“What Has Being a Subject Done For You Lately?”

On Monday, March 28 at 3:30 p.m.
in Assiniboia Hall 3-30

Dianna Taylor
(John Carroll University)

Feminists have drawn upon Michel Foucault’s work in order to analyze and critique a variety of
manifestations of women’s oppression, as well as to posit alternative modes of thought and
existence that counter such oppression. Despite this broad appeal, one of the most persistent
sources of feminist wariness toward Foucault’s work stems from his critique of modern western
subjectivity. Many feminists continue to find some level of validity in Nancy Hartsock’s view,
expressed in the late 1980s, that in critiquing subjectivity Foucault effectively deprives women of
achieving a status they have never had the privilege of experiencing, and that in doing so his work
reinscribes women’s subordinate status within society.
This paper endeavors to show that the assertion of women as subjects is in fact a form of
liberation which, if taken as the sum total of freedom, itself reasserts aspects of subjectivity that
function in the service of women’s oppression. In order to illustrate this point, I consider Foucault’s
critique of subjectivity as it pertains to his treatment of the case of Charles Jouy, a nineteenthcentury
“agricultural worker” who was accused of sexually violating a young girl by the name of
Sophie Adams. While Jouy figures centrally in both Foucault’s and feminists’ treatment of the
case, I focus on Sophie Adams in order to address the question raised in this paper’s title,
specifically as it pertains to women. I conclude the paper by exploring how it might be possible to
understand and constitute ourselves other than as subjects.
Short biography:
Dianna Taylor (PhD SUNY Binghamton) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at John Carroll University. Her research focuses on twentieth century continental philosophy, especially the work of Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, and feminist theory. In addition to articles on these figures, she is the co-editor of Feminism and the Final Foucault (2004, University of Illinois Press) and Feminist Politics: Identity, Difference, Agency (2007, Rowman and Littlefield). Prof. Taylor is currently editing Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (2010, Acumen Publishers) and working on a book project that analyzes the work of Foucault and modernity.

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