Beyond Foucault: Tradition and Agency

In a sense Foucault’s critical project remains unsurpassed. The excellent work by Nikolas Rose, for example, applies the critique in a compelling manner to the ‘psy-disciplines’. Central to their work is an argument against any need to theorize human agency, emphasising the totalitarian scope of power in our contemporary historical period. However, neither their historicism nor their stance on power as productive of subjectivity are satisfactory substitutes for a full account of human agency. and in this sense the human sciences need to think beyond Foucault. Judith Butler demonstrates a move in this direction, proposing that a corollary account of the agent’s psychic life is needed. In a complementary vein to Butler’s treatment of psychic life, I argue for a historical treatment of tradition that avoids historicism and provides resources for idealizing and enacting agency. In doing so, I rejoin Mircea Eliade’s critique of the ‘terror’ of historical consciousness. Central to my argument is the need for a ‘post-disciplinary’ basis for theorizing that eschews the contemporary fragmentation and expertise of specialized disciplines and finds within tradition possibilities for thinking beyond Foucault and historicism, and for re-membering new identities and a re-newed sense of agency.

Peet, C. (2007). Beyond Foucault: Tradition and agency. In Citizen City: Between constructing agent and constructed agency, van Deventer, Tere Blanche, Fourie, & Segalo (Eds.), pp. 270-277. Toronto, Ontario: Captus University Publications.

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