Normalizing Foucault

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Virginia Tech

In this thesis, I examine the possibility of deriving a normative position and political stance from the theory of Michel Foucault. In an attempt to answer the question, "If power cannot be separated from knowledge, then how can one use knowledge to critique forms of power?" I analyze and judge the arguments against Foucault's perspective by Nancy Fraser and Jurgen Habermas. I argue that the criticisms made by each are incongruent with the position from which Foucault speaks and are the result of their own theoretical frameworks. I then problematize the frameworks of need interpretation and universal pragmatics that Fraser and Habermas, respectively, appeal to revealing the connection between their foundations and bio-power. Following this, I explore William Connolly's suggestion of "dialogical ethics" as a normative foundation for Foucault's suggestions concluding that this approach fails due to its ultimate appeal to an imaginary telos as justification. Rather, I suggest that Foucault's normativity rests in the desire to open up possibilities for being other than what we are and that this translates into a politics centered less on locating and overturning centers of power and more on local struggles against government and market intrusions into our lives. Nevertheless, I conclude that questions concerning the utility of Foucault's work for social theory are better answered not through metatheoretical discussions concerning it, but rather through genealogical analyses of sociohistorical phenomena that draw from it.

Connolly, William E.