Foucault and the politics of difference

Philosophy and Social Criticism 29 (5):563-580 (2003)
In this article I consider Foucault's credentials as a postmodern `champion' of the `politics of difference'. First, however, I note that the familiar expression `the postmodern politics of difference' is in fact self-contradictory, or at least it is a contradiction in terms if we concede that the ongoing ethical/normative task confronting politics is the unifying or synthesizing of differences and if we accept, with pleasure or dismay, that postmodernism exhibits a profoundly suspicious attitude towards this ethical task and towards moral principles and normative positions generally. I then ask whether or not Foucault adopted a normative position that could provide the necessary ethical support for a `politics of difference'. I argue that it is possible to find an element of genuine normativity in Foucault's work by considering his views on the role of the intellectual, on the font of legitimacy, on grand theory and on essence. I also consider the work of some well-known recent commentators on Foucault who discuss this normative/political dimension of his work
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