SUBJECTIVITY, ‘REASON’ AND NEUTRALITY
Feminists have found Foucault’s critique of liberal humanism not only crucial in terms of recognising the flawed conception of the human subject which characterised Enlightenment thought, but also in his overturning of the objectivity of such thought. Feminist pluralists challenge the claims to universality, value neutrality, impartiality and objectivity of knowledge characteristic of liberal humanism, which they argue results in particular versions of reality being privileged over others and ‘in the denial of particular realms of experience crucial to the process of making sense of the world’ (Ransom 1993:137).
The crucial issue is to what extent Foucault’s model of subjectivity and discourse establishes an interaction between experience and material reality. As Ransom (1993:138) notes, the relationship between feminism and Foucauldian analysis depends on whether ‘the relationship between reality and experience can be understood through an analysis of discourse which does not address political agency based on experience’. Bordo (1990) maintains that the neutralisation of power within discourse, or the pluralisation of the bases of power, effectively undermines the recognition of a shared relationship to oppression. In this position the significance of gender itself is undermined. Ransom notes that, when Foucault describes discourse as ‘neutral’, it does not mean that he is ignoring the fact that the location of subject positions is not a function of dominant positions and dominant groups. However, she argues, feminism needs a more complete sense of how power penetrates subjectivity. She notes that feminists have been concerned not merely to reject the basis of epistemologies and a reality which has claimed reason, truth and objectivity, but to understand and articulate challenges to the basis of their plausibility.