Introduction : the politics of our selves -- Foucault, subjectivity, and the enlightenment : a critical reappraisal -- The impurity of practical reason : power and autonomy in Foucault -- Dependency, subordination, and recognition : Butler on subjection -- Empowering the lifeworld? autonomy and power in Habermas -- Contextualizing critical theory -- Engendering critical theory.
Feminist theory needs both explanatory-diagnostic and anticipatory-utopian moments in order to be truly critical and truly feminist. However, the explanatory-diagnostic task of analyzing the workings of gendered power relations in all of their depth and complexity seems to undercut the very possibility of emancipation on which the anticipatory-utopian task relies. In this paper, I take this looming paradox as an invitation to rethink our understanding of emancipation and its relation to the anticipatory-utopian dimensions of critique, asking what conception of emancipation (...) is compatible with a complex explanatory-diagnostic analysis of contemporary gender domination as it is intertwined and entangled with race, class, sexuality, and empire. I explore this question through an analysis of two specific debates in which the paradoxical relationship between power and emancipation emerges in particularly salient and seemingly intractable forms: debates over subjection and modernity. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, I argue that a negativistic conception of emancipation offers the best way for feminist critical theory to transform the paradox of power and emancipation into a productive tension that can fuel critique. (shrink)
This article re-examines the closing sections of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things in order to address the longstanding question of whether he is best understood as a philosopher or a historian. My central argument is that this question misses the crucial point of Foucault's work, which is to historicize the notion of history, which Foucault takes to be central to the historical a priori of modernity. An examination of his historicization of History thus reveals that Foucault is neither simply (...) a philosopher—because he conceives of philosophy in modernity as a historical enterprise—nor a historian—because his own historical approach is designed to transform the modern historical a priori from within. This analysis also sheds new light of Foucault's relationship to psychoanalysis and his conception of critique. (shrink)
The tension between reason and power has a long and illustrious history in political theory. In his magnum opus of legal and political theory, "Between Facts and Norms," Jürgen Habermas presents his most complex, sophisticated, and ambitious attempt to confront this tension. My thesis in this article is that though Habermas’s political theory thematizes the tension between reason and power in a way that is initially quite promising, he ultimately forecloses that tension in the direction of a rationality that has (...) been conceptually and methodologically purified of the strategic power relations that pervade social reality. His attempt to insulate his Arendtian notion of communicative power (which he conceptualizes in BFN as a force of legitimation) from strategic power is not only unattainable in practice, I argue, but conceptually incoherent. This should compel him not to abandon his normative theoretical and political agenda, I suggest, but to defend it in a more contextualist way than he has been willing to do up until now. (shrink)
In this article, I take up one strand – arguably the central one – of the Foucault/Habermas debate: their respective accounts of subjectivation. Against those who hold that Foucault and Habermas occupy such drastically different theoretical perspectives as to preclude the integration of their views into a common framework, I begin to lay the groundwork for an account of subjectivation that draws on the conceptual insights to be found on each side of the debate. While both Foucault and Habermas offer (...) a one-sided analysis of subjectivation – Foucault emphasizes its power-ladenness, and Habermas its communicative, rational, intersubjective aspects – I argue that subjectivation necessarily entails both communicative rationality and power relationships. I then consider the implications of my comparative argument for both Foucault and Habermas’s broader philosophical projects. (shrink)
Power is clearly a crucial concept for feminist theory. Insofar as feminists are interested in analyzing power, it is because they have an interest in understanding, critiquing, and ultimately challenging the multiple array of unjust power relations affecting women in contemporary Western societies, including sexism, racism, heterosexism, and class oppression. In "The Power of Feminist Theory," Amy Allen diagnoses the inadequacies of previous feminist conceptions of power, and draws on the work of a diverse group of theorists of power, including (...) Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Hannah Arendt, in order to construct a new feminist conception of power. The conception of power developed in this book enables readers to theorize domination, resistance, and solidarity, and, perhaps more importantly, to do so in a way that illuminates the interrelatedness of these three modalities of power. (shrink)
In his account of critical theory as diagnosing social pathologies of reason, Axel Honneth has rehabilitated the analogy between critical theory and psychoanalysis – according to which the critical theorist stands in relation to the pathological social order as the analyst stands in relation to the analysand, and the aim of critical theory is to effect the diagnosis and, ultimately, the cure of social disorders or pathologies. In this article, I show that Honneth, like Habermas before him, has an overly (...) rationalistic understanding of how psychoanalysis works and crucially downplays the role of affect in the therapeutic process of working through. Looking to Freud’s papers on analytic technique, I show that psychoanalysis works first and foremost not through rational insight, but rather through the dynamic reworking of affect. I then discuss some of the implications of this for Habermas and Honneth’s conceptualization of critical theory. (shrink)
Although Judith Butler’s theory of the performativity of gender has been highly influential in feminist theory, queer theory, cultural studies, and some areas of philosophy, it has yet to receive its due from critical social theorists. This oversight is especially problematic given the crucial insights into the study of power – a central concept for critical social theory – that can be gleaned from Butler’s work. Her analysis is somewhat unique among discussions of power in its attempt to theorize simultaneously (...) both the features of cultural domination in contemporary societies and the possibilities of resistance to and subversion of such domination. Although I will maintain here that this attempt is not entirely successful, I nevertheless argue that Butler’s account makes crucial contributions to a feminist critical theory of power; as a result, it merits much more serious attention from critical theorists. (shrink)
In this article, I argue for bringing the work of Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt into dialogue with respect to the links between power, subjectivity, and agency. Although one might assume that Foucault and Arendt come from such radically different philosophical starting points that such a dialogue would be impossible, I argue that there is actually a good deal of common ground to be found between these two thinkers. Moreover, I suggest that Foucault's and Arendt's divergent views about the role (...) that power plays in the constitution of subjectivity and agency should be seen as complementary rather than opposed. (shrink)
This paper argues that feminists have yet to develop a satisfactory account of power. Existing feminist accounts of power tend to have a one-sided emphasis either on power as domination or on power as empowerment. This conceptual one-sided-ness must be overcome if feminists are to develop an account complex enough to illuminate women's diverse experiences with power. Such an account is sketched here.
Judith Butler's recent work expands the Foucaultian notion of subjection to encompass an analysis of the ways in which subordinated individuals becomes passionately attached to, and thus come to be psychically invested in, their own subordination. I argue that Butler's psychoanalytically grounded account of subjection offers a compelling diagnosis of how and why an attachment to oppressive norms – of femininity, for example – can persist in the face of rational critique of those norms. However, I also argue that her (...) account of individual and collective resistance to subjection is plagued by familiar problems concerning the normative criteria and motivation for resistance that emerge in her recent work in new and arguably more intractable forms, and by new concerns about her conceptions of dependency, subordination and recognition. (shrink)
I review Amy Allen's Book: The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (2016) as part of a Review Symposium: -/- In her latest book, The End of Progress, Amy Allen embarks on an ambitious and much needed project: to decolonize contemporary Frankfurt School critical theory. As with all of her books, this is an exceptionally well-written and well-argued book. Allen strives to avoid making assertions without backing them up via close and careful textual reading of the (...) thinkers she engages with. In what follows I will state why this book makes a central contribution to contemporary critical theory (in the wider sense), after which I pose a few questions. These questions are not meant to prove that there are any serious problems with her argumentation. Rather, they are meant in the spirit of dialogue and to allow her to further elaborate her work for the audience... (shrink)
This paper argues that Hannah Arendt's political theory offers key insights into the power that binds together the feminist movement - the power of solidarity. Second-wave feminist notions of solidarity were grounded in notions of shared identity; in recent years, as such conceptions of shared identity have come under attack for being exclusionary and repressive, feminists have been urged to give up the idea of solidarity altogether. However, the choice between (repressive) identity and (fragmented) non-identity is a false opposition, and (...) the Arendtian account of solidarity developed here allows us to move beyond this opposition. Thus, Arendt provides us with a model of solidarity that can stand a post-identity politics feminist theory in good stead. (shrink)
In a late discussion of Kant’s essay, “Was ist Aufklärung?,” Foucault credits Kant with posing “the question of his own present” and positions himself as an inheritor of this Kantian legacy.1 Foucault has high praise for the critical tradition that emerges from Kant’s historical-political reflections on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution; Kant’s concern in these writings with “an ontology of the present, an ontology of ourselves” is, he says, characteristic of “a form of philosophy, from Hegel, through Nietzsche and (...) Max Weber, to the Frankfurt School,” a form of philosophy in which Foucault, perhaps surprisingly, situates his own work. (shrink)
The centerpiece of the first volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality is the analysis of what Foucault terms the “repressive hypothesis,” the nearly universal assumption on the part of twentieth-century Westerners that we are the heirs to a Victorian legacy of sexual repression. The supreme irony of this belief, according to Foucault, is that the whole time that we have been announcing and denouncing our repressed, Victorian sexuality, discourses about sexuality have actually proliferated. Paradoxically, as Victorian as we allegedly (...) are, we cannot stop talking about sex. Much of the analysis of the first volume of the History of Sexuality consists in an unmasking and debunking of the repressive hypothesis. This unmasking does not take the simple form of a counter-claim that we are not, in fact, repressed; rather, Foucault contends that understanding sexuality solely or even primarily in terms of repression is inaccurate and misleading. As he said in an interview published in 1983, “it is not a question of denying the existence of repression. It’s one of showing that repression is always a part of a much more complex political strategy regarding sexuality. Things are not merely repressed.”1 Foucault makes this extremely clear in the introduction to the History of Sexuality, Volume 1, when he writes. (shrink)
This paper examines Young’s conception of power, arguing that it is incomplete, in at least two ways. First, Young tends to equate the term power with the narrower notions of ‘ oppression ’ and ‘domination’. Thus, Young lacks a satisfactory analysis of individual and collective empowerment. Second, as Young herself admits, it is not obvious that her analysis of power can be useful in the context of thinking about transnational justice. Allen concludes by considering one way in which Young’s analysis (...) of power needs to be extended or perhaps modified in order to do justice to questions of transnational justice. (shrink)
If, as Axel Honneth has recently argued, critical theory needs psychoanalysis for meta-normative and explanatory reasons, this does not settle the question of which version of psychoanalysis critical theorists should embrace. In this paper, I argue against Honneth's favoured version – an intersubjectivist interpretation of Winnicott's object-relations theory – and in favour of an alternative based on the drive-theoretical work of Melanie Klein. Klein's work, I argue, provides critical theorists with a more realistic conception of the person and a richer (...) explanatory account of human aggression and destructiveness than does Honneth's intersubjectivist view. As such, it better serves the ends for which Honneth claims that critical theory should turn to psychoanalysis in the first place. (shrink)
The topic of my remarks is progress, but I should note at the outset that I have structured this article as something like a theme with variations, rather than a tightly interconnected, progressive argument. I am interested in problematizing how the concept of progress is deployed across a range of discussions. I start with the role of progress in my own field of critical social theory, and then move on to consider the idea of philosophical progress, and finally connect this (...) idea to different visions of philosophical pluralism. So, in other words, I will be starting with the otherwise and then moving on to the philosophical.First-generation critical theorists of the Frankfurt school, especially Walter Benjamin and.. (shrink)
In this paper, I respond to the critiques of my book, "The Politics of Our Selves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory," made by Nikolas Kompridis, Paul Patton, Allison Weir and Moira Gatens. My response is organized around three overlapping themes that are raised in these four astute papers: a defense of my account of normativity, of my reading of Foucault’s conception of power, and of my analysis of gender subordination/identity.
This paper situates Lynne Huffer’s recent queer-feminist Foucaultian critique of reason within the context of earlier feminist debates about reason and critically assesses Huffer’s work from the point of view of its faithfulness to Foucault’s work and its implications for feminism. I argue that Huffer’s characterization of Enlightenment reason as despotic not only departs from Foucault’s account of the relationship between power and reason, it also leaves her stuck in the same double binds that plagued earlier feminist critiques of reason. (...) An appreciation of the profoundly ambivalent nature of Foucault’s critique of reason offers feminists some insights into how to navigate those double binds. What feminists should learn from the early Foucault is precisely his commitment to engage in a rational critique of reason that highlights reason’s dangerous entanglements with power while resisting the temptation to reject or refuse reason altogether. (shrink)
When it was at its height, the feminist pornography debate tended to generate more heat than light. Only now that there has been a cease fire in the sex war does it seem possible to reflect on the debate in a more productive way and to address some of the questions that were left unresolved by it. In this paper, I shall argue that one of the major unresolved questions is that of how feminists should conceptualize power. The antipornography feminists (...) and the feminist sex radicals presuppose radically different conceptions of power, and this fact helps to explain why they come to such different conclusions about what, if anything, should be done about pornography. The feminist pornography debate remains unresolved precisely because it is unresolvable in the terms in which it has been posed. I shall contend that the conceptions of power presupposed on both sides of the debate are incomplete, and, therefore, inadequate.4 My hope is that once we recognize this, we might be able to improve not only the way that feminists analyze pornography but also the way we conceptualize power. (shrink)
In his "Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere," Habermas is notoriously and selectively blind to gender subordination – most centrally, the ways in which the bourgeois public sphere was founded upon the exclusion of women. Nancy Fraser articulated four specific assumptions involving the bourgeois public sphere that need to be recast in order to make the concept of the public sphere serviceable for feminist critical theory. However, subsequent historical, political and theoretical developments – specifically relating to globalization – have raised (...) new questions about the constitutive exclusions and ideological distortions that inform the normative underpinnings of even this reformulated version of public sphere theory. Even if the concept of the public sphere is ideological, though, is it merely ideology? (shrink)
Exploring the apparent tension between Foucault’s analyses of technologies of domination – the ways in which the subject is constituted by power–knowledge relations – and of technologies of the self – the ways in which individuals constitute themselves through practices of freedom – this article endeavors to makes two points: first, the interpretive claim that Foucault’s own attempts to analyse both aspects of the politics of our selves are neither contradictory nor incoherent; and, second, the constructive claim that Foucault’s analysis (...) of the politics of our selves, though not entirely satisfactory as it stands, provides important resources for the project of critical social theory. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine Iris Marion Young's conception of power, arguing that it is incomplete in at least two ways. First, Young tends to equate the term power with the narrower notions of ‘oppression’ and ‘domination.’ Thus, Young lacks a satisfactory analysis of individual and collective empowerment. Second, as Young herself admits, it is not obvious that her analysis of power can be useful in the context of thinking about transnational justice. I conclude by considering one way in which (...) Young's analysis of power needs to be extended or perhaps modified in order to do justice to questions of transnational justice. (shrink)
I argue that Johanna Meehan's call to examine the extra-linguistic psychic, affective and biological dimensions of gender identity is extremely important both for feminist theory in particular and for contemporary Continental philosophy in general. However, I suspect that such an examination might necessitate more than a mere expansion or reconstruction of Habermas' views; on the contrary, I suggest that Meehan's line of argument might lead instead toward a radical deconstruction of Habermasian critical theory. Key Words: feminism Habermas identity (...) moral vs ethical. (shrink)
This is an introduction to a volume of essays bringing together some of the highlights from the fifty-first annual meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Nazareth College from November 1-3, 2012. Our keynote speakers for the 2012 meeting were Adriana Cavarero and László Tengelyi, and we lead off this issue with their essays.
Axel Honneth frames his contribution to the tradition of critical theory as an attempt to do justice to both the structures of social domination in contemporary Western societies and the practical resources for their overcoming. This paper assesses how well Honneth’s critical theory, which centers on the notion of the struggle for recognition, accomplishes the first of these two tasks. I argue that Honneth has yet to offer a fully satisfactory analysis of domination because his recognition model is unable to (...) make sense of modes of subordination that function without producing any struggle. (shrink)