Feminism and Neoliberal Governmentality


  • Johanna Oksala University of Helsinki




The article investigates the consequences for feminist politics of the neoliberal turn. Feminist scholars have analysed the political changes in the situation of women that have been brought about by neoliberalism, but their assessments of neoliberalism’s consequences for feminist theory and politics vary.  Feminist thinkers such as Hester Eisenstein and Sylvia Walby have argued that feminism must now return its focus to socialist politics and foreground economic questions of redistribution in order to combat the hegemony of neoliberalism.  Some have further identified post-structuralism and its dominance in feminist scholarship as being responsible for the debilitating move away from socialist or Marxist paradigms. I share their diagnosis to the extent that it is my contention that the rapid neoliberalization characterising the last thirty years has put women and feminist thought in a completely new political situation. However, in contrast to those feminist thinkers who put the blame for the current impasse on the rise of poststructuralist modes of thought, it is my contention that the poststructuralist turn in feminist theory in the 1980s and 1990s continues to represent an important theoretical advance.  I will discuss Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism in order to assess the ways it can contribute to feminist theory and politics today.  I contend that Foucault can provide a critical diagnostic framework for feminist theory as well as for prompting new feminist political responses to the spread and dominance of neoliberalism. I will also return to Nancy Fraser and Judith’s Butler’s seminal debate on feminist politics in the journal Social Text (1997) in order to demonstrate that a critical analysis of the economic/cultural distinction must be central when we consider feminist forms of resistance to neoliberalism.

Author Biography

Johanna Oksala, University of Helsinki

Johanna Oksala is Academy of Finland Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki. She is the author of Foucault on Freedom (2005); How to Read Foucault (2007); Foucault, Politics, and Violence (2012); Political Philosophy: All That Matters (forthcoming 2013); and numerous articles on Foucault, feminist philosophy, phenomenology, and political philosophy. She is currently working on a monograph that explores the future challenges in feminist theory and politics.




How to Cite

Oksala, J. (2013). Feminism and Neoliberal Governmentality. Foucault Studies, (16), 32–53. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i16.4116



Special Issue on Foucault and Feminism