Firstly, one problem with Digeser’s conceptualisation is his incomplete analysis of resistance within power4. While the author acknowledges the prerequisite of resistance, he tends do so only in passing, without giving the topic much consideration. Although I don’t believe that he does injustice to the concept whenever he mentions it in his analysis, I find that a more attentive analysis of the possibility, purpose and implications of resistance would be beneficial to our understanding of the workings of the fourth dimension of power.
A fortified notion of resistance is essential in Foucault. As Digeser (1992) puts it, “a Foucauldian politics will celebrate such terms as resistance, unsettlement, and agonism as opposed to obligation, consolidation, or harmony” (p.998). However, the fourth face of power seems to paint power4 in such a ‘disturbing’ manner, that many critics questioned whether there even is place for resistance under his theorization of domination. For example, Michael Walzer (1986) interpreted Foucault’s overpowering, totalizing, notion of domination as nihilism, Davin Hoy (1981, 1982) read Foucault as conceptually rejecting humanism, and Jurgen Habermas (1981, 1982) argued that he rejects modernity and proceeded to question why power ought to be resisted. While I don’t read Foucault in the same manner as the previously cited critics, I agree that their criticism can easily be applied to Digeser’s conceptualization of the fourth dimension of power. That is because power4 is centred around the notion of domination, giving little consideration to the other elements of Foucault’s thought that illustrate a less pessimistic view of collective action. To clarify, this chapter is not intended to content Digeser’s understanding of resistance. Rather, it is meant to reinforce it, in order to provide a stronger, more positive view of the collective capacity to improve the modern condition that would equilibrate domination.
Digeser (1992) draws on Foucault to argue that while disciplinary power aims to be totalitarian, such a possibility is always met by resistance (p.1003). He observes that “the formation of the modern disciplinary subjects, and the rise of the modern disciplines of knowledge are accompanied by resistance” (p.994). Resistance is illustrated as the act of individuals who do not fit the norm of the modern, rational, well-ordered subject. Such individuals are marginalised and considered to be something other than what is acceptable or normal, which is referred to by Foucault (1984) as ‘otherness’.
The idea of marginalisation is not a new concept in political analysis. Schattschneider (1960) argued that the exercise of power requires “the mobilisation of bias”, showing that some matters are organized in or out of politics (p.30). While Peter Mair (1997) called this a provocative “aphorism” (p.947), Haugaard (2012) wrote that it “is not simply a description of bias as domination; it constitutes the precondition of politics as something more sophisticated than coercion” (p. 39). Nevertheless, Schattschneider’s assertion remains powerful and widely accepted even after almost 60 years since it was first proposed. Mouffe (2000), for instance, argues that one of the fundamental insights of Carl Schmitt is ‘the fact that he highlights that democracy always entails relations of inclusion-exclusion’ (p. 43). However, I won’t elaborate on Schmitt’s (1996) understanding of the political, as it may appear incompatible with Foucault’s concept of power – even though I find them complementary, as does Newswander (2011).
Nonetheless, the process of marginalisation shapes a distinct identity in the fourth dimension of power, which becomes the main battleground of power relations: the existence of otherness incites both a more severe form of control, and an intensified character of resistance. Digeser observes this contradiction in the workings of power4, which illustrates the two ways in which marginalisation operates: on the one hand, power4 would regard the lives and experiences of such subjects that resist normalisation as something that “need not be taken seriously” (p.994), because they do not fit within the rational society. On the other hand, it is exactly those experiences and people that resist norms on which the efforts of power4 is concentrated upon, turning them into the main targets of disciplinary power.
Digeser cites Connolly (1985) to show that this marginalisation duality illustrates that “we are not predesigned to be rational, responsible, self-disciplined individuals” (p.984). For this reason, it would never be possible for power4 to mould all subjects into an ideal form of subjectivity. Moreover, Foucault seems to not believe in the existence of an ideal subjectivity, which is something that both Connolly (1985) and Taylor (1985) tend to disagree with. Foucault refuses to cherish the possibility of an ideal subjectivity because the fact that power4 is always accompanied by resistance shows that it is not in the nature of individuals to conform to a single generalised identity. He argues that “there is indeed always something in the social body, in classes, groups and individuals themselves which in some separate sense escapes relations of power, something which is by no means a more or less docile or reactive primal matter, but rather a centrifugal movement, an inverse energy, a discharge” (Foucault 1980, p.138).
How is this “discharge” productive for the subject? I believe that Foucault’s early writings and his later writings both offer valuable answers, yet they relatively differ in nature. During Foucault’s first writings, such as Madness and Civilisation, his conception of resistance differs, in the sense that he has not yet identified power as a central point. What he then formulates as the aim of resistance is ‘limits’ (Foucault, 1988b). Resistance, which Foucault referred to as transgression, pushed limits in order to sanction and acknowledge what it rejects. In this way, “the world is forced to question itself” and “is made aware of its guilt.” (Foucault, 1988b, p.288). However, by theorizing resistance to limits, Foucault does not express a desire for the elimination of all limits, as he conveys a clear distrust in such a possibility. He continues in all his writings to distance himself in no uncertain terms from such an illusory understanding of resistance.
In the 1970s, Foucault theorized the concept of power as the central concern of his writings, which carried a high significance for the concept of resistance. While there are significant continuities with his earlier writings that are imperative to his thought, we must consider the discontinuities brought in by this turning point in Foucault’s writings. The notion of resistance is challenged by the understanding of power as ubiquitous, diffuse, and radiating from every element of society. If power is comprehensive and not situated in any particular area, the efforts of resisting power need to also be diffuse. Moreover, Pickett (1966) states that “modern power works under the injunction to maximize the productive forces of the subjects it works upon, while simultaneously decreasing their political or resistive forces” (p. 458). Understanding modern knowledge and power as productive amends the view that resistance is to concern itself with denouncing the negative limitations imposed. That is because a strong mechanism of power4 does not manifest through negative means. Rather, it works by producing modes of thinking and acting, or simply being. Therefore, efficient resistance must be founded on strategic knowledge of power that is centred around the productive nature of power rather than the less encountered negative means.
However, a considerable number of academics questioned whether Foucault’s description of modern power as ubiquitous truly ought to be resisted. The question of the need for resistance is undermined by the argument that power4 is always met by resistance, and therefore it will manifest without the need for a normative obligation imposed upon the subject. Considering that it is established in Foucault’s thought that the individual cannot fully be placed into an ideal form of given identity, resistance will always occur to some extent. Digeser’s contention is that “the question may not be a matter of obligation but an individual’s decision to add to that friction (p.995). However, Simon and Oakes (2006) noted that resistance often appears removed from the exercise of power (p.126), which can illustrate its futility under certain systems of domination. In this regard, I believe that it is adequate to argue that ‘the exception proves the rule’, as we are prone to notice the absence of open resistance, rather than the more subtle ‘hidden transcripts’ of “forms of resistance which avoid any open confrontation with the structures of authority being resisted” (Scott, 1990, p.86). As argued previously, if modern power is diffuse and circulating, then the act of resistance needs to be diffuse as well, rather than emanating from a single location.
Yet, the individual appears incapacitated when analysing two of Foucault’s claims from his later writings that Digeser draws upon: that power is not a possessed capacity, and that subjects do not choose to exercise power4. In this regard, Foucault writes that “[T]he analysis should not concern itself with power at the level of conscious intention or decision; . . . it should not attempt to consider power from its internal point of view” (Foucault 1980b, 97). In another writing, he similarly states that power relations “are imbued, through and through, with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives. But this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject” (Foucault 1980e, 94-95) (Digeser, p.983). Hence, one’s act of resistance is in itself an element intrinsic to power4 relations. Power4 requires resistance in order to separate its immediate targets. An individual that chooses to resist a given set of practices becomes the immediate target of the fourth face of power. If this is true, then what would be the purpose of resisting? In Madness and Civilisation, Foucault elucidates what resistance is meant to attain. He argues that it concerns the seeking of acknowledgement of the experiences of those marginalized. Those dismissed practices represent the site of struggle against “that gigantic moral imprisonment” that Foucault writes the genealogical analysis of. However, contesting the limitations imposed by power with the purpose of creating a ‘rational’ subject is not meant to create a new system based on humanity. Foucault rejects the idea of resisting a current order with the aim of a new order, as any such new system will present resembling forms of marginalisation. Hence, resistance attempts to erode, or at least attenuate, any limitations for the purpose of lessening their violence.
Nonetheless, by not engaging in a normative stance, Foucault seems to refrain from advocating the idea that the subjectified body has the obligation to resist being subjectified. For example, ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1977) presents modern power so disturbingly ubiquitous and all-encompassing that many critics argues that it ultimately paralyzes resistance, rather than endorse it. In this regard, Fraser (1981) argues that Foucault never clearly calls for subjects to resist domination, even though he emphasizes struggle over submission. She argues that without staying true to his lack of normative notions, Foucault cannot convincingly argue that modern power is to be opposed (p. 283). Pickett (1996) argues that even though “Foucault was motivated by certain moral intuitions in his celebration and elaboration of resistance, he does not rely upon those same intuitions to suggest any limits upon the types of activity resistance can take” (p. 447). Instead, Foucault refuses to place any limits upon resistance, because any limits would be a by-product of modern knowledge. He rejects the need to present a normative stance on resistance that would entrap subjects in the power relations they are trying to overcome. In his 1966 essay “The Thought from Outside”, Foucault states that “anyone who attempts to oppose the law in order to found a new order, to organize a second police force, to institute a new state, will only encounter the silent and infinitely accommodating welcome of the law” (p. 38). Hence, the Foucauldian notion of resistance is trapped between two stances that seem equally undesirable: either restrict the capacity of resistance through notions of acceptability ultimately imposed by modern power, or laud any form of resistance, irrespective of its abominable and possibly direful consequences. Pickett (1996) mentions that in ‘The Will to Know’, Foucault wrote about resistances which are in nature “savage … or violent” (p. 465). If the fourth dimension of power is correct in arguing that we are the products of modern power, then all our actions, beliefs, attitudes, as well as our normative intuitions, are revealing of that power. If we use our moral beliefs or perception of what is ethical to limit resistance, it would only result in further entangling ourselves in the meshes of ideal drawn from modern power.
The production of knowledge
The second element in Digeser’s conceptualisation of the fourth dimension that he acknowledges but fails to elaborate sufficiently is the capacity of knowledge and sets of practices to amend over time. Power relations are conceptualised in terms of systems of knowledge and discursive regimes which correspond with their own matrix of practices. However, as Dyrberg (1997) argues, “power as is conceptualised at the level of the regime does not exhaust power as such” (p. 86), which is also something Foucault aims to show. The sets of practices and knowledge existent at a certain time in a society do not represent the limit of what power relations create and ground themselves in. More importantly, knowledge that finds expression at the level of the regime does not represent the full extent of the knowledge existent throughout society. The point is, then, that the very conceptualisation of power needs to account for the transitory movement towards new sets of practices. In this regard, Foucault (1966) seems to agree through his highly specialised use of the term “episteme” in The Order of Things. An episteme represents the historical priori that grounds knowledge and its discourses and thus represents their possibility within a particular epoch. Hence, the term illustrates the limits of the thinkable for an age, even though those limits do not necessarily correspond to the limits of thought as such. In relation, Nancy Fraser (1981) argues that Foucault assumes that there is a plurality of incommensurable discursive regimes, each supported by its own correlated matrix of practices, and that these regimes succeed one another historically. Each regime includes its own distinctive objects of inquiry. Foucault’s study of genealogy does not concern itself with evaluating the contents of systems of knowledge, or, for that matter, with systems of beliefs at all. Rather, it is concerned with the processes, procedures, and apparatuses whereby truth, knowledge, and belief are produced. In other words, Foucault’s analysis of power in grounded in what Foucault (1980) calls “the politics of the discursive regime”.
Fraser (1981) states that “cultural practices are instituted historically and are therefore in a sense arbitrary or contingent, that is to say, ungrounded except in terms of other prior contingent, historically instituted practices” (p. 274). As a continuation, Haugaard (2012) argues that it is necessary to understand that our practical consciousness knowledge creates power relations and modern knowledge. The sets of practices which render the subjects’ behaviour as normal are created through “a succession of practical consciousnesses, layered upon each other”, which “renders our particular practical consciousness knowledge contingent and open to question” (p. 46). Similarly, Richard Flathman argues that the exercise of power, more exactly the subjects’ acknowledgement of power relations as having authority, is grounded in a system of shared knowledge regarding “the nature of obligation, the capacity of individuals to act freely, and other, deeper practices surrounding justification and reason giving” (p. 204). This system of shared knowledge places power relations in a particular epoch and social context. Hence, while power4 is ultimately exercised by employing the same techniques, the sets of practices and knowledge are contestable and subject to change over time. Nonetheless, as Foucault writes, “between every point of a social body (…) there exist relations of power which are not purely and simply a projection of the sovereign’s great power over the individual, they are rather the concrete, changing soil in which the sovereign’s power is grounded, the conditions which make it possible for it to function” (Foucault 1980, p. 187). For this reason, discursive regimes appear to have a certain “givenness” or “facticity” to them (Flathman 1980, p. 204).
This relates to the question of subjects liberating themselves form the workings of power4. Liberation can be seen as the desired outcome of resistance. Digeser’s analysis emphasises the impossibility of liberating the self from power4, as it is everywhere. That is because it not only produces subjects, but it lies at the bottom of all our social practices: politics, medicine, religion, psychiatry, work. Power4 is co-extensive with the social body. “There are no spaces of primal liberty between the meshes of its network. There are no ‘margins’ for those who break with the system to gambol in” (Foucault, 1980c, 141). While Digeser correctly affirms that power4 is omnipresent, as illustrated in Foucault’s writings, his understanding of liberation is erroneous. He assumes in his analysis that liberation is “an act that escapes power4”, through which “we could jump outside our social skin to some unsituated arena where power4 had no play” (p. 981). However, I do not believe that power4 is to be escaped. In this concern, I find Haugaard’s (2012) contention that “the lack of an escape from power can be normatively desirable” (p. 34) to be more adequate. That is because power4, just like any speech act, belief etc., presupposes norms of truth, comprehensibility, and appropriateness. Such norms make any act possible, but it starts by eliminating a number of possibilities of action that are deemed unacceptable. Hence, such norms of acceptable/unacceptable are what enable us to act, and at the same time they do so only insofar as they constrain us. One cannot have social practices without constraints and hence the mere fact that it constrains cannot be held against the exercise of power4 as a whole. This view regarding the need for constraints in order to enable is a familiar one in twentieth century philosophy (Habermas, 1981; Butler, 1997). It is also implied, for example, in the paradox of Kantian autonomy (cited in Zizek, 1993): the individual is a “free and autonomous subject, delivered from the constraints of [his] pathological nature, precisely and only insofar as [his] feelings of self-esteem [are] crushed down by the humiliating pressure of the moral Law” (p. 47).
Hence, if power is not to be escaped, then is Taylor (1984) right to argue that Foucault offers a theory of power without freedom or the possibility of liberation? In “Two Lectures” Foucault (1980, cited in Digeser, 1992) talks about individuals circulating “between its [power’s] threads” (p. 981). Nonetheless, since individuals themselves cannot fully escape power, I believe Foucault refers by the elements of ‘otherness’ that individuals possess. While normalised subjects will subsist within the ramifications of power4, it is the latent ‘otherness’ in them that eludes it. For this reason, Foucault refuses to name individuals as targets of power. Taylor (1984) argued that “power needs targets”, as “something must be imposed on someone is there is to be domination” (p. 172). I believe that Foucault’s theory does not contrast this view – and neither does Digeser’s conceptualisation – even though he wants to use the language of power while refusing to accept the idea of subjects who have power exercised over them (Connolly, 1985, p. 371). In response, Connolly (1985) argues that in Foucault, the target of power is not a subject repressed or constrained. Subjectification, an effect of power4, “subjugates recalcitrant material in an embodied self” (p. 371). The target of constraint is not the subject, but the element in individuals that defies and pushes the limits of normalisation. As a result of this perspective, liberation must not be seen as restricted to the liberation of the self; it is at least in part regarding the emancipation of the repressed aspects that withstand agentification. Foucault, moreover, “supports the insurrection of subjugates knowledges that speak to that which is subjugates by normalisation. He explicitly aspires to a concept of rights attached to that which is defined by the normalised subject as otherness, as deviating from or falling below or failing to live up to the standards of subjectivity” (cited in Connolly, 1985, p. 371).
However, while achieving full liberation from power is neither possible nor desirable, acknowledging the (limited) capacity of subjugated knowledges to reproduce and integrate in the knowledge structures of the fourth dimension of power is key. Going back to the notion of diffused power, liberation from it, the aim of resistance, must also take a diffuse form. Digeser notes that the exercise of power4 is visible only in the analysis of the endless and almost imperceptible mechanisms of the existing practices and discourses. He adds that “power must be seen at the extremities of what Foucault calls a micro-physics” (p. 985). Thus, it is at the ‘micro’ level where the most ‘imperceptible’ changes in practices and discourses can aid further a positive discourse related to elements of ‘otherness’. That is possible because the fourth face of power is in essence highly different from the first three faces, in the sense that it is neither repressive, the way the second face of power is (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962), nor manipulating, in the manner of the radical view of power (Lukes, 1974). The fourth face of power works at it strongest by being productive. Hence, liberation must focus on producing – or rather reproducing – regimes of discourses and knowledge, rather than focus on the negative impositions invalidating otherness.
The regimes of discourses embedded in the structures of power4 are not only constructed in power4, but also constructive of it. Foucault writes that “power and knowledge directly imply one another … there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (Foucault 1977, 27). Digeser argues that while Foucault believes that there is no knowledge without power, and there is no power without a field of knowledge, he does not equate the two. “One-half of the relationship is that there is no power relation without a field of knowledge. The second half is that there is no knowledge that does not presuppose power relations” (p. 987). Under the fourth face of power, knowledge could precede the process of subjectifying individuals in the sense that is consists of a structure of knowledge that a society regards as having truth. The quest for those truths and the assimilation of them influences the way in which subjects understand themselves and others. Digeser interprets the pre-existence of knowledge as offering “a template for the formation of the subjects”, or as implying that “the forging of subjects requires some truth to live up to” (p.987).
However, Foucault’s understanding of the relationship between power and knowledge also supposes that there is no truth that evades power. All system of beliefs, regimes of discourses and notions of truth are ultimately a result of power4. Hence, “Foucault is rejecting the epistemological quest for an instrument that unfailingly guarantees truth and is unblemished by power. Foucault’s power knowledge relationship denies the pristine character of any such guarantee” (Digeser, 1992, p. 988). There is essentially no way of guarantying the truth of something that cannot be questioned, which is why power lies beneath any given knowledge. Nonetheless, there are elements that elude power – otherness – which come with their own matrixes of ‘illicit’ knowledges. The discourse regarding illicit knowledge is not static. Different eras have regarded different elements of humanity as illicit, without necessarily carrying those assumptions into the next historically succeeding regime. As regimes focus on various fields of inquiry, the possibility of liberating elements of otherness in a following regime is not unreasonable. Foucault has dedicated a vast part of his work to understanding the process though which discursive regimes are transforming and altering themselves as they succeed one another, so a conceptualisation grounded on Foucault’s work should not adopt a static approach to knowledge.
The previous discussion illustrates that the fourth dimension of power should in part regard the manner in which norms, practices and understandings of the subject are created and transformed. “The genealogical character of power4 shifts the object of theoretical inquiry away from describing or clarifying current political practices and toward describing the mundane beginnings and dynamic character of those practices” (Digeser, 1992, p. 990).
A reinforced conceptualisation of the fourth face of power, created through an augmented notion of resistance and an improved understanding of how the production of knowledge is dynamic, and transformative over time, rather than static, can provide a more adequate framework of analysis for the construction of the female body. Nonetheless, this reinforced framework of the fourth face of power still disregards the gendered nature of power. To have a comprehensive understanding of how power4 works, we need to include in its conceptualisation an analysis of how it applies different techniques of the body to men and women. Feminist theory has already documented the implications of Foucault’s work on the female gender very thoroughly. However, while many feminist scholars analysed the theoretical possibilities of his work, many have illustrated the limitations of Foucauldian thought. Feminist analysis benefited from the inquiry of discipline, sexuality and subjectivity, as well as from the placement of the body at the centre of power. Still, many feminists remain critical of Foucault’s gender neutrality – as he makes very few references to the female sex- and of his failure to acknowledge the extent to which power discordantly affects women. Angela King (2004) notes that “there is no exploration or even acknowledgement of the extent to which gender determines the techniques and degrees of discipline exerted on the body” (p. 30). While this remark brings out considerable limitations in Foucault’s work, it does not negate the theoretical benefits of his writings. Instead, his framework can be adapted by revealing and correcting his lapses.
Digeser’s conceptualisation of the fourth dimension of power is subject to the same critiques that feminists raise against Foucauldian thought. Since Foucault never engaged with feminism in his works, this problematic aspect is replicated in the power4 conceptualisation. The fourth dimension of power disregards the experience of women and the extent to which power exercises a stricter control over the female body. Hence, Bartky’s (1988) accusation towards Foucault, that he is regarding “the body throughout as if it were one, as if the bodily experiences of men and women did not differ and as if men and women bore the same relationships to the characteristic institutions of modern life” (p.63) can be addressed to Digeser as well. Power4 provides significant insights into the production of subjectivity and modern knowledge that can be elaborated in order to help explore the ways in which the female body is trained and understood by the self and by others. Because feminist theory aims at increasing female autonomy, a good place to start is analysing the ways in which power weakens agents and suppresses them into ‘docile bodies’. But for Sandra Bartky (1988) it is important to firstly understand “the account of the disciplinary practices that engender the ‘docile bodies’ of women”, making them “bodies more docile than the bodies of men” (p.63). Her appraisal of power illuminates the characteristic of the exercise of power4 that targets specifically women. This tied in with the previously amplified notion of resistance, as the aim is to acknowledge the experience of a subjugated identity, which is what Foucault (1988b) considers to be the purpose of resisting modern power.
Understanding the way in which the fourth face of power is gendered and in which the female body is distinctly subjectified by power4 is a lacuna in Digeser’s conceptualisation that needs to be adequately explored and filled. A theoretical framework of power4 that is gender neutral fails to present the reality of any given historical context. The techniques of gender grounded in modern knowledge invest the sexed bodies into an opposition represent a form of social control that produce a form of stigmatization that is inconspicuously feminine (I say this while fully acknowledging that the male gender can be affected by the imposed, culturally constructed concept of masculinity as well). Hence, gender should be recognized as an independent technology of the body with its own mechanisms of control and subjection. The analysis of how the self is transformed into a subject under a totalizing, disciplinary and productive power, would not be fruitful for the feminist theory and gender construction without a differentiation being set out between the different regimes of discourses that apply to female and male individuals. While Foucault acknowledges that the self is a social construct, I will focus the following part of my paper to a topic that is central to many feminist scholars: the way in which women have been socially constructed not only in a different manner than men, but in a manner that discursively emphasises the inferiority of “the second sex” (de Beauvoir, 1976). Paradoxically, ‘woman’ has also been characterised as posing a threat to men (Schippers, 2007, p. 95), thus explaining the need for increased control and stricter disciplinary methods of containment.
The fourth face of power, as contributed by Foucault and conceptualised by Digeser, must account for the fact that its main site of power, the body, is affected disproportionately based on the sex of the body. The body is a central interest for both feminism and Foucault, representing in its uniqueness and ultimate unpredictability the raison d’etre of disciplinary modern power. Susan Bordo (1993) argues that “the human body is itself a politically inscribed entity, its physiology and morphology shaped by histories and practices of containment and control” (p.21). Focusing of the body as the main site of power illustrates the feminist interest in the micropolitics of everyday life. It is at this micro, intimate level that women’s experiences need to be addressed at. Power4 affects common daily practices that are grounded in regimes of truth that are further reproduced by engaging in those simple everyday forms of conduct. Hence, the socially constructed inferiority of the female gender must be sought and dismantled from within the common, familiar practices that are part of the institutions of marriage and motherhood. In this situation, the difficult task at hand is analysing the body in its materialistic form without reducing it to its biologic functions.
The fourth face of power disregards the reality that perceived biological differences of the female and male body have served as a reasoning for gender inequality, by comparing and contrasting the two sexes and giving priority to the latter. Angela King (2004) notes that “woman has been measured and judged against the norm of man, the essential human subject”, and that the “biological deviation from the male standard marks women as biologically (and therefore ‘naturally’) inferior” (p. 31). This illustrates two approaches employed in sexist discourses to subordinate women: one where their bodies are judged against the norm of the male body, and another one where the characteristics of their biological functions transcend into their social characteristics. By placing woman against man and identifying the man as the normal standard of being, the female sex becomes marginalised and considered something less than the acceptable norm, which is an effect of power4 that Digeser supports in his writing. Before going further into the sex/gender discussion, I find it necessary to first define the terms. Gender represents a “set of socially constructed characteristics describing what men and women ought to be” (Tickner and Sjøberg, 2007, p. 196). Moreover, Scott (1999) adds to this definition, noting that gender is “a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and a primary way of signifying relationships of power” (p.42). The sexed body, however, is determined in ahistorical biological terms.
Both first and second wave of feminists have tried to discredit this essentialist approach to gender, according to which the social category of the female gender merges with its biological functions. To do this, it is required to distinguish the difference between sex, as a social category and gender as a biological category. This represents a form of resistance to the exercise of the fourth dimension of power that specifically targeted the female body. While Digeser and Foucault affirmed in their writings that resistance acts against imposed limitations on the body, Digeser’s conceptualisation needs to acknowledge that certain limitations are in nature aimed at women. The memoirs of Herculine Barbin (Foucault, 1988a), which tragically chronicles the experiences of a nineteenth-century hermaphrodite who was forced by medical and legal authorities to choose a sexual category, presents the injustice of essentialism and its claim of an inherent self based on sex. Sexual essentialism, therefore, was consecrated by science, law and bureaucracy together in the case of Herculine Barbin. This essentialist view understands the cultural, constructed meaning of gender as attached and commutable with the sex of the body, transferring the bias related to female sex to the gender. However, while biological sexes and their characteristics are ahistorical, the notion of gender is constructed by culture. The discourse regarding gender not only changes as time progresses, but also differs across space. Nonetheless, there is no culture, space or time where woman is regarded higher than man in terms of capabilities. That is because the gender discourse is yet to evolve sufficiently to distinguish between the stereotypical biological and psychological characteristics of the female sex and accepted social roles of gender. This lack of distinguishment between the two, and the resulted imposed characteristics – such as less physical strength, increased sensibility and dependence – have deemed woman to be the inferior sex. Nonetheless, this does not illustrate the immediate reality. While such characteristics are indeed identifiable in many of the female gender, they are not per se of a feminine nature. In this regard, M.J. Cresswell (1971, cited in Matthews, 1990) argues that “a per se property, that if it were not the case that a property could be per se of one individual and per accidens of another, few interesting properties could ever hold per se of their subjects” (p. 252).
The male and female sexed bodies should not be mistaken with masculinity and femininity. Discursively constructed characteristics of gender that are conflated with the woman are not ‘per se’ feminine. Such characteristics are grounded in power relations that aim at investing the body under the notion of the ‘natural essence’ of the sex. In essence, such characteristics are existent in both man and woman, the extent to which they apply to individuals differing from one human to another. The acknowledgement of socio-culturally shaped behaviour rejects the binary pattern imposed on genders. “The two curves [masculinity and femininity] will overlap for the most part, and there will be countless individuals in each population who will have more of any given characteristic than those of the other sex” (Fukuyama, 1998, p.31). However, the problem with Francis Fukuyama (1998) is that while he observes that an individual of a certain sex can have traits of the other sex, he still perceives those traits as either feminine or masculine, irrespective of their equal distribution among the sexed bodies. While the notion of the ‘naturalness’ of the gender distinction is somewhat regarded as a given, Judith Butler (1987, cited in Watts, 2013) argues that gender is only performative, “an active style of living one’s body in the world” (p. 131). In particular femininity has been regarded as an illusion, a mask, a task and an accomplishment (Bartky, 1988, p. 64). In relation, Angela King contends that “paradoxically, while femininity is regarded as the most ‘natural’ of the genders (as women are biologically overdetermined) it also requires the most artifice to be considered successful”. Moreover, she adds that “whilst those that are unsuccessful or refuse to take part in it are regarded as unnatural” (p.33). Her observation illustrates perfectly Digeser’s statement that marginalisation shapes a distinct identity that becomes the main site of struggle for power relations; while power4 will disregard the experience of women as trivial, because it does not fit the norm of male body it is judged against, it will also intensify the disciplinary techniques exercised on it and turn it into its essential target.
Antagonistic gender ideologies such as mind and body, spirit and matter, culture and nature are used to illustrate the opposition of males and females. Men are represented as the mind that is simply contained in the shell of the body, and is not only disconnected from emotions, but above it. Man represents culture, as the unified, rational, undivided entity, that is contrasted with nature, as an emotional, instinctual, uncontrolled presence. “Mind/culture/man must harness and control this potentially unruly body/nature/woman through the application of knowledge and willpower” (King, 2004, p. 31). Foucault’s genealogical studies could benefit from this feminist discussion of the way patriarchal structures are supported by sets of binary oppositions that regard one as inferior to the other. Similarly, this discussion needs to be present in Digeser, in order for his theoretisation to account for the way in which the episteme that grounds knowledge and its discourses within a particular period of time is negatively constraining the capacities of the female sex, while giving pre-eminence to the male sex. Regimes of discourse play a significant role in Foucault’s theoretization of the process of power as producing subjects and ‘docile bodies’ as a form of control. While he does not make many references to the distinction between man and woman, or to the different techniques and extent to which power affects gender construction, he briefly mentions them in the first volume of the History of Sexuality as “the hysterization of women’s bodies” (1998, p. 104).
A common source of despise for feminist scholars and Foucault are totalising theories that offer a ‘scientific’ truth based on biological essence (King, 2004, p. 32). Similarly, the fourth dimension of power rejects analysing the content of knowledge, or its capacity of truth. Instead, it aims at understanding the transformative process through which the social practices materialize and their mundane and dynamic emergence. Hence, Digeser’s conceptualisation would benefit from the cognizion that some social practices that come into existence and claim to hold truth do not regard the entire social body; rather, they are gender-specific. Feminism in the nineteenth-century was engaged in criticising medical practices and the ‘science’ they were grounded in. The treatment of women for hysteria, invalidism, infertility, and the regarding of pregnancy as a disease, were challenged by feminist scholars such as Margaret Fuller, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Elizabeth Cady Staton (Diamond and Quinby, 1988, p. xi). Diamond and Quinby (1998) noted that nineteenth-century feminism took a form comparable with Foucault’s notion of ‘reverse’ discourse that he applied to homosexuality. Foucault (1978) argued that, as a form of reverse discourse, homosexuality “began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or ‘naturality’ be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified” (cited in Diamond and Quinby, 1998, p. xi). Similarly, feminism in that period contested the normalising discourse of science and medicine, and the regulation of the female social body through imposed notions of sexuality.