Agency and institutional rationality: Foucault’s critique of normativity

Philosophy and Social Criticism 30 (1):51-71 (2004)
In this paper, I examine Foucault’s conception of agency by reconstructing two complementary approaches he takes: the ‘analytics of power’, which examines the relation between norms and practice by charting the institutional development within which a set of norms emerge, and the concept of ‘problematization’, which examines reason-giving practices, or varieties of normative justification that legitimize rational institutions and agents’ participation in them. Contrary to the standard caricature, Foucault’s analysis of the relation between norms and institutions does not merely reduce the former to relations of ‘power’. In short, he also thinks standards of justification are just as revisable as social practices themselves, and the focus here will be on the relation and importance of these two complementary approaches to his critique of normativity. Key Words: agency • critique • Foucault • normativity • social practice
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DOI 10.1177/0191453704039398
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