Poststructural Subjects and Feminist Concerns: An Examination of Identity, Agency and Politics in the Works of Foucault, Butler and Kristeva

Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin (2004)

Katherine Cooklin
Slippery Rock University
I address the question of whether poststructuralist theories of subjectivity can accommodate emancipatory politics. I examine the models of subjectivity offered by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva, and I evaluate these models in terms of their ability to provide an ethical and political framework that does not perpetuate oppression, and in particular that should be adopted by feminists. In chapter 1, I argue that Foucault reduces the subject to a placeholder within a discursive system and forecloses the possibility of meaningful agency and emancipatory politics. Because nothing escapes the discursive system, Foucault eliminates the subject's capacity for critical reflection, agency and intervention on the systems of oppression. Given Foucault's description of power and of subjugated knowledge, the only promise that Foucault holds is for total contestation and constant transgression. I examine the utility of Foucault's work for feminist politics and conclude that a better alternative should be sought. In chapter 2, I examine the utility of Foucault's work for feminist politics, and offer a critique of some feminist appropriations of Foucault. In chapter 3, I examine Judith Butler's theory of subjectivity. I argue that, like Foucault, Butler reduces subjects to placeholders within an inherently oppressive system and forecloses the possibility of a subject's capacity for critical reflection on that system. Throughout this chapter I address problems for feminist politics. Chapter 4 is a critique of attempts to find a meaningful account of agency in Butler's work by recasting her as an existentialist. In chapter 5, I turn to Kristeva's theory of signification and subjectivity. I argue that Kristeva does not reduce the subject to the discursive system, and that her theory allows for meaningful agency. I argue that Kristeva's theory can be used to diagnose social oppression. I show how Kristeva's theory can be used to diagnose fascist movements and sexism. I argue that her theory holds promise for a remedy to oppression.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 64,229
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
1 ( #1,509,326 of 2,455,493 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #449,205 of 2,455,493 )

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes