Power, freedom, and individuality: Foucault and sexual difference

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This paper offers a detailed account of Foucault's ethical and political notion of individuality as presented in his late work, and discusses its relationship to the feminist project of the theory of sexual difference. I argue that Foucault's elaboration of the classical ethos of "care for the self" opens the way for regarding the "I-woman" as an ethical, political and aesthetic self-creation. However, it has significant limitations that cannot be ignored. I elaborate on two aspects of Foucault's avoidance of sexual difference as a relevant category for an account of political and ethical individuality, which thus implicitly associates individual agency with men. I argue that Foucault implicitly assumes the existence of an ontological desire to become engaged in political self-creation. However, the ethical position of self-knowledge and desire should be understood as a contingent option that depends on material and historical conditions for its realization. Hence, I argue that a feminist reworking of Foucault's notion of political individuality should add a substantial ethical condition to the imperative of self-knowledge and self-creation - making possible the desiring woman subject.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Foucault
  • Freedom
  • Individuality
  • Power
  • Sexual difference
  • Subjectivity


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