Philosophy: Chapter Two - Part Four: The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen X
Chapter Two -
The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen X
A Summary of Chapter Two (parts 1-3)
In the first three parts of Chapter Two, I have presented two distinct arguments.
One, Marina Oshana’s controversial study of autonomy in which she claims that individual agents in the modern Liberal State generally fail to obtain a robust or even basic level of personal autonomy.
Two, I have shown Sandra Lee Bartky’s account of the psychological colonization of women as an example of the general mechanisms of oppression in the relationship between State power and Individual power. Bartky has been accused, like Foucault before her, that the level and depth of social construction and systemic oppression she describes leaves little to no room for resistance to its control or to develop an authentic “Self” outside of its influence.
Now, in Part Four, I will begin weaving these arguments together in order to explain the necessary existence of the individual Self and its capacity for resistance. Doing this will open the way for the next step of my larger argument, the relationship between what I term “Citizen X” and the Princely Soverign power of the modern capital-based liberal state. For it is in this relationship that we can find, discuss, and critique the true value of power and the possibilities for meaningful revolutionary action.
The possibility of resistance to the ‘feminine’
The relationships of power discussed in this blog are of the socio-political kind and this ensures that, if nothing else, all political agents are fundamentally recognized as subjects, regardless of the discursive objectification placed on most by some.
Domination, oppression, involves a psychological pressing down, the exploitation of a fragmented picture of the subjective self and its potentials. It is to have the object-hood of ‘other’ stamped on one’s back, be it “feminine,” “black,” “gay,” “transgender,” or “disabled” and to have this complex and contradictory social identity come to define to some degree who or what they are or may be.
Bartky reminds us that when men yell at women on the street, they are not merely being objectified, they are being “made to know” they are a ‘nice piece of ass.”
This epistemological objectification is an affront to the comfort, dignity, and independence of a subject, a “self.” It is understandable that objects do not need reminding that they are tools or things.
Women then, as are all oppressed persons, are fundamentally subjects, otherwise the oppressive discursive power feminist theory is fighting against would not exist.
Psychological oppression, claims Bartky , aids in the transmission of oppressive socio-political discursive apparatus. Seeds grow healthy in fertile ground: if one is born to believe she is to serve or submit she will never know to question the logic of such arrangements.
The self as grounds for resistance
As explained, resistance to the modern feminine is not the resistance of a slave towards a master, it is not a relationship enacted upon mere objects, property or chattel.
For the “feminine,” on Bartky’s account, the resistance is against disciplinary regimes that seek to govern a woman’s body. Her sex, her shape, her mind, her presentation; the patriarchal urge to pull her from the assembly line and use her until she is consumed.
But how is it possible to resist this power? Even the existence of subjective selves do not justify the claim that the enveloping systemic structure of modern power relations in capital-based society can be thwarted or meaningfully resisted.
To understand how political power can be resisted it is helpful to recall where Foucault says modern power exists. He writes:
“Let us come back to the definition of the exercise of power as a way in which certain actions may structure the field of other possible actions. What, therefore, would be proper to a relationship of power is that it be a mode of action upon actions. That is to say, power relations are rooted deep in the social nexus, not reconstituted "above" society as a supplementary structure whose radical effacement one could perhaps dream of. In any case, to live in a society is to live in such a way that action upon other actions is possible-- and in fact ongoing. A society without power relations can only be an abstraction.”
- Foucault, The Subject and Power (1982) pp. 208.
Foucault claims that modern power is an action upon actions. This means that resistance itself is part of any exercise of power. Resistance is internal to the exercise of power, found at the point where relations of power are exercised.
Resistance is the limit to power, the point of the action where the self-authority inherent in acting agents resolves from the choices available into the actions made. Politically, resistance occurs in the situation where one must act, where one must choose from options fundamentally shaped by social and economic conditions, including access to critical skills, financial stability, and social means.
Patriarchal power, as socio-political power, is an action upon actions. This pragmatically translates into a limiting of the actual and perceived options a subject has open to her.
Within their interactions, agents must have access to some degree of liberty in choice, options, response, or reaction. If an agent does not have at least this basic autonomy to choose anything, than it is not an exercise of power as it does not involve mutually-acting subjects .
In upcoming chapters of this blog series, I will do an in-depth analysis of my understanding of power (personal power and political power) using the ideas of Foucault and Searle to frame my original work.
For now, let us simply take the ideas that the Self exists implies a necessary capacity for resistance to oppressive practices, a capacity inner-twined with agential social and cultural conditions and access to decision-making power.
The “self” of the female agent, the basic shared humanity of her as we identify with when we speak of human rights or human species, remains complete despite the discursive cannibalism of “femininity” that bonds and devours its perceived fundamental totality. Women, as are all members of humanity, are fundamentally subjects and this necessarily implies a capacity for active resistance to the patriarchal colonization of any and all women’s autonomous “self.”
Again, for the time being, I must refrain from speculating on the formal content of this “fundamental self.” That is a subject for future blog entries. Acknowledging its existence and capacity for resistance is enough to decisively move the question forward.
For regardless of the ontological underpinnings of the political subject, if we grant that political agents maintain basic and viable “Selves” within their total identity, one question remains: what is the worth of an identity and can or does it matter in capitol-based liberal politics.
What does a self matter in the eyes of the world?
In my argument above, I claimed that what individuals conceive of as their “self” has socially constructed elements. I then sought to answer if that was all there is.
I claimed no, that in able to be politically dominated, that is, socio-politically assumed to be an object, there must be a prior, more fundamentally recognized subjective self, a sum of the parts that we understand loosely as “human,” that is recognized and recognizes itself under most circumstances.
I further argued that this “Self” exists and is fundamentally recognized as a political subject by sovereign elements, even while they maintain oppressive, exclusionary practices in the broader scope of the socio-political system and its background discourses and motivations.
To resist these enveloping discourses and expectations is to exercise one’s fundamental subjectivity against the actions that would construct one as an object. As this occurs in the active process of any situation, the fulcrum of object-subject is in the day-to-day choices one makes and feels secure could be made.
If Bartky’s question is, “How does a woman resist the feminine,” then the answer has to be, “By making choices.” It sounds too simple, but I do not think it is.
The value of actual, viable, real, practical choices is something that is perhaps taken for granted. The actual options one has available to them come down to a large degree on ones economic and social stability, not to mention personal disposition, gender, sexuality, and habits; the range of choices agents have open to them vary widely with contingency and circumstance.
Foucault writes that resistance to the type of power men and women face in contemporary society is to “refuse what we are.” Refusing what we are, in the context of feminist theory, is to break, to deny, the boundaries, limitations, and oppressive normalizing identity categories imposed on women by the dominant paradigm.
Resistance is internal to power and the amount and type of socio-political constraints or opportunities is relative to the social position, status, and identity of the agents involved in any relation of power.
Socio-political power is a matter of degree, as differences in economic and cultural status directly influence the available options an agent has open to her. This makes resistance a matter of degree as well.
In the end, the authentic Self necessarily exists, though its reality has been fought, denied and obscured by the same political systems that confirm its basic existence. This necessary Self contains the capacity to exercise resistance and to some degree exercises that capacity each and every day, the evidence of which is found in the active results of choices made from existing options.
Some types of resistance are more robust than others, just as some actions actively support the oppressive habits and norms, but the fact remains that it is the subjective self of an agent making choices to the best of her ability while blinded by the patriarchal “veil of femininity.”
The degree of success resistance may achieve can only be measured in the empirical conditions that obtain in her general culture and society. With the current vibrancy, importance, variety, and growing organization of the contemporary feminist movement, the success of society’s resistance to the domination of women is evident and active.
The final release of women from the bondage of “femininity” continues to develop and like all social processes, with every passing day, each discussion, struggle, essay, choice, and action we, as women and men, create its reality.
In Part Five of Chapter Two, I will wrap up my defense and discussion of Oshana’s controversial view of autonomy and begin to highlight specific points of political power.
Bartky, Sandra Lee
Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, Routledge, 1990, New York
‘Reconsidering Relational Autonomy. Personal Autonomy for Socially Embedded and Temporally Extended Selves’, Analyse and Kritik, Lucius and Lucius, Germany, 2008
DeCew, Judith Wagner
‘Marina Oshana, Personal Autonomy in Society’, Social Theory and Practice, 2009
‘Discipline and Punish’, Vintage Press, USA, 1995
‘The History of Sexuality’, Vintage Press, USA, 1990
‘The Foucault Reader’, Pantheon Press, USA, 1984
‘Power’, Essential works of Foucault, Vol. 3, Edited by James Faubion, The New Press, New York, 2001
‘Power/Knowledge’, Pantheon Press, 1980
The Subject and Power (1982),
Meyers, Diana Tietjens,
Feminist Social Thought: A Reader, Routledge, 1997, New York
‘Autonomy and Free Agency’, Personal Autonomy: New essays on personal autonomy and its role in contemporary moral philosophy, Edited by James Stacey Taylor, Cambridge University Press, 2008
‘How Much Should We Value Autonomy?’, Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation, USA, 2003
‘Personal Autonomy in Society’, Ashgate Publishing, USA, 2006
‘Making the Social World’, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010
‘Spheres of Justice: A defense of pluralism and equality’, Basic Books, 1983
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP): “Foucault and Feminism” http://iep.utm.edu/foucfem/
 Bartky, pg. 55
 I would like to include both individual persons and social groups (i.e. Brown v. Board of Education)
 IEP "Foucault and Feminism"