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Foucault rejected centuries-old assumptions concerning subjectivity. Rather than starting with the Enlightenment ideal of full self-knowledge and self-aware agency, Foucault shifts the critical focus onto “discourse,” a broad concept that he uses to refer to language and other forms of representation – indeed, all human mechanisms for the conveyance of meaning and value. (Hall 2004, p. 91)
In an attempt to illustrate some analogies regarding Foucault’s concept of discourse, Tony Davies (1997) compared his notions with other theorists. According to him, discourse for Foucault is what the relations of productions are for Marx, the unconscious for Freud, the impersonal laws of language for Saussure, ideology for Althusser: the capillary structure of social cohesion and conformity. (p. 70)
This paper is about Judith Butler’s response to Foucault’s theory of subjectivity. Particularly our discussion will revolve around the premise of gender identity, which is Butler’s own response to Foucault’s “body” as the main driver behind subjectivity. Butler used Foucault’s notions extensively, either as a basis for her own notions or to criticize its weak assumptions.
Michel Foucault, is one with eminent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Freud in his insight that the body has a key role in determining subjectivity. For Foucault, a living body is a constellation of powerful and often conflicting urges and impulses that give rise to different forms of subjectivity according to the organism’s internal organization and the “disciplinary” effects of socially regulated practices and norms. (Atkins 2005, p. 3)
Foucault regards the body as having a pivotal role in the structuring of our subjectivities, our perceptions and our understanding. And so, Foucault’s “subject” is neither entire autonomous nor enslaved, neither the originator of the discourses and practices
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