Foucault And Feminism

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Word Count

2000 words




2 Days

Assignment Criteria

The aim of this assignment is to allow students to use in-depth reading skills, scholarly research, the skills of distilling debates, condensing a large body of academic literature and formulating an essay around an argument, in order to write an essay on a topic of interest which arises from the course. 


1 After choosing a topic or sociologists of interest answer ONE (only) of the following question.

  • What are the salient debates in your chosen topic?  Why?
  • To what debates did your chosen sociologists contribute?  Why?
  • Compare and contrast two or three theorists of interest on a particular topic.

2 What is Foucault's sociological legacy?

3 What aspects of Foucault's sociological work do you find most interesting or readily applicable to an issue of interest?

4 Compare and contrast the sociological analyses of the Frankfurt School and Foucault?

5 Which of the varieties of feminism do you prefer?  Defend your answer by referring to specific feminists?

6 Are you convinced by feminists standpoint epistemologies?

7 What are the criticisms directed at postmodernism?  Are you convinced by them?

8 Choose a relevant topic, and compare and contrast two or more sociologists studied in this course (for example, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Berger, on religion)?

9 Does sociology have its own blind spots and presumptions and about which it should be far more reflexive?

10 With reference to sociologists studied in the course, answer the following: Does secular sociology have the tools to examine some of the most important issues in our times (human rights, climate change, religion, terrorism, the global financial crisis, the disparity between rich and poor nations)?

11 Critical evaluate Connell's sociology?

12 Negotiate an essay topic with Dr R Fopp.

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Assignment Solution


Michel Foucault (1926-1984) is one of the most prominent thinkers of his time with a major impact on both the structuralist and the post-structuralist movement in sociological thinking in his lifetime. Foucault's work is extremely important and interesting to every sociologist of today as it was transdisciplinary and touched on diverse disciplines like sociology, psychology, philosophy, and history, etc. My essay here will look specifically into Foucault's contribution to the feminist movement and feminist thought, a very important social movement in the western world in the last few decades. 

The feminist debate of the last few decades has moved from the dismal days when feminists were agitating for universal suffrage and the right to vote for women and now touches on various topics which impact the lives of women and of society like the division of domestic work, family leave policies, equal pay for equal work and the intangible barriers for women to progress at work called the 'glass ceiling', female sexuality, abortion and the rights of a woman over her own body, violence against women, depiction of women in the media etc, sex trafficking, moving women into technology areas etc (Holly, 2013;  Kiefer, 2015)

Foucault's contribution to feminism has been a very contested area for quite a long time. What has been of interest and received criticism from feminists about Foucault's work is his concept of the self, his notion of power and his rejection of norms. There are debates among feminists about Foucault's notion of self, some of them contend that he abolished the idea of self whereas others contend that his concept gives rise to a very passive self  (McLaren, 2012) and as  feminists object to the passive role that society has given to women, who were earlier without a voice in the political and social realms before the days of universal suffrage, these feminists consider that Foucault had nothing to contribute to feminist thought, although they are interested in the concept of self and how it is conceived in relation to women, they reject Foucault's perceived passive notion of self just as they reject the passive role of women in society. 

But the questions about Foucault's work and its usefulness to the feminist movement is itself situated within the larger debate about the usefulness of postmodern thought to an emancipatory and progressive politics. Advocates of progressive politics in earlier pathbreaking articles have argued that postmodern thought undermines the idea of a progressive and emancipatory politics due to its rejection of normative concepts  (Epstein, 1995). Many eminent feminists support this view as they consider that postmodern thought encourages disconnection and oblivion, especially for women and is not the right model for the acquisition of knowledge, of how to make connections and become global, which they consider as hallmarks and achievements of the feminist movement  (Brodribb, 1992). We can see therefore that the works of Michel Foucault have been targeted for criticism among the feminist movement in the larger context of their criticism against the postmodern movement in western thought. 

This article will explore the actual contributions of Michel Foucault to feminism by looking into the specific debates he contributed to in sociology that are relevant to feminism, for example, his controversial contribution to the debate of sexual violence and female sexuality, also his ideas of the importance of finding one's identity and his views of identity not as an isolated occurrence but a factor that lies within the continuum of historical and social developments and contexts. 

Before I move onto the specific contributions of Foucault's work to feminism, I would like to compare Foucault's impact on feminism with some of his contemporaries. When I analyzed the impact of other theorists of his age to the area of feminist thought, Derrida is a contemporary of Foucault who is lauded for his contribution to feminist thought in contrast to Foucault who draws such heated arguments about whether his work actually contributes to the cause of feminism. Derrida is lauded for his contribution to the ideas and discussion around the important concept of 'difference' in political debate. A clear understanding of the term 'difference' is very essential to the understanding of politics and its impact on women, as the term difference is generally perceived to be in opposition to the established political order just as feminism is perceived to be in opposition to the entrenched patriarchal order of society (Grosz, 2005). 

Foucault's contemporary Deleuze, author of the Anti-Oedipus (1972) with  Guattari are also lauded for their contribution to feminist movement for the very same thing as Derrida, their contribution to the understanding of the concept of difference (Colebrook, 2000), so central to feminist thought and understanding of women's issues that feminism seeks to address since it is the essential difference in the roles of men and women as conceived by society and the loss of power and representation and oppression that women have felt over the ages that gave rise to the feminist movement.

Among his contemporaries, we do not find any other thinker/ philosopher who draws' such strong criticism and debate from the feminists as Foucault. I will now look into the specific areas of Foucault's work that have attracted such heated debates among feminists. 

Cressida Hayes (Hayes, 2013) in her Foucault studies places in context why Foucault's works have caused such intense debates among feminists for more than thirty years. According to Hayes, this is because of the complexity and eternal topicality of the political analysis of sexuality, gender, power, and violence. Since his work deals with these areas Foucault's works are always in a relationship with various forms of feminism.

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