
hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality. Men are constructed as subjects, women
as other, and the binary relation between men and women is internally stable. These
constructions or productions create the effect of the natural and even the inevitable.
Thus, feminists have been trying to expose the foundational categories of sex,
gender, and desire as effects of a specific formation of power.
Traditional gender distinctions have included the reinforcement of
phallocentric desire which shaped female subjectivities, desire, and sexuality. Based
upon the Enlightenment philosophy, patriarchal thinking has constructed categories
of gender where specific masculine and feminine traits were assigned to males and
females respectively.
Gender distinctions have been in effect for so long, that it became extremely
difficult for most of us to believe that gender (assignation) is anything but a natural,
36


biological distinction. However, because of these distinctions, one of the two
genders has been disempowered and dominated by the patriarchal system. In this
system, the law of the father has been enforced, hence the subordination of women.
Women was seen, for a long time, in most societies as an alien. She was
refused the status of a human being, and did not have the same rights as men. In
France, the Napoleon code placed her among the irresponsible. Even if today her
legal rights have greatly ameliorated, woman continues to be treated, in certain
countries, as a minor.
From the time of the publication of Simone de Beauvoirs The Second Sex in
1949, the notion of difference has been integral to modem feminist thought. Many
significant developments from the 1960's to this day have marked the attitudes
of feminist writers, regarding the subject of difference. Women were considered
different, and by virtue of this difference were denied many rights, and were limited
to the sphere of domestic life.
In the feminist movement, scholars began to investigate the sex-role-
stereotyping. Many argued that gender is a learned fact of social life, subject to
conditioning and reinforcement in the early months of childhood. It was believed
that social pressure can produce a certain behavior considered appropriate to ones
gender. In other words, people are bom either male or female (biological); however,
their femininity or masculinity is constructed through social rules and disciplines.
37


Feminists in the 1980's questioned the sex/gender assumptions that sex is
biological whereas gender is the cultural inscription of masculine or feminine traits
on males/females. With the sex/gender split, feminists demanded equality on this
basis. But eventually the nature/nurture binarism was disrupted, and some feminists
began to argue for difference.
What prompted feminists to consider the difference issue was certainly a
reaction to Simone de Beauvoirs treatment of the woman as other. De Beauvoir
urged women to act like men, think like men, and stop procreating, in order to ever
be considered as their equals. Even when de Beauvoir praised women, it was made
in comparison with the qualities of men. For example, in her novel Les Belles
Images (1966), she tries to show the role of the modem woman, and to prove that
she (the modem woman) has a high degree of maturity that is sufficient for her to
accede to a status equivalent to that of man. It is only, de Beauvoir stresses, by
giving woman equality of opportunities that she will acquire an equality of aptitudes
i.e., comparable to those of man (de Beauvoir, 1966).
As a result, de Beauvoirs ideal of a woman was an image of man. Feminists
following de Beauvoir problematized this issue since it denies her a whole other side
of being a woman: her subjectivity.
Naturally, from here many debates began to take place, regarding the identity
of woman, her subjectivity, and her gender. Feminists realized the serious and
38


difficult task before them. It was much more complicated than expected. A simple
role-playing was not going to get them freedom and/or equality. In addition, even if
they continued to act like men in order to be their equals, they knew that their
difference, their femininity, and their whole self-conception was being sacrificed.
Simply put, feminists had, and still have today, conflicting opinions
regarding gender issues; it has not been tout en rose. Today, however, they take a
more critical look at discourses that sustain the construction of femininity and
masculinity, the discourses that make of the woman an other, a difference.
Feminists Appropriate Foucault
Feminists such as Jane Flax, examine Foucaults theories critically because
they believe they are useful in understanding many issues including gender
construction. Like Foucault, Flax (1990) warns feminists against falling into the
same ideological framework of the Enlightenment, especially since such framework
will detract from the feminist project.
Following Foucault, Flax stresses that since gender is an important part of
theorizing in feminism, it is imperative that it be analyzed with regard to its
complexities, and not regarded as a definition of the split man/woman, but
investigated in light of a thorough historical interpretation (not necessarily to look
39


for causal analyses). Flax is concerned about some feminists being fixated on one
side of the issue, without exploring or decentering others (p. 57).
Furthermore, she urges feminists to consider Foucaults work because, she
states in Postmodernism and Gender Relations, it should sensitize us to the
interconnections between knowledge claims (especially to the claims of absolute and
neutral knowledge) and power (p. 48). Flax also makes an important point about
feministssearching for a defining theme of the whole or a specific viewpoint. She
stresses that looking for an Archimedes point may require the silencing of other
voices, of other people who might have similar experiences as women. She goes on
to point out that:
the suppression of these voices seems to be a necessary condition for
the (apparent) authority, coherence, and universality of our own.
Thus, the very search for a root or cause of gender relations (or more
narrowly, male domination) may partially reflect a mode of thinking
that is itself grounded in particular forms of gender (and/or other)
relations in which domination is present, (p. 49)
Feministsgoal has been to demonstrate the false opposition of the
nature/nurture binarism. The first step was to ask many questions including for
example: Whose interests are served by this particular distinction construction?
Gender distinctions have, through power, produced aesthetic ideologies. Such
ideologies subject women to a gruesome set of practices that supposedly help
them maintain an aesthetic ideal acceptable to both men and themselves. Womens
femininity, therefore, is constructed, with subtlety, by power. Femininity is said to
40


be constructed as a discourse. By virtue of this discourse, women are restricted in
their place. Within such a discourse, women become (and are) subjects to the male
gaze. The ideals of femininity, however, have been internalized (as natural) by most
women; as a result, they, themselves, contribute to such constitution (Haber, 1996).
The body of the woman has been inscribed with many cultural meanings, of
which none is made to show any abilities, competence or strengths. These
inscriptions have, so far, helped only in her oppression. Since the body (of both men
and women) has been the target of power, it is not surprizing, then, that feminists
would want to theorize using the body as a site of debate. Honi Haber, stresses that
effective feminist strategies cannot ignore the body2
Body Politics
Since the body is an important part of theorizing in Feminism, I shall, in the
next section invoke the discussions by some feminists such as Honi Haber, Susan
Bordo, and Sandra Lee Bartky regarding aesthetic ideologies. These ideologies
convince women of maintaining an ideal acceptable to both men and themselves.
All three have used the body as a site of debate in order to show the extent to which
women, in specific, have been affected. They reveal how womens femininity is
2 See Honi Habers Foucault Pumped in Feminist Interpretation of Foucault. 1996.
41


constructed, in subtle ways by power and that femininity is constructed as a
discourse. The ideals of this femininity, however, have been so internalized (as
necessary therefore inevitable) by women to the point that they, themselves,
contribute to the discourses construction. (Bartky, 1990; Bordo, 1992; Haber,
1996).
Haber (1996) suggests that one way to refuse traditional distinctions (put
forth by phallocentric desire) is to fight back with the body. She writes in
Foucault Pumped that she has chosen the body as a struggle site for the:
overthrow of patriarchy and the hegemony of phallocentric
desire.The battle will have to be fought at many points....fighting at
the level of the body, specifically at the level of womens bodies.
(P-137)
Women have been historically seen through the gaze of another person. This gaze
has objectified her and made her into the other. Foucault talks about the gaze that
subjectifies and objectifies individuals. In The History of Sexuality, vol.l (1978), he
describes the hysterization of womens bodies as a:
threefold process whereby the feminine body was analyzed -qualified
and disqualified- as being thoroughly saturated with sexuality;
whereby it was integrated into the sphere of medical practices, by
reason of a pathology intrinsic to it. (p.104)
Foucaults analysis shows how both men and women have been completely affected
by the operations of power, such power constructs their subjectivities.
42


In her essay The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist
Appropriation of Foucault, Susan Bordo explores the body as cultural medium,
whose changing forms and meanings reflect historical conflict and change. On such
body, the politics of gender are inscribed. Bordo explores the role of the body, as
both a cultural text and a site of patriarchal social control, in the reproduction of
femininity. She stresses the fact that modem social control is insidious. Following
Foucault, Bordo shows that through a pursuit of an ever-changing, homogenizing,
elusive ideal of femininity...female bodies become...docile bodies, bodies
whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection,
transformation (p. 14). However, it is important to point out that regulation of
womens bodies is not only external. Bordo stresses that the discipline and
normalization of the female body is perhaps the only gender oppression that
exercises itself.
As Foucault shows in Discipline and Punish (1975), the inmate at the
Panopticon becomes, to a certain extent, his own observer, and starts policing and
regulating his comportment. In other words, disciplinary power takes hold of his
mind, and renders natural and inevitable, such discipline.
Similarly, Bordo (1989) shows that women have internalized gender
relations in which the woman has to obsessively pursue a certain aesthetic norm.
Such norm (ideal) becomes central in most womens lives. And since women
43


participate in their oppression, Bordo maintains following Foucault that the
idea of power as possessed by one group and leveled against another, must be
abandoned, and that power should be thought of as constitutive rather than
repressive. Bordo cites Foucault who describes power as:
bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them,
rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or
destroying them. (p. 15)
Hence, the need to uncover the various normalizing practices. Bordo suggests a
Foucauldian analysis of power from below, to expose the mechanisms that shape
and proliferate desire, and construct our conceptions of normalcy and deviance
(p. 15).
In a different work Unbearable Weight, Susan Bordo (1993) stresses the
development of power as a network following still the Foucauldian motif.
Power is exercised through normalizing practices. In this work, she chooses the
body of the anorexic as a struggle site. She uncovers the cultural meanings that have
been laid on it However, it is important not to confuse her work with what a great
number of feminists believe in accordance with the sex/gender dualism where
the body is viewed as a tabula rasa. Hence, it is crucial to understand that Bordo
cherishes the vulnerability of the female body and at the same time celebrates its
resistance and struggle.
44


Eating disorders, according to Bordo, are not a result of a superficial
fashion phenomenon, rather, they:
should reflect and call our attention to some of the central ills of our
culture from our historical heritage of disdain for the body, to our
modem fear of loss of control over our future, to the disquieting
meaning of contemporary beauty ideals in an era of greater female
presence and power than ever before, (pp. 139-140)
Bordo traces, what she calls, the ideology of hunger, back to the Victorian era
where mythologies reigned, and where different discourses be it artistic, scientific or
otherwise, suggested that female hunger is a cultural metaphor for unleashed female
power and desire. And if one goes back to Platonic philosophy, one can see the
disdain, of the body, very clearly. Plato obviously priviliged the soul. He saw the
body as a threat to the mind, especially if one gets caught up in its desires. The body,
as a material entity, was seen as merely a shadow that was not real. Rather, the
reality resided in the upper realm (where mind and/or soul reside). The binary
oppositions, which followed Platos model, are still functioning today. Foucault
rejected this kind of dualism, he used them as a starting point for investigation
(Bordo, 1993).
Bordo discusses the psychological underpinnings of anorexia nervosa. If
this disease is not only a result of a superficial fashion phenomenon (as many
believed and some still believe to this day) then it must have started, from the
beginning, as a reaction to a cultural construction which, perhaps, made it a taboo
45


for women to eat, or even show signs of hunger (because anorexia is mainly about
not eating). In order to illustrate this issue, Bordo gives examples (from the
Victorian era to TV and magazine commercials today) about how food is connected
to love and desire. She stresses, for example, that in commercials, food is
constructed as a sexual object of desire, and eating is legitimated as much more than
a purely nutritive activity. Rather, food is supposed to supply sensual delight. She
also argues that such commercials are not only selling products but also teaching
appropriate behavior. The female, in the Victorian era, was never allowed to
consume food in other than a proper feminine way. Therefore, indulgence was
characteristic of many women -a problem which is still happening today because
women feel they cannot eat as they please; rather, they eat (or subsist) until they are
no longer hungry.
Eating until one is no longer hungry would be perfectly acceptable if its idea
sprouted from an idealist and spiritual position where food is only necessary to
sustain the body and to keep it healthy and alive. This idea is positively reinforced
by Siddharta (Herman Hesses Siddharta) where spiritual well being is much more
important than that of the material. If eating were seen through such lens, it would
take on a completely different meaning. However, eating disorder as it exists mainly
among women, is certainly but a mere idealist belief in spirituality. As Bordo shows,
in drawing from the Victorian era, there was an ideology at work: Victorian gender
46


ideology. Victorians, according to Bordo, had conduct manuals which warned
women about the danger of eating, and the ways of eating (how women should eat
with the utmost precaution against unseemly show of desire). Eating, then, was
associated with desire.
And since, as Bordo establishes, eating has always been associated with
sexual desire, the anorexics reaction is to manipulate her body and not have it
restricted to certain roles and allures (mainly sexual allure). In a way, we can say
that the anorexic, as Haber asserts, is using her body to overthrow all patriarchal
conceptions that have, powerfully, controlled womens bodies.
As I mentioned earlier, Honi Haber (1996) uses the body as a site of debate
as well. She argues in Foucault Pumped: Body Politics And The Muscled Woman,
that the battle has to be fought at many points. However, fighting at the level of the
body, is very important in trying to deconstruct the hegemony of phallocentric
desire (p. 137). Hence, Habers proposition that if women were to present an image
which is completely subversive a muscled woman for instance this would
problematize seeing. Ignoring the body, Haber asserts, is not a solution, and
certainly not an effective feminine strategy (pp. 137-139).
Both Haber and Bordo present the same notion of dealing with the issue of
female presentation. One proposes using the body as a site for problematization of
seeing (Haber), the other shows different ways of presenting a destabilizing
47


image (Bordo) of the body. In the former case, the muscled woman would certainly
shock the males view (or the females view for that matter) of the female body.
However, it does not stop his gaze.
However, both Haber and Bordo seem to conclude, following Foucault, that
the notion of the normalization process is expanded to embrace the new image of
the muscled woman and/or the anorexic. Hence, the image of the body builder, for
example, becomes part of the discourse of being feminine, and the intention of body
building becomes defeated. Once again, the womans body is reduced even with
the new challenging and disruptive image to a limited sexy role. By
acknowledging the sexiness of the body builder, a new problem is created and that
is to measure up to the new standards of beauty. Consequently, pressure starts
again, and a vicious circle is inescapably in operation. Similarly, the image of the
anorexic does problematize seeing. However, its destabilizing image might
instead be included into what is considered to be normal and socially acceptable
image. Bordos conclusion seems to be similar to that of Habers. She asserts, in
Unbearable Weight:
representations which appear to violate traditional gender-dualities
do not show any progress, rather they are possibilities and old
patterns of representation. They reflect the instabilities that trouble
the continued reproduction of the old dualities and ideologies, but do
not show clearly just where were going, (p. 131)
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The reproduction of the old dualities to which Bordo refers are dualisms put forth
by Plato, Augustine and Descartes. These philosophers offered rules as to how to
control the body; that is why it becomes inescapable to relate it to the anorexics
view of herself. The anorexic, Bordo argues, diets in order to have control over her
body, her life. She points out that it is important to the anorexic to capture a sense of
invulnerability. And since selfimind, as Plato saw, should triumph over body, the
anorexic identifies her self with control. Foucault rejects the dualisms that have
been handed down to us from classical eras. He, certainly, does not see a mind/body
split. For him, the body is extremely important since it is inscribed with cultural and
historical meanings, and printed with power practices.
Whether the anorexic diets to attain a certain beauty ideal, or whether she
believes she can destabilize the expected image of femininity, in either case, her
action reflects an internalized belief that she either has to have control over her body
(an idealistic platonic notion), or that she has to maintain a look which measures up
to an aesthetic ideal (a result of disciplinary power and practices). Hence, resistance
becomes difficult but not impossible.
By examining these issues, it is clear that the female body is culturally and
socially constructed. The making of the individual, and the inscription of the body
with all kinds of cultural meanings is best described by Foucault as we have seen
earlier. He talks about the effects of power on the body where he focuses on social
49


practices that normalize behavior, and where ones identity is subject to
domination of cultural norms. Hence, Foucaults importance to both Bordo and
Haber.
Obviously Haber and Bordo fall into the camp of Foucauldian feminists who
use Foucaults analysis of disciplinary power in order to uncover the disciplinary
technologies of womens bodies. These technologies are dominating but, as both
Bordo and Haber show, are difficult to resist. As we shall see next, Sandra Lee
Bartky also falls in the same camp. She is very much a Foucauldian in that she sees
the operations of power (especially regarding womens bodies) take hold of our
bodies through various practices. However, Bartky finds it extremely difficult to
resist aesthetic ideologies because they are strongly embedded in every one of us.
Sandra Lee Bartky and The Imperative of Femininity
Sandra Lee Bartky (1990) draws on the experience of daily life to examine
the ways in which women are recruited to an idealized yet finally disempowering
femininity. Bartky examines the disciplinary practices that produce a body which in
gesture and appearance is recognizably feminine (p. 65). She describes what she
calls obedience to the requirements of femininity (pp.66-67). Such requirements
include dieting, exercise, and makeup. All these aim at bodily perfection.
50


However, Bartky distinguishes between what is required of men, and what is
demanded of women. She further stresses that even exercising is done by men and
women, for different reasons. She maintains that men exercise in order to stay
healthy, whereas womens aim in exercise goes beyond staying healthy. For them, it
is an inevitable activity that keeps their weight under control. Bartky states:
men and women alike engage themselves with a variety of
machines...However, given the widespread female obsession with
weight, one suspects that many women are working out with these
apparatuses in the health club or at the gym with a different aim in
mind and in a quite different spirit than men. (p. 67)
Bartky tries to show that the disciplinary practices described by Foucault, affect
women much more than they do men, because of patriarchal domination. She
describes even the minute detail of a womans comportment in order to show the
extent to which women have to obey certain disciplinary rules (that confine them).
The womans movement is subjected to a much finer and more restrictive discipline.
The harsh disciplines to which women are subjected, have developed in a
way that they appear to be artful ways of beautifying. Bartky shows how cosmetic
industry, for example, enlists the normalizing discourse of modem medicine to gain
credibility for its claims (p. 70). Bringing science into the cosmetic industry renders
cosmetic care legitimate, therefore necessary and inevitable.
Bartky describes as regimen, the process through which most women go in
order to be beautiful (according to the expected ideal). Women, according to Bartky,
51


have to have a mastery of a set of techniques, and have to acquire a specialized
knowledge.
Bartky suggests that these disciplinary practices have nothing to do with
sexual difference. They are merely a subjection on womens bodies. That is to say
that women are not good enough or beautiful enough to be accepted, hence the need
for making them up and over. Therefore,
the technologies of femininity taken up and practiced by women
against tha background of a pervasive sense of deficiency: This
accounts for what is often their compulsive or even ritualistic
character, (pp. 71-72)
In other words, no matter what women do, they continue to be criticized. Most of
them go through painful and time-consuming practices in order to either measure up
to an aesthetic ideal, or to regulate their comportment which has to reflect signs of
femininity, all this done in exchange for acceptance yet they still get accused of
being compulsive and shallow.
Bartky, following Foucault, uncovers and exposes the disciplinary practices
that subject women. She describes Foucaults account of disciplinary practices that
produce the docile bodies of modernity, as a genuine tour deforce (p. 65).
However, she notes that Foucault treats bodily experiences as if they were the same
for both men and women. Therefore, she accuses him of being blind to the
disciplines that produce a modality of embodiement that is peculiarly feminine (p.
65). It is surprising that Bartky takes such position since she does make full use of
52


his analysis. She stresses, throughout, that the disciplinary power that inscribes
femininity is everywhere and nowhere, and that the disciplinarian is everyone and no
one in particular. A complete reiteration of Foucault. Why, then, employ his
analyses if there are doubts strong enough to accuse him of being blind to
womens oppression?
Like Haber and Bordo, Bartky seems to have a push-and-pull relationship
with Foucault. All three acknowledge the usefulness of his analyses, but still see
some gaps in his discourse. This in mind however, they all still recognize his
viability and the value of his analyses. Bartky, for instance, acknowledges despite
of the confining disciplinary practices she talks about the fact that a number of
oppositional discourses and practices appeared. She gives examples of women
pumping iron (as we saw in Habers discussion) and women in the lesbian
community who reject the hegemonic images of femininity and are struggling to
develop a new female aesthetic (p. 82).
Similarly, both Haber and Bordo recognize a possibility of oppositional
discourses in Foucaults analysis of disciplinary power. Both present problematizing
and destabilizing images of women (body builder and anorexic). Although
Haber considered that there might be a possibility of including the muscled woman
into the normalizing discourse, however the muscled womans image has yet to
please the gazer. The anorexic, on the other hand, diets to have control over her
53


self and to resist the patriarchal system that views women as weak and as lacking
strength and self-control. The case of the anorexic is a complicated one: first, by
dieting (in order to make herself unattractive, maintaining a boyish look) she
thinks that she is resisting the aesthetic ideal (put forth in the first place by
patriarchy); second, she diets in order to have control of her self (a concept
handed down from Plato, picked up by Enlightenment philosophy and carried
through to the modem patriarchal system). The concept of self as a core would be
completely rejected by Foucault since he, as Jana Sawicki asserts in Disciplining
Foucault, rejects a deep self for the same reasons he rejects a subject that obscures
historical and cultural specificity. (Sawicki, 1991).
The Cartesian subject (which has always been male), was determined
according to a separation between public and private issues. Subjectivity did not
reflect the personal, in order to be a subject, specific characteristics had to be
displayed: lack of emotions, demonstration of rationalilty and disregarding the
body. As we shall see next, both feminists and Foucault reject public/private
distinction.
Public/Private Issues
Feminists have been divided into two major camps: 1) those who talk of
equality and equal rights, they separate private issues from public ones. They are
54


better known as liberal feminists; and 2) those who talk instead of the personal as
political. They, seemingly, appear to be at odds with liberal ideas (I say seemingly
because believing that the personal is the political does not necessarily suggest
that feminists do not want equality. It is, however, a demand for equality on the
basis of recognition and respect for the private issues as well.) Hence, the
relationship between private and public has become more and more the center of
debate for many feminists.
Ann Phillips (1987) addresses this issue in Feminism and Equality. She
states that when feminists separate the public from the private, they ignore the arena
where women are mostly subordinated: the family. She notes:
The private is very often taken to mean the family, and in the family
men and women are unequal. In the name of freedom, liberalism can
exempt from political interference the arena in which women are
most subordinated and controlled. In its desire to keep separate the
worlds of public and private, it offers us equality in the former
while hypocritically ignoring our real difference in the latter, (p. 13)
According to Phillips, by ignoring the private sphere, there tends to be a blindness to
trivial questions like who does the housework or who sleeps with whom(p. 12).
Trivial as they might seem, these questions in the private lives, are extremely crucial
to the investigation of domination and subordination of women. Following Foucault,
Ann Phillips contends that in the most private comers of our existence the state and
economy still hold sway (p. 12).
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Many liberal feministsposition would be at complete odds with that of
Foucault who saw politics, disciplines, and effects of power present in public as well
as private spheres.
Feminists who demand that attention be turned to private issues, stress that
women cannot assert their claims in the public sphere while ignoring the problems
they have at home. Most contemporary women lead a fully equal life outside their
homes, but remain subordinated at home in the sense that they find themselves
responsible for all the housework and the demands that come with it (Phillips,
1987).
Foucault, for example, saw the sexuality of the family as open to
problematization as were other areas in public life. The sexuality of men, women,
and children is as regulated and disciplined as the production of assembly line
workers. Domination a manifestation of power occurs outside and inside
(Foucault, 1978). Foucault uncovers the multiple effects of power, thereby he aids
the formation of multiple points of resistance.
Honi Haber (1994), argues that Foucault politicizes everyday life. Such
politicizing has implications for the multiplicity and plurivocality of power
struggles, and that of concomitant formations of plural truths, [and it] keeps
conceptual revolutions, and therefore opposition, an open possibility (pp. 87-88).
Haber shows how the importance of Foucaults unmasking of power as Foucault
56


makes clear operates at the lowest extremeties of the social body in everyday
practice; it is thus, seen anchored in multiplicity of micropractices, in the social
practices which comprise everyday life in modem society, divisions between the
public and the private appear obsolete (p. 85).
Haber stresses that Foucault contributes greatly to oppositional discourse, the
possibility of resistance. She reiterates Foucaults belief that relationships of power
must be attacked through the notions and institutions that function as their
instruments, armature, and armor(p. 86). In Habers view, Foucault renders
meaningless the distinction between the private and the public unlike humanists,
who prefer to keep private distinct from public for the sake of so-called autonomy
and subjectivity, Foucault, Haber asserts, does not see the development of
subjectivity, selfhood, and autonomy in isolation from the encroachment of the
public, of the political, of state and/or economic interests.
Promoting Foucaults viability regarding the private/public issue, she
maintains that the realm of the political in his discourse is not predetermined.
Rather, Foucault gives us the freedom to:
ask of politics a whole series of questions not traditionally part of its
statutory domain: questions about women, about relations between
the sexes...about minorities. These kinds of questions are kept silent
by the private/public distinction, (pp. 86-87)
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By not separating public from private, Foucault puts at the center of attention those
who have been marginalized by liberal society, and those who have been subjected
to disciplinary power.
Womens Subiection/Womens Subjectivity
In contemporary society, no one has been more subject to disciplinary rules
than women. The question of womens subjection, however, cannot be seen in
isolation. Gender distinctions have played an important role in the production of
rules and disciplines that some women today seem to practice unquestionably.
Hence, the issue of womens subjectivity has been integral to theorizing in
feminism. Feminists who have been trying to reclaim their subjectivity, face harsh
criticism. However, those who are determined to ensure a place for the feminist
subject, and develop a feminist epistemology, find Foucaults analyses of the
subject, of knowledge, and of power to be paralyzing to their projects. In what
follows, I examine some feminists who oppose Foucault (although most do not
completely break from him), and those who respond to them.
Feminists Versus Foucault
Many of Foucaults critics have made use, one way or another, of his
genealogical analyses. Two of the most prominent leading feminists, Nancy Fraser
58


and Nancy Hartsock, are Foucaults strongest critics. I shall next present their
arguments that make them Foucaults number one critics par excellence.
Fraser (1989) argues that Foucaults account of disciplinary norms is
problematic in that it leaves no room for an autonomous subject. She writes:
[Foucaults description] of disciplinary norms have become so thoroughly
internalized that they...[are] not experienced as coming from without (p. 49).
Furthermore, Fraser and Nicholson (1990), contend that both feminism and
postmodernism (Foucault included) do not rely on traditional philosophical
underpinnings. They stress that other differences notwithstanding, one could say
that during the last decade feminists and postmodernists have worked independently
on a common nexus of problems (p. 19). Furthermore, as Jana Sawicki (1996)
views Frasers position regarding Foucaults definition of disciplinary norms:
Fraser argues that Foucaults lack of explicit normative foundations
makes it impossible for him to make a distinction between autonomy
and internalized domination, (p. 162)
Similarly, Nancy Hartsock (1990) argues that Foucaults discourse lacks a definitive
theory of transformation specifically because of the lack of agency in the absence of
a subject, an autonomous subject that is. She stresses that Foucault totally rejects
the grounds of the emancipatory aspects of the Enlightenment. She questions the
difference and/or similarity of relations of power between the sexes and other kinds
of power relations. Above all, Hartsock maintains that Foucaults theories fail to
59


provide a theory of power for women (p. 158). In other words, Hartsock demands
for a theory of power for women (versus about women) where power is anlyzed
from the point of view of the dominated. She states:
[If]...epistemologies grow out of differing material circumstances.
We must, then, distinguish between theories of power about women
theories which may include the subjugation of women as yet
another variable to be considered, and theories of power for
women theories which begin from the experience and point of
view of the dominated. Such theories would give attention not only to
the ways women are dominated, but also to their capacities, abilities
and strengths. In particular, such theories would use these capacities
as guides for a potential transformation of power relationships, (p.
158)
Hartsock accuses Foucault of speaking from a position of a colonizer, therefore
obscuring (or not recognizing) positions of those colonized. In other words,
Hartsock rejects Foucaults idea of a constructed subject through external forces
such as power. She makes an interesting (yet not convincing) point, about Foucaults
concept of power. She cites Edward Said who argues that:
ones concept of power is importantly shaped by the reason why one
wishes to think about power in the first place. He goes on to set
several possibilities...first, you might imagine what you could do if
you had power. Second, you might speculate about what you could
imagine if you had power. Third, you might want to assess what
power you would need to initiate a new order...Foucault...is attracted
by the first two. (p. 167)
But as Jana Sawicki (1996) astutely points out:
Hartsock links the inadequacy of Foucaults account of power and
knowledge to his social location as a privileged white male; for the
logic of her standpoint epistemology commits her to the view that
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certain situations are more likely to produce distortions and partial
visions than others, (p. 163)
Hartsock, Sawicki goes on to say, argues for the epistemic privilege of the feminist
standpoint. I echo Sawickis view, and I think that Hartsock invoked the above
specific quote from Said in order to, simply, endorse her position against Foucault. I
do not see how either Said (if Saids contention is as Hartsock claims) or Hartsock
could view Foucaults position as one similar to that of a colonizer. In fact, if one
were to take Foucaults personal life as a starting point to explain his analyses
it would not be difficult to disregard his discourse on power/knowledge as a
personal reaction to the way he has been labelled as a mad person. Foucaults
otherness throughout his life has turned him into an other to be rejected. Even
when he presented and defended his doctoral dissertation Madness and Civilization,
the committee members tried, unsuccessfully, to dismiss his work. However,
because his intellectual ability and genius surpassed what his committee considered
to fall within specific boundaries of academic approval, they had no choice but to
accept his work as legitimate and worthy of attention. Hence, the acceptance of his
dissertation and eventually its worldwide recognition. (Didier, 1992)
The point of this is that Foucault did experience the position of otherness, of
difference, of being dominated by the social norms which considered people such as
him, as mad. If Foucault were speaking from the position of a colonizer or what
Hartsock describes as a position of a white privileged boy, I do not think he would
61


have analyzed power relations the way he did. Even Edward Said (1978) employed
Foucaults notion of discourse as put forward in The Archeology of Knowledge
and Discipline and Punish in order to identify Orientalism. He states in
Orientalism:
My contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse
one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline
by which European culture was able to manage and even
produce the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily,
ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-
Enlightenment period...In brief, because of Orientalism the Orient
was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action, (p. 3)
This is precisely Foucaults contention throughout his analyses: to show how
disciplinary norms can restrict even the very thought and actions of individuals. As a
result, what modernity produced through its insidious use of power was a
constituted subject.
Hartsock (1990), like Fraser, hangs very tightly to the notion of a specific
subjectivity for women. For her, to act as subjects of history, is to make a name for
themselves as women, a basis on which they can fight for autonomy, subjectivity,
and freedom. She writes:
Why is it that just at the moment when so many of us who have been
silenced begin to demand the right to name ourselves, to act as
subjects rather than objects of history, that just then the concept of
subjecthood becomes problematic? Just when we are forming our
own theories about the world, uncertainty emerges about whether the
world can be theorized...Why is it only now that critiques are made of
the will to power inherent in the effort to create theory? (pp. 163-164)
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In short, Hartsock rejects Foucaults alleged rejection of a constitutive subject. She
places emphasis on feminist subjectivity. She does not see an emancipatory project
of feminism without a woman subject. However, some feminists disagree with
Hartsock, and contend that by claiming a specific subjectivity, women risk
developing essentialistic aspects, which will eventually impede their project.
Hartsock employs a feminist revision of a Marxian standpoint
epistemology. She proposes the transformation of relations of power rather than
resisting them as Foucault does. In order to transform such relations, she stresses the
need for a:
revised and reconstructed theory (indebted to Marx among others)
with several important features. First, rather than getting rid of
subjectivity or notions of the subject, as Foucault does and
substituting his notion of the individual as an effect of power
relations, we need to engage in the historical, political, and
theoretical process of constituting ourselves as subjects as well as
objects of history. We need to recognize that we can be the makers of
history as well as the objects of those who have made history, (pp.
170-171)
Jana Sawicki (1996) contends that Hartsock finds Foucaults analysis of power
deficient because it rejects the notion of subjectivity, therefore a lack of
transformational agency. Although Foucault does not deny the possibility of agency
per se, he clearly does not see an autonomous, self-constituted subject; nonetheless,
he acknowledges a possibility of resistance and change which is to say that an
agency might very well exist.
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Judith Butler (1990), for example, asks whether feminist politics could do
without a subject in the women category. She states:
The foundationalist reasoning of identity politics tends to assume that
an identity must first be in place in order for political interests to be
elaborated and, subsequently, political action to be taken. My
argument is that there need not be a doer behind the deed, but that
the doer is variably constructed in and through the deed. (p. 142)
She goes on to state that the question of locating agency is usually associated with
the viability of the subject, where the subject is understood to have some stable
existence prior to the cultural field that it negotiates (p. 142).
For Butler (1992), a feminist politics can exist even without a subject. She
discusses the Foucauldian subject in her essay Contingent Foundations:Feminism
and the Question of Postmodernism, she writes: perhaps Foucault is not really
postmodern, after all his is an analytics of modem power. There is, of course, talk
about the death of the subject, but which subject is that? (p. 14).
Butler (1992) goes on to explain that the Foucauldian subject is not really
dead in terms of the possibility of agency. Butler, unlike Hartsock, does not assume
the subject in advance. She contends (as we have seen above) that a feminist politics
is very much desirable and possible even without a subject; a pregiven subject.
Butler stresses that it is not necessary to suppose the subject in advance in order to
safeguard its agency. She states:
we may be tempted to think that to assume the subject in
advance is necessary in order to safeguard the agency of the
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subject. But to claim that the subject is constituted is not to claim that
it is determined; on the contrary, the constituted character of the
subject is the very precondition of its agency, (p. 12)
Judith Butler very much believes that Foucaults subject is one that is able of acting
as an agent, and therefore, of changing the order of things. She suggests that agency
belongs to a way of thinking about persons as instrumental actors who confront an
external political field (p. 12).
The questions Butler asks are crucial in that they render feministsdemand
for a prediscursive I as necessary since agency does not depend on such presumed
T. Furthermore, if feminists, according to Butler, insist on a feminine subject, they
will risk being trapped into a fixed and essentialist identity. Identity politics is
rejected by Butler because it tends to exclude some groups. For example, if
feminists develop a totalizing, universalistic we, does that we include everyone?
Meaning women of different races and ethnic backgrounds? Does it include women
of different sexual orientation? Women of different economic classes? Hence, the
category of women becomes problematic in light of these questions. However, that
is not to say that Butler does not agree that there should be a category of woman, but
that such identity should be questioned and investigated before considering it.
With this in mind, however, Butler (1992) still contends that Foucaults
critique of the subject does not necessarily mean to do away with it or to pronounce
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its death, but merely to claim that certain versions of the subject are politically
insidious (p. 13).
Butler is correct to point out that Foucault is merely critiquing the subject; he
deconstructs the grounds against which the modem subject is constituted. However,
to deconstruct the subject does not mean to dismiss it. And by the same token, to
deconstruct the feminine subject is not to censure its usage (Butler, 1992).
Mary Laydon (1988), like Butler, expresses most eloquently the issue of
womens pursuit of subjectivity, of a true identity. Also, as Butler, sympathetic to
Foucault and supportive of his accounts especially that of the individuals sexuality,
she stresses that Foucaults postulate that the practice of confession, prompted by
the will to knowledge, produces a truth that is assimilated to the secret of
individuals sex (p. 137). Lydon continues her discussion of confession as a
practice (as accounted by Foucault). She finds confession to help the speaker
guarantee:
a place in the scheme of things. It is a normalizing process by which
one is classified...the aggressive electric charge of difference is thus
rendered harmless, its energy diverted into and diffused throughout
the body politic. It follows that to refuse to confess, either by
remaining silent or by dodging the question, may be dangerous, (pp.
137-138)
However, with this in mind (confession in exchange for identity), Lydon warns
women about being imprisoned in the rear of their own sexuality. She suggests
that women ought not to be represented only through their sexuality or their bodies.
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She stresses that women in the last decade have been shown as an effect of discourse
(rather than a material, bodily entity). That is why they have the urge, every time
they speak, to confess, and as she puts it: to claim essential womanhood, to assert
oneself as subject, to demand to freedom to write like a woman, to reclaim
womens history, to speak their sexuality is a powerful temptation (p. 138).
Lydon argues that this urge to claim an essential subjectivity should be
resisted. Women must look behind and beyond their reflections in the mirror, that
they must look elsewhere and away from their own bodies because bodies can be
ready-made reflections that promise a false identity (p. 138).
Womens perspective and truth should not be found in their bodies since
even the truth of bodies is an effect of power, and does not necessarily reflect the
true identity of women (if there is such a thing as a true identity). Truth is not as
fixed as we tend to think, and should not be in any case. Lydon invokes Nietzsche
who warns about truth:
We still do not know where the urge of truth comes from; for as yet
we have heard only the obligation imposed by society that it should
exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors in
moral terms: the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie
herd-like in a style obligatory for all. (p. 139)
What Lydon is trying to show is that what appears to be the truth may not be it at all.
A case in point would be Magrittes famous ce nest pas une pipe where the
writing of the sentence shows the shape of a pipe. By invoking this example, Lydon
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makes, at the same time, an astute obsevation, and an excellent connection between
Magrittes most famous pipe (or no pipe for that matter) representation, and
womens representation and essential labeling.
As we shall see in chapter four, Foucault is not only critiquing the subject.
His work in its entirety is a critique. Thus, what his critics (Hartsock and Fraser for
example) accuse him of, does not seem fair given the fact that Foucault works from
skeptical premises. With this in mind, however, feminists and Foucault have more
in common than feminists would like to admit.
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CHAPTER 4
RETHINKING FOUCAULT
Analysis
In order to accept Foucaults work, one also has to accept his skeptical
premises. Michel Foucaults critique of Western civilization can be extended to
womens experiences in the world: from violence to domination. I believe that the
implications of Foucaults work for feminists should be a given rather than a subject
of heated debate.
It is probably common knowledge, by now, that the critique of
Enlightenment knowledge is at the core of both feminism and Foucauldian
philosophy. Foucault has, unarguably, offered us a basis for critical reflection on
issues and beliefs handed down from Enlightenment thought, and still function in
society today.
From all the readings I have done, one general conclusion was fairly
obvious: postmodern philosophy and feminism complement each other greatly. In
other words, a closer association between them benefits both. Postmodernism helps
feminism with the critique of Western ontology and epistemology; in addition, it
provides some feminists with ways to rid themselves of essentialist and absolutist
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tendencies. Whereas feminism helps postmodems to turn more attention to gender
issues. However, the work of Michel Foucault, in particular, is integral to feminism
because of Foucaults brilliant analysis of power/knowledge, discourse, and
disciplinary practices.
As Hekman (1990) proposes, it is as equally important to recognize
Foucaults undermining of Enlightenment/modem episteme. This aspect of his
philosophy should be of especial interest to feminists since the Enlightenment
episteme created the nature/culture dichotomy which excluded women from many
realms especially the realm of science.
Although Foucault did not develop a theory about womens issues per se, he
did not develop any specific theory for other oppressed groups either. Because
Foucault criticized totalizing, absolutist, and essentialist theories, he therefore,
chose to analyze, critique, and ask questions instead. As we have seen throughout
this paper no systemization of thought appealed to him simply because it is
restrictive and tends to exclude others.
Feminists who argue for a feminist epistemology, stress the notion of identity
politics which is dependent on the reinforcement of the feminist subject are
certainly those who disagree with Foucault. From their viewpoint, they regard
Foucauldian discourse as indifferent to gender issues, and as blind to the
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inegalitarian power relations. Furthermore, the death of the subject indicates, for
them, a Foucauldian rejection of female subjectivity.
However, in defense of Foucault, and beyond that, three points should be
clarified: 1) A feminist epistemology could (but not necessarily is) very well be
viewed as a simple reverse of masculine epistemology which the Enlightenment
proclaimed to be the only source of truth. Hence, the tendency of feminist
epistemology to become as universalistic as its predecessor; 2) The issue of the
subject is problematic because it represents a certain category: women. But, as some
feminists wonder, what is women? What women are included and/or excluded?;
3) The danger inherent in identity politics is essentialism, universalism, and
exclusion. With this in mind, however, it is understandable why some feminists
would step back from Foucaults discourse.
Foucaults work is not definitive by any means, and he does not state any
specific theoretical positions. Nevertheless, his complex work should be crucial to
feminist issues, and in order to understand him, we should first try to understand the
different concepts and notions in his analyses. For this reason, it is imperative that
his work be closely examined, in order to appreciate his contribution.
In Chapter 2,1 laid out some of Foucaults important concepts in his
philosophy which included his analyses of power, knowledge, discourse,
disciplinary practices, and their effects on the subject (body and soul). All of the
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above concepts have been prevalent in feminist circles: either thay are criticized, or
praised and appropriated.
In what follows, I shall discuss three major concepts in Foucaults
philosophy (as they are relevant to feminism) more closely in order to show the
viability of Foucaults work, and to endorse the legitimacy of his thought. The three
concepts I further explore here are: man (subject), disciplinary norms, and
knowledge. Understanding these three concepts would be especially helpful to
certain feminist concepts. I propose as their parallel in feminism: feminist subject,
aesthetic ideal, and feminist epistemology. By parallel, I do not mean equal,
rather I take these concepts as points of comparison in order to show the importance
of Foucaults analysis.
Man/Subiect
Michel Foucault decenters man in The Order Of Things. Susan Hekman
(1990) stresses that although the concept of the death of man perhaps started with
Heidegger, was then taken up by postmodems such as Derrida, it is nonetheless
most obvious in Foucaults work. Foucault openly declared the disappearance of
man. His is the most sustained critique of the notion of the subject and the
opposition of subject and object. He moves in his description from the classical age
episteme to that of the modem age. Foucault asserts that in the classical age,
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representation was important (as shown in his interpretation of Las Meninas at the
opening of the book). However, man was not included in this representation, he
was one object among other things.
Whereas, the modem age became what he called the age of man, he states:
In the general arrangement of the classical episteme, nature, human
nature, and their relations, are definite and predictable functional
moments. And man, as a primary reality with his own density, as the
difficult object and sovereign subject of all possible knowledge, has
no place in it. (p. 310)
Foucault talks about certain changes which caused the move from classical to
modem episteme. He merely charts the changes that occurred in the classical
episteme which lead to the modem one and to man as known today. He does not tell
us exactly how these changes occurred and why. Nevertheless, for our concern here,
man of the modem episteme will be of especial importance.The major change that
happened in Foucaults view was that man became the measure of all things.
And as Dreyfus and Rabinow (1982) put it:
Man who was once a being among others, now is a subject among
objects, he soon realizes that what he is seeking to understand is not
only the objects of the world but himself. Man becomes the subject
and the object of his own understanding, (p. 28)
What man was now seeking to know, also was obscuring his understanding.
Foucault stresses that in the classical age, language was very important in
representing and making knowledge possible, whereas in the modem age, man
became the representer.
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According to Foucault (1966):
the modem themes of an individual who lives, speaks, and works in
accordance with the laws of an economics, a philology, and a
biology, but who also, by a sort of internal torsion and overlapping,
has acquired the right, through the interplay of those very laws, to
know them and to subject them to total clarification all these
themes are familiar to us today and linked to the existence of the
human sciences, are excluded by classical thought, (p. 310)
He argues that modem episteme has created man as both subject and object of
knowledge. This means, for Foucault, that man as a subject was the creator of
knowledge, and as object the one affected by it. Man was one who constitutes
knowledge, produces it, and even makes knowledge of himself possible. Hence, man
was the source of truth.
For this reason, Foucault rejects the whole idea of the modem subject. He
does not see the truth, or any truth for that matter, in man. Truth, for Foucault, is
not as fixed and absolute as people have received it for a long time; rather truth is
arbitrary. Troth is not something otherworldly, it is a product of individual regimes
of truth. That does not mean as some of Foucaults critics contend that his
conception of truth is relativistic (in the sense that anything goes).
Man, according to Foucault, has no absolute human nature. It is here that his
position is relevant regarding the feminist subject. Since he does not see an
absolute, essential human nature, it would seem a miscalculation for him, if
feminists were to appeal to female nature. Modem episteme has always rejected the
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feminine, and by virtue of that rejection, many feminists who appeal to a specific
female nature employ the same tactic and tend to universalize a male dominance
phenomenon, thus reiterating the same ideals as modem episteme. Susan Hekman
(1990) stresses that:
Foucaults position offers a means of counteracting this tendency.
His position encourages us to eschew universal concepts to explore
the specific, local mechanisms of the oppression of women rather
than to sketch the outlines of the universal phenomenon of male
dominance, (pp. 184-185)
She continues to state:
Foucaults position entails that the analysis of male dominance must
be local and contextual and that the resistance to that domination
must be equally specific. Feminists cannot resist patriarchy as a
universal phenomenon. But they can resist specific instances of
patriarchy...what Foucault is asserting is that the specific instance of
oppression will generate a specific resistance to that oppression. The
oppression produces the resistance, no other grounding is required.
(p. 185)
Foucault rejects the belief that coherent political action must be grounded in
absolutes. Thus, feminists who demand a definitive political theory, will be by
extension, criticized by Foucault.
In sum, Foucaults subject is a constitution of discourses that themselves
create knowledge and power. As a result, the subject is not a fixed, absolute, or
essential entity, it is rather a process.
Foucault rejects the Cartesian subject that creates knowledge through
rational abstraction. If feminists were to insist on adhering to the notion of the
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subject, this would force them to reiterate Enlightenment assumptions, from which
sexism sprung and excluded women in the first place. The sexism was (and still is to
some extent) manifested through the exclusion of women from many fields,
especially science, and through the disciplinary practices that make women believe
that they must have certain identity, and that such identity reflects, in reality, who
they are. Therefore, even their core self is defined for them.
Next, I shall discuss Foucaults concept of disciplinary power once again
(discussed earlier in Chapter 2), not for the sake of repeating it, but for
emphasizing its importance and its relevance to feminism.
Disciplinary Power
Jana Sawicki (1991) describes Foucaults analysis of disciplinary
technologies as a potentially insidious form of social control since they operate by
inciting the desires of those who seek them out (p. 94).
As we have seen in Chapter 3, Bordo, Haber, and Bartky describe the effects
of disciplinary norms on women and their bodies. One would be blind not to
acknowledge the amazing accuracy of Foucaults account of disciplinary power
(especially as it affects women). Whether he specifically included in his
analysis womens subjection to such norms or not, is irrelevant. He described for
us these disciplinary practices as they affect everyone including women. He
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perhaps left it to feminists to take up this issue, and to women to resist the practices
that target them much more strongly than they do men. I contend that without
Foucaults account of disciplinary norms (as insidiously produced by power), these
norms would not have been unmasked (as they were by Foucault). That is not to
say, however, that feminists would not have recognized them, but rather, they
would have, perhaps, ignored them as grounds, or points of departure for resistance.
And since early feministsdemand for equality was based on the creation of an
autonomous, rational subject (Cartesian subject); the idea of disciplinary practices
produced by power, would have been disregarded.
Foucauldian feminists such as Bordo and Haber have proved through
their accounts of womens subjection to disciplinary norms that Foucault is right
on target, and that his concept of normalization could not be more accurate. They
have both shown how even the most destabilizing and problematizing of images
could be normalized and made part of the aesthetic ideal.
Therefore, the subject according to Foucault is one that is always
constituted by power. He states in The Subject of Power (1983):
This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which
categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality,
attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which
he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him. It is a
form of power which makes individual subjects. There are two
meanings of the word subject: subject to someone else by control and
dependence, and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-
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knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which
subjugates and makes subject too. (p. 212)
Disciplines surely manufacture subjectivities. For this very reason, feminists should
pay better attention to the disciplinary norms that govern womens lives. If these
norms were ignored, then the very notion of subjectivity for which some
feminists are arguing would be in jeopardy. By not recognizing that subjectivities
are manufactured or produced by norms of disciplinary power, the very basis of
ensuring subjectivity would be a false one.
The disciplinary norms in Foucaults account do not operate independently
of knowledge and power. First, knowledge of the individual is very important
because in order to influence the subject without coercion a tactic has to be
employed. Such tactic, as Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish (1975), came
to have hold not only of the body, but also of the soul. Knowledge then is implied in
power, and by virtue of the relationship between them, disciplinary practices are
bom. And since women have been very much targeted by such practices (aesthetic
norms), feminists should examine more closely Foucaults analysis of knowledge
(and power).
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Knowledge
Foucault maintained that the aim of the human sciences and of the history of
penal law was to make the technology of power the very principle both of the
humanization of the penal system and of knowledge of man.
The transformations in punitive pratcices from the sixteenth to the nineteenth
century, mark the birth of knowledges as legitimizing forces of power. Knowledge,
in the modem penal system, was very crucial to maintaining and producing self-
policing individuals. Thus, knowledge as Foucault sees it does not necessarily
mean power, but it is the relationship between the two which renders important our
conception of knowledge. Knowledge taken as an epistemological basis for say a
feminist politics should be more closely examined. Since knowledge and power,
according to Foucault, always imply each other, it would be wise if feminists rethink
their demand for a specific feminist epistemology. Epistemology cannot be
thought of independently.
Although Foucault accounts for particular knowledges, he is still much
criticized though wrongly by some feminists. Nancy Hartsock (1996) criticizes
Foucault for not providing an alternative to Enlightenment epistemology. She
maintains that he refuses all kinds of knowledges. She claims that since Foucault
rejects the god-trick of the view of everything from nowhere (which is a rejection
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of some Enlightenment assumptions) and by virtue of that rejection, he gives up any
claims to knowledge. She writes regarding Foucaults position: [Foucault] has
come to the conclusion that if one cannot see everything from nowhere, one cannot
really see anything at all...If one cannot engage in the god-trick, there is no such
thing as knowledges (p. 44).
I do not see how Hartsock could have formulated such a view of Foucaults
discourse. First, Foucault does acknowledge subjugated or what she calls
situated knowledges. In addition, Foucault indicates nowhere in specific, that we
should give up claims to knowledge and/or knowledges other than some that are put
forward by Enlightenment epistemology. Hartsock, rejects a feminist subject that is
unmarked and therefore implicitly Western. How can this view be different from
Foucaults?
Foucault rejects the universal subject (which has always meant a Western
subject, therefore making of the other subjects as different). Foucault also
recognizes that knowledges are historically contingent and locally specific, and
as Hartsock indicates conditioned by the locations we occupy (p. 52). Hartsock
talks about specificities of views coming from below, these specific views are, what
she calls, subjugated knowledges. (p. 50). These knowledges are located in a
particular time and space. They are therefore partial...they are the knowledges of
specific cultures and peoples (p. 50).
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Hartsock continues to state that these situated knowledges might open
possibilities and might not. They might go beyond efforts of survival in order to
locate the centrality of systematic power relations. Furthermore, these situated
knowledges, cording to Hartsock, are critical but at the same time, vulnerable to the
dominant culture. Although Foucault does not explicitly state it this way, he
nonetheless implicates it in his analyses.
Foucaults idea of subjugated knowledges is very much like that of
Hartsock (or shall I say her idea of situated knowledges is very much taken from
Foucault). Foucault calls for the emancipation of subjected historical knowledges.
Michel Mahon (1992) discusses Foucaults concept of subjugated knowledges.
He correctly points out that Foucault, by subjugated knowledges means two
things:
the buried knowledges of erudition and those disqualified from the
hierarchy of knowledges and sciences...By subjugated knowledges,
secondly Foucault means a whole set of knowledges that have been
disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated;
naive knowledges, located down on the hierarchy, (p. 121)
These knowledges are popular. Foucault distinguishes between two words:
connaissance by which he means knowledges of disciplines and fields, and
savoir which is the more common knowledge among people, or what Foucault
calls, regional knowledge.
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According to Mahon, Foucault calls for the insurrection of such regional
knowledge. He states:
Subjugated knowledges, both in the form of buried erudition and in
the form of disqualified, regional knowledge, maintain the memory
of historical struggles; their insurrection resurrects the memoiy of
hostile encounters, (p. 121)
The insurrection of these knowledges is important to the notion of critique. By doing
a critique of their own time, people can discover historical contents that had been
covered by functionalist and systematizing histories. Hence, the possibility of
working towards a change. Foucault is mainly concerned with the analysis of the
historical, practical, and discursive conditions that lead for the existence of certain
concepts. He always examined the embeddedness, of concepts, in social, cultural,
and institutional practices.
Insurrection of knowledges can indeed help us develop a critique. That is
precisely what Foucault does throughout his writings. His critique of Western
civilization has helped many thinkers develop their own theories. His influence is
certainly undeniable. His critique can be extended to womens experiences. What
Foucault and Feminists share is important in that neither falls back on universal
truth to answer questions regarding self-kowledge. Foucault certainly does not give
any specific answers; rather, he sees answers as questions that are important starting
points. The more questions one asks, the more critique one does, the clearer one
becomes about his/her situation. In other words, Foucault urges in his own way
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his readers to develop the ability to recognize and be aware of labels, categories, and
so-called truths that have been handed down, to all of us, from the Enlightenment.
However, it is important to note that Foucault toward the end of his career
came to affirm some of the Enlightenment concepts rather than reject them. As Best
and Kellner (1991) see it: [Foucault] became something of a classicist and
modernist with Kantian elements, while continuing the postmodern project of
rejecting universal standpoints in order to embrace difference and heterogeneity (p.
73). Nonetheless, for Foucault, we should be able to recognize power regimes that
confine us, and which we use to confine others. By exposing power regimes we will
put them up to scrutiny, and perhaps allow the possibility of change.
In short, Foucault does not give us any solutions, but he provides us with
means to address the problems. A definitive theory will not be of help to feminists
simply because it risks falling into a dogmatic trap. Foucaults attitude is to pose the
problem rather than to give solutions. In an interview conducted in 1984, he states:
Its true that my attitude is not a result of the form of critique that
claims to be a methodical examination in order to reject all possible
solutions except for the valid one. It is more on the order of
problematization which is to say, the development of a domain
of acts, practices, and thoughts that seem to me to pose problems for
politics. (pp. 384-385)
By posing problems to politics, Foucault asserts, it is possible to establish a we
that will most likely form a community of action.
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Problematization is a key term in Foucaults philosophy. If we disregard the
fact that in all his works he problematizes issues, then we misunderstand his
entire discourse. I contend that his work purely a critique of ideas and beliefs (taken
to be ultimate truth). Since, as we have seen earlier, Foucault rejects the whole
system that derives its tenets from the Enlightenment, it is impossible, therefore, to
accept such system as the source of truth and pure knowledge. I say it is impossible
to accept such system after reading Foucault. As one commentator said: thinking
after Foucault we can no longer think..issues naively. (Mahon, 1992: x)
Michel Mahon (1992) is referring to the issues of truth, power, and
subjectivity that concerned Foucault. I agree with Mahon entirely. How can we
ignore Foucaults analyses of power and its effects? Not only can we not afford to
ignore them, we also cannot disregard them. I think critics who fiercely attack
Foucault must find his discourse destabilizing to the point of making them
uncomfortable. Otherwise, why would they even give his work this much attention?
It is precisely this very destabilization that obviously leaves one in fear. Fear in the
sense that renders one suspended, no grounds beneath. However, I contend that
like the Kierkegaardian leap of faith such suspension is not necessarily
negative. Since Foucault has a skeptical attitude toward traditional emancipatory
theories, he prefers no specific grounding.
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I think that Foucaults critics, such as Fraser and Hartsock, are unwilling to
let go of traditional assumptions and categories. They think that by accepting
Foucaults theories of subjection, they will be sacrificing their emancipatory
project. However, it is Foucaults notion of critiquing subjectivity that should be
taken much more seriously by feminists if indeed they want to emancipate feminist
subjectivity. Since traditional theories of change have dominating tendencies, it is
important that feminists do not reiterate such tendencies by claiming a specific
feminist epistemology and a feminist subject. What does a feminist subject mean?
Who will be considered a feminist subject or who will not? Are there any special
characteristics to which one has to adhere in order to become a subject? If so,
wouldnt we be reinforcing again the same ideals of subjectivity similar to those put
forth by the Enlightenment?
Foucault urges us to be aware of the effects of power produced by all
discursive practices or discourses including his own. Sawicki (1991) believes in the
value of Foucault to feminism; at the same time, she recognizes that his theories also
can be limiting that is not to say however, that feminists cannot appropriate them.
She, like Said, contends that feminists should not let Foucaults analyses or any
other theoreticians concepts for that matter override what they are trying to
accomplish.
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However, I still believe that Foucaults analyses, and his accounts of
sexuality, disciplinary practices, and discourses show how they all are produced by
the effects of power; the effects of power at the micro-level should be more
important to examine than those at the macro-level. If we were to ignore the
private sphere, the micropolitics, then, we would be turning our eyes away from
an arena of investigation that is most crucial to feminists as well as to all the
oppressed groups.
Foucaults analyses of the effects of power hold up; they accurately represent
what seems to be the reality of things. He puts into question the prevailing norms
and values that appear to be the only way of morality. Many of Foucaults critics
contend that his identification of historical forces and tendencies are beyond the
direct control of individual or collective agents, thus presenting a dilemma.
Following Sawicki, though, I contend that Foucaults analysis do not necessarily
suggest solutions, nor do they deny the possibilities of resistance and change. What
Foucault does is, as Sawicki (1991) puts it:
Bring to our awareness the deep regularities and broad and
impersonal forces that make us what we are, that define our sense of
alternatives and what it makes sense to do in certain contexts in order
to free us from them. In other words, while he may have denied that
much of what informs our modem sensibility was not chosen, this
does not mean that one cannot attempt to bring to light the
anonymous historical processes through which this sensibility was
constituted, in an effort to create a critical distance from it. (p. 99)
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Simply put, we can free ourselves from the imposition of impersonal forces by
transforming our relationship to it rather than trying to control the direction of such
forces. In other words, resistance is possible.
Foucault does not ask: who is in power? Rather, he asks how power grounds
itself and produces real effects. These effects, in their turn, produce subjects. This is
precisely what makes Foucaults critics cautious. Most of them believe that Foucault
does not assign roles to oppressor and oppressed, therefore eliminating conflict
between people; supposedly that makes any emancipatory project, difficult to
accomplish. Those who try to ground their theories also tend to look for a fixed
source of oppression. They believe that by locating such source, they then will be
able to come up with ways of resisting it.
Foucault does not think that the rights we have or must have, should be
tossed aside. However, he emphasizes that our rights should not be essential. He
does not like to give definitive answers regarding questions about rights or any other
questions for that matter. He thinks that specific situations will prompt us to act. As
John Ransom (1997) stresses:
Foucault would point out that groups and individuals will actually
create an activity or protected area and establish its presence in the
face of determined opposition. Neither consensus nor universalistic
formulas will be employed; instead, a creative act will shift the
alignment of forces and open up a space of freedom that was not
there before, (p. 162)
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This space of freedom can have important implications to feminist issues.
Individualized experiences can provide the basis for political work in some contexts.
It is precisely Foucaults point where there is power, there is resistance (1978, p.
95), that resistance can occur if and when the need arises. Also, Foucault does not
agree with the idea of placing power (as responsible for oppression) in one fixed
space (e.g., men being targeted as holders of power and oppressors of women).
He rejects any monolithic categories. That is why it is important that feminists do
not promote a feminism that is mainly about sex/gender relations. By doing this,
they loose sight of what is specific to the operation of patriarchal power.
By accusing Foucault of being blind to womens oppression because of his
position as a white male privileged intellectual, for example, feminists such as
Hartsock and Fraser might reinforce the idea that men are responsible for womens
subordination, an accusation that is too essentialistic and totalizing.
For Foucault (1978), the character of power relationships is strictly
relational (p. 95). For this reason, it would be a misunderstanding if we were to say
that there is no escaping power, or that one is always inside power. Power,
according to Foucault, cannot always emerge as a winner. He stresses in The History
of Sexuality, Vol.l, that the existence of power relationships:
depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role
of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations. These
points of resistance are present everywhere in the power network.
Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of
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revolt...Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a
special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable;
others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or
violent, (p. 96)
These points of resistance are important in that they produce cleavages in society.
These cleavages allow for meaningful political activities.
Let us take, for example, the disciplinary norms that subject women to
gruesome practices of aestheticism and comportment. Such practices have been
absorbed, and faithfully followed by most women. However, in many situations,
they also have been opposed, resisted, and even completely rejected. Many women,
nowadays, are dressing for comfort without really thinking about how they look
(whether they are supposedly attractive or accepted by others). Numerous similar
examples, as trivial as they may seem, can be invoked to illustrate the points of
resistance that take place in our quotidian life. Foucaults theorizing of power as
where there is power, there is resistance, has been significant in restoring political
responsibility to individual social actors (Charles, 1996).
It is important to acknowledge that he is suspect of the very existence of all
normalizing structures. According to Haber (1994), this can be cashed out in terms
of the we he addresses. She stresses that Foucaults focus is:
on all those who are marginalized by liberal society, on all those who
are subjects of disciplinary power. His concern is to have his analysis
of power/knowledge used as a tool for the voicing of resistance.
Foucault can thus be characterized as a champion of deviance
which is not to say that he need align himself with any particular
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deviant position it is the possibility of deviant power struggles that
is the point: the rebel is not necessarily innocent, the rebels position
not necessarily curative, (p. 88)
Foucaults we is not specified, argues Haber. She states that this we is yet to be
formed. However, I think that Foucault does not and surely did not want to specify
and/or appeal to any we. He is not necessarily looking for an identifiable way of
rendering things better. On the other hand, although Haber supports Foucault on
many issues, she nonetheless questions whether there is anything inherent in his
work (concerning the we issue and resistance). I can understand her position given
that she, herself, is looking for a specific theory: Haber (1994) stresses the
relationship between a we orT and the community what she calls subjects-
in-community (p. 104). With this in mind, Haber still contends that Foucault has
something to offer. She stresses that he sees himself as:
participating in the formation of oppositional in the formation of
the consciousness of oppositional subjects and that he sees such
subjects as necessary for the project of the instantiation of new
regimes of power formed from the standpoint of subjugated
knowledges, (p. 105)
She maintains, though, that his account of resistances is not complete. She argues
that Foucault makes an important political mistake because he does not encourage or
promote the reconstruction of ones identity in community with others. Haber
emphasizes the importance of relationship between subject and others in order to
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launch oppositional politics, because she believes that the formation of resistance
can be accomplished if and when individuals work together as a community.
Foucault does not, anywhere in his writings, call for a subject and
community collaboration for the formation of resistance, but he does not disregard it
either. However, what is important for Foucault throughout his works is that
individuals be conscious of the effects of power; to be aware that the individual is at
the same time the vehicle of power and the means through which power is
articulated.
Thus, his contribution to the subversion of dominant power regimes is to
provide us through his genealogical analysis with a tool to build awareness,
and therefore means of resistance. Although he does not specifically locate the
origins of power, it is safe, however, to assume that he recognizes patriarchal
hegemony which most feminists argue can explain many questions
surrounding important issues in feminism.
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CHAPTER 5
CONCLUSION
Perhaps the idea of a convergence between Foucault and feminism is still
very much in progress. Future work might show unexpected twists and turns. As a
result, in lieu of a definitive conclusion, I would like to summarize the major points
that bring Foucault and feminists together. In addition, I will ask some questions that
are pertinent to the discussions found in this paper, and which will help students
with future research.
Foucault and Feminists do not necessarily have to perpetuate the same ideas
in order to possess a common goal that unites them. Both have already asked many
questions and unearthed pertinent information as to the situation of the subject
(woman and man), to knowledge, and to modem epistemology.
Foucault, as shown throughout this paper, rejects some ideals deriving from
Enlightenment thought; ideals which perpetuate totalizing and universal theories,
and dualistic construction of a different world. This created divisions and
oppositions which eventually lead to conflicts between people (all in the name of
universality and progress). As a result, Foucault urges us to look beyond the
conflicts between people, and to search instead the ideas behind these conflicts.
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