Excerpts That I Cut Out of an Essay for Political Theory: On Ontology, Structure and Resistance

Ontology, Structure and Resistance:

“Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.”[1] – Michel Foucault

It appears that most feminisms have difficulty synthesizing understandings of ontology and structure, and this is exacerbated in the face of anti-materialist postmodernism.  “Structure vs. ontology” is the age-old “structure vs. agency” tension playing out in feminist thought. Feminisms that are all ontology and no structure tend to be more individualist, self-help type feminisms with an inordinate focus on self-care, while feminisms that are all structure and no ontology tend to be highly theoretical and disempowering to those seeking praxis. The former’s over-emphasis on the self, self-care, and individual women’s strength/resilience that does not address systemic oppressions, socialization and ultimately atomizes and disempowers subjects.[2] Furthermore, this is easily repackaged and commoditized under the guise of “girl power” and other heavily gendered, co-opted slogans.

And here, we must stop to address the question of the “subject.” In the second of his Two Lectures and “The Subject and Power” Foucault asserts that power- rather, juridical systems of power (both prohibitive and generative)- produces a subject.[1] This conditioned subjectivity- self as an effect of power- means that we must be self-critical at all times. Understanding the self as an effect of power, we can see how even our self-valuations can be a tool of power’s concealment.


[1] Michel Foucault, “Two Lectures” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), p 98


[1] Michel Foucault. “Method” in History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. pp. 95

[2] Here, we might apply the critique that Gayarti Chakravarty Spivak applied to Michel Foucault’s conflation of the “individual” and the “subject”, such that it “progressively irradiates its surroundings.”[2] (Perhaps “individuated subject” is a more correct phrase?)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. London: Harvard University Press, 1999. Pp. 254

4 Comments

  1. Theory versus practice is a dichotomy that plagues every discipline. I am housed in the English department, mostly because they couldn’t figure out where else to put (nor could I figure out where else to put myself – I teach writing, music aesthetics, business communication, African American literature, and legal writing). Not only do I not have a PhD, I am quite adamant about not needing one. I am a musician, small business owner, and attorney who has written several songs, contracts, and articles. This is what entitles me to teach English, not the mastery of scholarship past.
    This is not meant as affront to my colleagues who have rightfully earned the title “Dr.” (including my father). I believe we need both. Students should by all means learn Johnson, Baldwin, and Foucault, as brilliantly cited in this piece, from my colleagues. However, these same students should spend a semester or two with me to learn out these theories fit into their careers (should they chose not to go into academia).
    Thanks for sharing. You’ve just found a regular reader!

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