The return of the subject?: Power, reflexivity and agency

Philosophy and Social Criticism 26 (5):109-122 (2000)
The deconstruction of the subject associated with postmodernism cannot be said to have simply carried the day. Opponents and critics of postmodernism have held that we must return to the subject and to autonomy as a necessary condition of thinking about ethics, politics, agency and responsibility. Indeed, Peter Dews has recently argued that efforts to displace the subject repeat rather than dissolve the problems generated by subject-centered theories, a charge he takes to be devastating. The implications of this return to the subject, and the power of the critique which motivates it, will be my focus here. I consider especially Judith Butler's performative account of agency and her recent discussion of reflexivity, and argue that they afford us a means of obviating the critique while providing for the reflexive agency that proponents of the return to the subject think necessary. Key Words: agency • autonomy • Seyla Benhabib • Judith Butler • Dieter Henrich • power • reflexivity • subjectivation • subjectivity.
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DOI 10.1177/019145370002600507
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