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138 reviews Disciplining Foucault: Feminism. Power, and the Body by Jana Sawicki. New York and London: Routledge, 1991. 126 pp. $13.95 (paper). There's a joke going around that illustrates an ironic outcome of certian effects wrought by Foucault's work. It goes something like: "Foucault gave a generation of intellectuals the opportunity to say about politics that they 'gave at the office.'" A defensive response—which, in a way, is an extension of the joke—might be to suggest that Foucault, whoever or whatever that turns out to be, gives certain intellectuals the opportunity to finally do politics "at the office." But however one takes it, this joke is significant for politically implicated professional thinkers (selfproclaimed and otherwise) because it raises a number of difficult questions regarding a retheorization of power beyond Marxism that has come to be summed up in the word "Foucault." For those with any interest in the issue, his ideas about power—particularly his famed rejection of the "repressive hypothesis"—are fairly familiar, if only from hearing the buzz. According to Foucault, power isn't objectifiable but saturates the whole political playing field; therefore, power is primarily productive. (Power finds us. We don't find it.) Second, struggle is local and incongruous; therefore, agency cuts in lots of different directions and is composed of lots of different features that aren't usually available for the agent to know about. (So even though we might think we do big politics at school, intellectuals are "radical" primarily to other intellectuals, and we're double agents at that. To those outside the academy, we just have easy jobs.) Disciplining Foucault—not, I think, an ironic title—is a response to these hypotheses in the name of feminism. The book begins, a little tremblingly, in a way that requires some effort to avoid mistaking as one of the standard features of the very disciplinary culture of modernity that Foucault, and, somewhat less successfully, Sawicki hope to escape. The introductory chapter, too appropriately entitled "Personal Reflections," is a story of deep thinking. It would be, perhaps, rather easy to begin unraveling the book's often ambiguous relationship to the work of Foucault at this surprisingly unqualified moment of authorial transparency, were it not for the fact that certain issues represented here are still topical to a larger and more important debate, a debate that has been replaying in different ways and at various institutions since probably the late 60's. Its present form can be summed up as follows: when it comes to politics, how "post" do we want "poststructuralism " to be? In Disciplining Foucault—or perhaps, to discipline Foucault for all the trouble he's caused in complicating and intensifying such a question—the strained relationship between a politics of general liberty and poststructuralism's relativizing tendencies works itself out by attempting to walk an impossible line between an old desire and a new effect. The old, or better, the vague and unexamined desire, is for "values such as justice, liberty, and human dignity" (1 1), a "poststructuralism that does not entail a complete rejection of identity based on politics, but rather the search for a true identity as a basis for universal emancipation" (7). A great deal more Jacobin than poststructural, freedom is a practice that Foucault would eventually identify as being an art of governing in spite of itself. (This, packaged differently, is something Foucault shares with his teacher Althusser.) The new, or better, the "Foucault" effect that Sawicki is trying to square with a positive notion of liberty, requires, on the other hand, that politics be done at the level of knowledge, not consciousness, not truth, not identity, not justice, etc. (This path was suggested to her by Foucault during a University of Vermont seminar he gave, but where she tellingly refused reviews 139 in order to "present the truly radical dimensions of his thought" [15]). Such a politics of knowledge occurs by way of genealogy, which is hard work. Genealogy as resistance, Sawicki optimistically and accurately points out—but relieves herself here from the burden of practicing—is history that recontextualizes specific knowledges (scientific, punitive, sexual, governmental, etc.) for local rather than general political...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 138-140
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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