This Is What a Historicist and Relativist Feminist Philosophy of Disability Looks Like


  • Shelley Tremain



genealogy, historicist, relativist, materialism vs. idealism, disability apparatus, subjectivity, experience, minority identity


With this article, I advance a historicist and relativist feminist philosophy of disability. I argue that Foucault’s insights offer the most astute tools with which to engage in this intellectual enterprise. Genealogy, the technique of investigation that Friedrich Nietzsche famously introduced and that Foucault took up and adapted in his own work, demonstrates that Foucault’s historicist approach has greater explanatory power and transgressive potential for analyses of disability than his critics in disability studies have thus far recognized. I show how a feminist philosophy of disability that employs Foucault’s technique of genealogy avoids ahistorical, teleological, and transcultural assumptions that beleaguer much work in disability studies. The article also situates feminist philosophical work on disability squarely in age-old debates in (Eurocentric) Western philosophy about universalism vs. relativism, materialism vs. idealism, realism vs. nominalism, and freewill vs. determinism, as well as contributes to ongoing discussions in (Western) feminist philosophy and theory about (among other things) essentialism vs. constructivism, identity, race, sexuality, agency, and experience. 

Author Biography

Shelley Tremain

Shelley Tremain has a PhD in philosophy, recently taught a graduate seminar on Foucault in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, and is a consultant on disability for various social justice efforts. She has published widely on Foucault and disability, disability and feminist philosophy, ableism in philosophy, disability, race, gender, and sexuality, and bioethics (among other topics). In 2013, Tremain guest edited a groundbreaking special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly (vol. 33, no. 4) whose theme was Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory by Taking Account of Disability. She is the editor of Foucault and the Government of Disability (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 2005, 2015) and the author of Foucault and (A) Feminist Philosophy of Disability (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016, forthcoming).




How to Cite

Tremain, S. (2015). This Is What a Historicist and Relativist Feminist Philosophy of Disability Looks Like. Foucault Studies, (19), 7–42.



Special Issue: New Work on Foucault and Disability