Poststructural subjects and feminist concerns : an examination of identity, agency and politics in the works of Foucault, Butler and Kristeva

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Cooklin, Katherine Lowery, 1967-

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I address the question of whether poststructuralist theories of subjectivity can accommodate emancipatory politics. I examine the models of subjectivity offered by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva, and I evaluate these models in terms of their ability to provide an ethical and political framework that does not perpetuate oppression, and in particular that should be adopted by feminists. In chapter 1, I argue that Foucault reduces the subject to a placeholder within a discursive system and forecloses the possibility of meaningful agency and emanicpatory politics. Because nothing escapes the discursive system, Foucault eliminates the subject’s capacity for critical reflection, agency and intervention on the systems of oppression. Given Foucault’s description of power and of subjugated knowledge, the only promise that Foucault holds is for total contestation and constant transgression. I examine the utility of Foucault’s work for feminist politics and conclude that a better alternative should be sought. In chapter 2, I examine the utility of Foucault’s work for feminist politics, and offer a critique of some feminist appropriations of Foucault. In chapter 3, I examine Judith Butler’s theory of subjectivity. I argue that, like Foucault, Butler reduces subjects to placeholders within an inherently oppressive system and forecloses the possibility of a subject’s capacity for critical reflection on that system. Throughout this chapter I address problems for feminist politics. Chapter 4 is a critique of attempts to find a meaningful account of agency in Butler’s work by recasting her as an existentialist. In chapter 5, I turn to Kristeva’s theory of signification and subjectivity. I argue that Kristeva does not reduce the subject to the discursive system, and that her theory allows for meaningful agency. I argue that Kristeva’s theory can be used to diagnose social oppression. I show how Kristeva’s theory can be used to diagnose fascist movements and sexism. I argue that her theory holds promise for a remedy to oppression.




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