Feminism, Foucault, and the Critique of Reason: Re-reading the <i>History of Madness</i>


  • Amy Allen Dartmouth College




This paper situates Lynne Huffer’s recent queer-feminist Foucaultian critique of reason within the context of earlier feminist debates about reason and critically assesses Huffer’s work from the point of view of its faithfulness to Foucault’s work and its implications for feminism.  I argue that Huffer’s characterization of Enlightenment reason as despotic not only departs from Foucault’s account of the relationship between power and reason, it also leaves her stuck in the same double binds that plagued earlier feminist critiques of reason.  An appreciation of the profoundly ambivalent nature of Foucault’s critique of reason offers feminists some insights into how to navigate those double binds.  What feminists should learn from the early Foucault is precisely his commitment to engage in a rational critique of reason that highlights reason’s dangerous entanglements with power while resisting the temptation to reject or refuse reason altogether.

Author Biography

Amy Allen, Dartmouth College

Amy Allen is Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College. She works at the intersection of feminist theory, Foucaultian post-structuralism, and critical theory. She is the author of The Politics of Our Selves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory (2008); The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity (1999); and numerous articles on the concepts of subjectivity, agency, autonomy, and power in the work of Foucault, Butler, Arendt, Habermas, Honneth and others.  Her current book project, tentatively entitled The End of Progress: The Philosophical Foundations of Critical Theory, focuses on the relationship between history and normativity in the critical theory tradition.




How to Cite

Allen, A. (2013). Feminism, Foucault, and the Critique of Reason: Re-reading the <i>History of Madness</i>. Foucault Studies, (16), 15–31. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i16.4115



Special Issue on Foucault and Feminism