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Evaluation Of The Usefulness Of Selected Examples Of Foucault's Theory

1314 words - 5 pages

Within this paper, I shall evaluate the usefulness of selected examples of Foucault’s theories from a feminist perspective. To begin, a short introduction will outline the era in which Foucault wrote, as this has been seen as influential to his work, inspiring him to move away from the former ideological ways of thinking about the world (Taylor and Vintges 2004, Mills 1997). I shall then go on to consider the changing nature of feminism, which has moved on from viewing patriarchy and men as the oppressors of women, and is persistently developing more complex analyses of the ways in which gendered power relations operate. I wish to discuss the ways in which Foucault’s theorisation of power and his methodology of discourse analysis have been of use to feminists. I shall finally address some criticism of Foucault’s works, that of it being nihilistic, and of a gender blind nature, while also highlighting some of the similarities between the goals of feminism and the preoccupations of Foucault (King 2004). Due to space limitations here, this will not be a major critique of Foucault’s work, or an in-depth analysis of his complete epistemology. It will however highlight the ways in which some of his concepts have been utilised by contemporary feminists in order to develop a more complex analysis of gendered power relations (Mills 1997, Howe 2008, Smart 1989). To focus on the areas selected should by no means detract from the importance of other aspects of his work which have not been included here.
Foucault lived through the rise of Stalinism, and the Second World War (Mills 1997). He was living in a post-totalitarian era which had fundamentally changed the world, and he saw that new ways of making sense of society were necessary. Like other theorists of this time, he sought to unmask ‘humanist moral and political truths as fairy tails’ (Taylor and Vintges 2004: 2). Foucault felt it necessary to dispense with ideologies such as socialism, communism and liberalism, which had all made claims to ‘absolute truth’ and which had resulted in widespread devastation (Taylor and Vintges 2004: 2). Foucault’s work focussed on the ways in which power operates throughout society. In his earlier work this was on the ways in which societies govern their subjects; his later focus was on the ways in which humans are subjectified within society, and the ways in which conduct is guided by self-governance (Mills 2003). He wanted to move beyond an analysis of behaviours and ways of thinking that relied on the concept of ideology, and throughout his work he highlighted the oppressive function of ‘truths’ and the effects of ‘norms’, when they are adopted unquestioned and uncritically (Mills 1997:30). Although Foucault openly refused the label of sociologist, poststructuralist, or postmodernist, his work has been aligned with these disciplines, and he has had a significant impact within these schools of thought (Smart 2002).
Traditional feminist theorisation focussed on...

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