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The South Atlantic Quarterly 100.2 (2001) 543-574

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Certeau and Foucault:
Tactics and Strategic Essentialism

Claire Colebrook

There must be a logic of these practices.

—Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

I believe that this problem of the presence of a logic that is not the logic of causal determination is currently at the heart of philosophical and theoretical debates.

—Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits

For some time now feminist theory has foundconvert HTML a wealth of material for reflection and critique in the work of Michel Foucault. As in other domains of political theory, what Foucault's immanent approach to power enabled was a way of thinking beyond the reactive logic of ideology. If political theory begins by assuming that power is located, repressing, and negative, then what follows will take the form of a strictly dichotomous logic. In the case of feminism, this dichotomy issued in a problematic relationship between patriarchy and its female victims. Either there was some essential feminine excluded by its masculine other or there was no feminine other than its ideological construction (in which case opposition to patriarchy would stem from a "strategic essentialism" without any actual foundation). [End Page 543] Foucault's theory of power as productive enabled a new path for this problem. If subjects are effected through power, rather than being subjected to power, then opposition need not be conceived outside power. Resistance itself is a mode of power. Subjects are not victims but modes of power, and, as such, subjects are also possibilities for the reconfiguration of power's dominant logic.1 Feminism, then, is no longer patriarchy's innocent outside so much as a way of thinking a particular moment of subject-production that disrupts the grounding notions of "man." But if Foucault offered a way of thinking resistance that did not place women as victims or essential beings, there has also been an anxiety regarding his project of immanence. Thinking a single field of power with no outside precludes the consideration of sexual specificity and embodiment. If all that is is exhausted by a general logic of power, there can be no possibility of a logic of the other. (And it is precisely this possibility—of a heterology—that can be discerned in the diverse corpus of Michel de Certeau.)

Now, there are two ways in which this problem of immanence might be tackled. Most of the feminist responses to Foucault have challenged the generality of power by asserting the materiality or specificity of bodies, and have done so by thinking the body as power's strange site or medium (such that the body is power's irreducible other). The body would function, then, as an irreducible sensibility, a naive empiricity or a remainder. Lacanian psychoanalysis provides the clearest example of this thought of the remainder. From lack one assumes that there is a plenitude that is prohibited and an Other who robs me of that plenitude. On the other hand, because Foucault's theory of power was positive, it placed specific acts of force, prohibition, and regulation before any general law or lack. The idea of a negated other or origin was the effect of specific and positive forces. One's sexuality, as the hidden truth of one's being, is produced through acts of regulation, monitoring, and decipherment.2 On a Lacanian model, however, there is an essential lack or negation at the heart of existence, a negation that is then figured as the effect of a law, force, or punishment.3 On the Foucaultian model, the feminine is nothing other than the performance of power. For Lacan, it is because the feminine is negated and irreducibly other that one fantasizes or figures a negating and castrating law. And it is this Lacanian model (as well as Irigaray's subsequent critique) that has been deployed to lodge an Other, limit, or outside to the operation of power. How might this other of law speak back? How might this necessarily posited lack or loss transfigure [End Page 544] the logic of the same? Whereas Foucault insists on a positivity, such that any "outside" is effected from the inside,4 post...


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pp. 543-574
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