Up against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism

Up against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism

Up against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism

Up against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism

Synopsis

Questions of sexuality and power were central to the writings of Michel Foucault. Yet Foucault largely ignored feminism. This book considers how seriously feminists should take this challenge by exploring the problems that Foucault raises for Feminism, and the implications of the absence of gender in his own work.

Excerpt

I arrived late at a women’s meeting towards the end of the annual conference of the British Sociological Association a few years ago, to find some women expressing indignation at finding session after session of the conference dominated by men talking in terms of ‘postmodernism’. These women said they felt silenced, intimidated, excluded, put down and angry. They did not know whether ‘postmodernism’ was something they should take seriously, because they could not engage with a debate which made the issues inaccessible to them. in her chapter, Susan Bordo describes her own negative encounters as a graduate student with the ‘elitism’ of poststructuralist thought.

The general areas of thought which have been defined (in various ways) as postmodernist and poststructuralist are, however, the intellectual context of Foucault’s work. Much of the work in this area has been characterised by intellectual elitism, and a level of abstraction from experience which makes it far removed from most English-speaking feminist work. This has turned discussion of the wider relevance of Foucault’s thought into a demanding academic specialism which has had little impact on feminism outside academic circles. in discussions of Foucault, those most sympathetic to his work tend to disappear into his terminology.

French feminism has been closer to engagement with the work of Foucault, within a shared intellectual context which incorporates debates over poststructuralism and postmodernism (Duchen 1986). Recent French feminist social theory has taken a distinctive approach to sexual politics and differs in its relation to

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