Philosophy: Chapter Two - Part One: The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen X
In Chapter One of the blog series, The Value of Power I explored the potentials and practicalities of social revolutions (Evolution, devolution, and other political possibilities - part 1, 2 and 3).
Chapter Two -
The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen X
Identity and autonomy in the capitalist state
Sandra Lee Bartky presents a powerful and problematic, account of the production of a “properly embodied femininity.” Building on the works of Foucault and Fanon, Bartky describes the way women are “psychologically oppressed” in contemporary liberal society.
One of her primary concerns is the manner in which various power discourses sexually objectify women, inducing them to “systematically discipline their bodies through diet, exercise, restricted movement, smiling, make-up, and skin care.” These disciplines, which I understand as the discourse of “The Feminine,” become internalized, incorporated into the structure of female identity and carry with them fundamental implications of lack, failure, and object-hood.
Bartky claims that the construction of the feminine identity upon and within women’s bodies is “well-nigh total,” and operates through disciplinary techniques that “aim at a regulation (of the feminine body) which is perpetual and exhaustive.”
By reducing women’s identities to mere effects of a series of power relations, Bartky seems to deny individual women any true or authentic “self.”
This chapter will answer two questions. First, given such a deeply embedded psychological and phenomenological construction of the female body and mind, is any true “self” possible? Second, if it is possible, does this “self” retain a vigorous or meaningful capacity for autonomous resistance against oppressive political systems?
The term ‘autonomy’ describes our capacity to maintain authority over the directions, actions, and choices concerning our lives. Autonomy is a central tenet of liberal theory, yet a clear understanding of what and who counts as autonomous remains elusive to contemporary political philosophers.
Marina Oshana has offered an interesting new theory of autonomy, however critics contend that it stands at odds with basic liberal theory.
The idea that individuals hold authority over their lives, choosing from options, changing their minds, and acting on behalf of their own interests and intentions is fundamental to the notion of agency, but her theory claims relatively few people actually qualify as autonomous agents.
Further, critics contend her model of autonomy may justify legitimate state intervention into private life beyond mere “protection of others,” a generally agreeable limit to paternalistic interference.
However, I will defend her theory on descriptive grounds, motivated by the relevancy of these critiques to contemporary issues including private property, personal and informational privacy, and forms of oppression.
By examining the issues central to state and personal authority, I can discuss the structural elements necessary to enable and maintain legitimate political power and argue that, regardless of any ideals of the state, the mechanisms that constitute and maintain our political system can function only under the problematic conditions presented by Oshana.
Further, I claim that, yes, an authentic “self” does exist for political agents and the capacity to resist the oppressive categories such as “The Feminine” is necessarily implied in the fact of this “self’s” existence.
And if this is the case, the criticisms leveled against Oshana could be better applied towards a critique of the contemporary liberal system that her model describes. Before concluding this chapter, I will defend my claims against a possible objection.
Part Two will be released the first week of December.
 Meyers, pg 107
 ibid., pg. 93
 ibid. pg. 107
 The term itself is through the Greek ‘autonomos’, from ‘auto’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘nomos’ being ‘law’ or ‘rule’, both ideas with fundamental roots in a quality of authority.
 “… since paternalism usurps autonomy, then Oshana’s account of autonomy is held to be one that allows too much paternalism.” DeCew (2009), pg. 5
 I am particularly interested in Iris Marion Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” (from Rethinking Power, 1992)
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, Editited by James Faubion, The New Press, New York, 2001
‘Power/Knowledge’, Pantheon Press, 1980
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/
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