Return to the Repressive: Re-thinking Nature- Culture in Contemporary Feminist Theory

Deborah Goldgaber 1
  • 1 Louisiana State University,, Louisiana, United States of America


In “History of Sexuality” (Vol I.) Foucault argued that repression is the wrong model of power, understanding it in exclusively negative terms, as external to the body it constrains and inhibits. Power may also be positive, productive, and constitutive of the body and its possibilities. Thus, an adequate account of the relation between cultural forces and the body, Foucault argues, must challenge the “repressive hypothesis” (RH). Contemporary feminist accounts of the body are structured by this same oppositional view of power Foucault assumed: to call on Rosi Braidotti’s distinction, discursive (cultural) forces are either negative or repressive (potestas) or positive and empowering (potentia). In this paper I argue that this opposition forecloses several possibilities for thinking the morphogenetic role of culture. In particular, it assumes wrongly that repressive relations cannot be productive.

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