ISSJ - N° 191 - The Rights of Women: Activism, Research and Policy / The Uses of Michel Foucault in Political Science

March 2008

In the wake of the women’s movement of the second wave, academic research has shown how gender relations are inscribed in laws and norms, cultural practices, social relationships, and collective action, and in social institutions such as markets, state systems, family norms, educational systems and in the media. Some of the findings of this research have found their way into international instruments that spell out a clear mandate for the United Nations system to work towards the realization of gender equality and the human rights of women. These instruments also require compliance by governments, in order that women’s empowerment across social, political, economic, and cultural domains may be realized. Taking forward the debate launched in issue 184 of the ISSJ, the papers in the first dossier, collected by Valentine M. Moghadam, review the ways in which the connections between activism, research and policy have advanced women’s rights in different ways in different national settings.

The second dossier revisits a key figure in contemporary social science: Michel Foucault. Concepts derived from his work – including power/knowledge, governmentality, subjectivation, the ethics of selfhood, capillarity and others – have been widely applied, often with sketchy reference to their original context, to propose innovative perspectives in a wide range of disciplines. The papers collected here focus on a specific set of problems – “the political”, in a broad sense – in areas (Africa, South-East Asia, Central America, international relations) outside Foucault’s own frame of reference. From very different perspectives, the authors converge on one key point: concepts do not simply “travel”, but are transformed in being used. When a transformation becomes a distortion is, of course, an open question…

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