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Michel Foucault and Judith Butler: troubling Butler's appropriation of Foucault's work

By Kathleen Ennis


One of the main influences on Judith Butler‘s thinking has been the work of Michel Foucault. Although this relationship is often commented on, it is rarely discussed in any detail. My thesis makes a contribution in this area. It presents an analysis of Foucault‘s work with the aim of countering Butler‘s representation of his thinking. In the first part of the thesis, I show how Butler initially interprets Foucault‘s project through Nietzschean genealogy, psychoanalysis and Derridean discourse, and how she later develops this interpretation in line with the progress of her own project. In the main part of the thesis, I present an analysis of Foucault‘s thinking in the period from The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) to The History of Sexuality volume 1 (1976). This analysis focuses on the aspect of his work which has most influenced Butler‘s thinking: namely the notion of a relationship between knowledge, discourse and power. The other issues in his work which Butler addresses—genealogy, the subject, the body, abnormality, and sexuality—are discussed within this framework. I show how, in the early 1970s, Foucault develops the notion of power-knowledge, and sets out a relationship between power-knowledge and discourse which is overlooked by Butler. I argue that Butler interprets Foucaultian power through the notions of repression and social norms, and ignores the concepts of technology and strategy which form a key part of Foucault‘s thinking. I show how, from The Archaeology of Knowledge on, Foucault develops a socio-historical ontology and a genealogy of the subject, both of which are at variance with Butler‘s interpretation of his thinking

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