On sexuality and criminality: Foucault, Butler, and Zerilli

I wrote On sexuality and criminality: Foucault, Butler, and Zerilli for Gordon College’s Contemporary Social Theory with Daniel Johnson, Ph.D. The assignment tasked students with “articulating a theoretical vision of your own, in conversation with the thoughts of several other contemporary theorists.”

Professor Daniel Johnson

SOC 411 Contemporary Social Theory

A Paper

Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

Conversation on sexuality. 3

Foucault on the discourse of Sexuality. 5

Butler on gender 7

Zerilli on the political aim of feminism.. 9

Conversation on criminality. 13

Foucault on the carceral 14

Butler and criminology. 15

Zerilli and the political aim of prison movements 17

Conclusion. 19

Bibliography. 21

Notes 23



The purpose of this paper is to find new questions on criminality. I am moving into a correctional officer position this summer with the GEO Group, Inc., and I want to evaluate the way that Berks county responds to kids who break laws. Michel Foucault wrote many genealogies of the present, which explain how history brought things to be the way they are in the present. As a result, the historical subjects he chose related to pressing concerns of his time. His book The Birth of the Clinic explains how the contemporary clinic came to be.

            My paper will be structured as follows. There are a few thinkers who I will examine in order to open new questions related to crime. I will present some theory from Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Linda Zerilli. My task is to track their discussion on the particular phenomenon of sexuality, and in the course of presenting their thoughts on this topic, I hope to illuminate their distinct theoretical perspectives. Then, I will move into the second major section of the paper, where I aim to develop a similar conversation around the phenomenon of criminality, in other words, criminal behavior and incarceration. I will start with Foucault’s understanding of incarceration and policing. Following that I will present some of Judith Butler’s thoughts on criminology, and I will also take some of her theory from the prior section, and use it to analyze and examine crime. Finally, because I have not sought work of Linda Zerilli’s on incarceration (if any exists, I am not sure), I will take her theory, and use it to examine crime.

In the course of creating a conversation, my hope is that I can open up new questions about incarceration, and that then I can take those questions into my exploration of how I understand and respond to kids who break the law.

Conversation on sexuality

These authors swirl around a number of topics that they relate to sexuality: subjectivity, sex categories, power, feminism, sexuality, identity, discourse, language, plurality, political ramifications, gender, and freedom. I will go through each author and text, presenting key ideas from that part, and then I will go to the next person in the discussion. For each author I will also give some bibliographic information to serve as context and backdrop for understanding of where each person was, and what sort of influences that they had in their lives.

            I will start by pulling out a phenomenon of today that these authors all in some way touch on. How does each author conceive of the relationship between power and categorization? The way that one conceives the general functioning of these two phenomena can apply to both sexuality and criminality, so that examination will prove useful to examine criminality from the perspective of Zerilli when I do not have any of her work to directly use. Categorization happens in sexuality in a way that involves power. People become labeled as men or women by others who possess the authority to make that decision. A baby is born, and then the physician identifies them as either male or woman. By the power vested in them, they announce, "It’s a boy! It’s a girl!"

            Sexuality is discussed from a few different angles by these authors. Each author focuses on different phenomenon primarily, but they end up all discussing some things related to categorization and power. Foucault talks about the discourse on sexuality, [1] meaning the languages that surround bodily categorization, what it means to be a particular sex, [2] the language of sex itself, the measurement and increase conversation on these desires and relationships, [3] and the increased control over these. Butler takes on the topic of gender and explains it as socially constructed. [4] She observes gender and the way that people perform their roles. Then Zerilli deals with some of the political ramifications of breaking apart the unity of women as a category. [5] The phenomena she responds to is the fact that the feminism movement has separated away from some of its second-wave unity.

Foucault on the discourse of Sexuality

In Foucault’s early years after college began to publish works in psychology. [6] But he was born in 1926 in France, and he later moved to Paris. He eventually got a job as a professor at the Collége de France. He was arguably the most prominent thinker of France during the 60s and 70s. He was in the process of writing a fourth volume of the History of Sexuality. In the early 1970s he became part of a prison reform movement. It was called the Prison Information Group. He sought to help political prisoners. Soon after he began lecturing on the topic of prisons. Then, in 1975 he published the book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Soon after that he began work on the history of sexuality. In the 60s, he has some seeming grounding philosophical work – the order of things, is a spot where he talks about the method of archaeology, where one refers to power as not a function of people, but people as a function of power. He was interested in the production of knowledge through much of his life. He passed away in 1984 of disease after contracting AIDS. He is now the most quoted thinker in humanities [7] , though not in Philosophy, because he had a view that philosophical positions only come out of history, which is somewhat controversial. On Google Scholar, Discipline and Punish is listed as being cited in 52,929 texts. [8]

            Foucault shows the influence of some key thinkers in his dissertation work, including Freud and Marx. He disagreed with some parts of them and made his own suggestions about how things worked. His dissertation work was on abnormal psychology, and it’s called Madness and Unreason: A History of Madness in the Classical Age. Its focus on the labeling of some people as mad, and the keeping them out of knowledge production because their rationalities are understood as unreason. His title is a reference to a work of Nietzsche’s, a major influence of his who has often been understood a mad person, despite having thoughts which can well explain reality. Many of Foucault’s works’ titles refer to works of Nietzsche’s.

Foucault rejected the term structuralist for himself. I’m not sure how he would think about labeling himself a poststructuralist, but he does conceive of changes in underlying power structures over time, a key characteristic of poststructuralist thought. I see that characteristic in the History of Sexuality, when before the incitement to discourse on sexuality, there was more conversation about blood than about sex. [9] As a poststructuralist, he tends to find people as functions of the system, or as functions of power, not power as a function of people. And he finds the underlying power structures of social reality as changing over time. [10] And so in this way, there is power that is being worked out through people.

            Foucault is identifying, in his History of Sexuality, the phenomenon of the increased amount of talk and discourse on sexuality that emerged in the 19th century and into the early 20th century. He also works on examining the Victorian Repressive Hypothesis. Which suggests that people are repressed sexually, and because of this, they are pushed to talk about their sexuality. Then they will experience a sense of freedom when they end up confessing their thoughts and feelings related to sexuality.

            In Herculine Barbin, in the introduction, Foucault identifies that Herculine Barbin was ambiguous as to her sex at birth, [11] and so at birth she was assigned to be female, but later in life, after confession and physician examination, they were titled as a man. Herculine experienced a shift. This is another phenomenon that he seeks to understand and explore within his introduction to their journal.

            Description of how power works comes from Foucault’s work, The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge. Here is where Foucault examines the discourses on sexuality that was not always so prevalent. He suggests that power is pushing people to discourse on sexuality. This is the incitement to discourse. He in the end theorizes that the desire for power to get people to talk about sexuality is that it can be measured, and, as I take an interpretation from James Taylor, the soul is where the body and the way of a person meet, and so if one understands the soul, then one can control and transform a group of people.  So this is what power does.

Foucault moves into talking about the creation of "sex" as a term and with its meaning that goes beyond the standard ways of being. Sex means more than just biological functioning, or pleasure, or desire, but it goes beyond that to mean more. So this is what Foucault examines. He examines the social phenomenon of sexuality and the increased discourse and the increase amount that people talk about it. He explains why it is there by saying that it is a function of power, a power that tries to get people to be understood, as the title explains, the will to knowledge. That is a reference to Nietzsche’s Will to Power. So, he finds this, and has a theory that talks about it.

Butler on gender

Judith Butler is the next thinker we’ll examine. She was born in 1956 in Ohio. [12] Her upbringing had a Jewish influence. [13] She apparently got in trouble and then had to go study privately with a Rabbi. She was very happy to do this however, as she had a regimen, or an agenda of what she wanted to study. She wanted to study existential theology, especially the work of Martin Buber, and she wanted to know whether Nazism could be derived from German idealism, and she wanted to know why Spinoza was excommunicated from the synagogue. She went to undergraduate at Yale, and then did her master’s and doctoral work there as well. Her doctoral dissertation focused on Hegel and desire. [14] She then became a university professor at multiple universities in the US. She came to write some things that became very influential in feminism and queer theory.

            Judith Butler describes the idea that gender is performed (which is distinct from gender performativity). [15] Gender is something which someone receives not out of an inner essence, but instead it is something that one learns and acts out and then others register one’s behavior and person as gender A, B, or whatever else. When someone learns to have their hair long, and often cross their legs in particular ways, these are some ways of performing the female gender, and then the concept of gender performativity comes in. Gender performativity denotes the way that the continual performance of these acts associated with a particular gender create and reinforce that gender in a person. There are ways of acting that make it hard to fit someone into a particular category, but the urge remains in many societies that commonly use the gender binary of male and female. Through the discursive limits, that is, the limits on conversation on what it is to be a particular gender, that shapes the practices of a person, or of a body, and then those end up shaping that person into possessing the particular gender that they have.

            In the third chapter of Gender Trouble, a book Judith Butler published in 1990, entitled Subversion of identity, she talks about The History of Sexuality, the first volume, and she contrasts this with the introduction that Foucault wrote in 1980 to the journals of Herculine Barbin that he published. She points out some discrepancies between what Foucault wrote in 1976 in the History of Sexuality and in 1980 in the introduction. [16] Herculine Barbin was a 19th century hermaphrodite who was part of a group of people who had this as their way of being. She didn’t have other people who were similarly intersexed as she was in her life. She was assigned female status at first, but then later in her life reassigned as a male. That’s when their name changed from Alexis to Herculine. She apparently had a body part which was hard to identify as either a small penis or an enlarged clitoris. The testis were still in the body, but they didn’t seem to be ovaries. And their chest did not seem to have identifiable breasts. Herculine today would be likely understood as intersex.

            Butler points out contradiction between Foucault’s implicit affirmation of emancipatory ideals in the Barbin introduction and his refusal of them in The History of Sexuality. In the History of Sexuality, he tried to be purely descriptive, and find the way that power operates in his archaeological method. Power has subjects of people, people are subject to power, it is not that people have power. This is a description which removes agency and instead understands people as docile bodies. In that conception people are just functions of power. And they haven’t much chance at changing or acting on what is going on. That grinds against the emancipatory ideal. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the emancipatory ideal that is pushed for in hidden ways in the introduction to Barbin. Foucault identifies Barbin as at times, finding a happy limbo of nonidentity, which Foucault seems to praise and celebrate. Yet then he pushes back and asserts that this emancipatory ideal is not the way, yet that emancipatory ideal is still striven for by him.

            Furthermore, in the introduction to Herculine, Foucault explains that he is questioning the category of sex and its necessity. Is it really necessary for people? I see the way that power uses it to subsume and falsely created category that can have a lot under it. Butler goes on to point out that passage in the History of Sexuality where Foucault explains the way that sex as a category artificially includes meanings that it really does not contain. And she goes on to talk about the univocality of sex, as opposed to a plurality of sex, meaning the acknowledgement of a variety of meanings of sex.

Zerilli on the political aim of feminism

Linda Zerilli was a professor of political science at Northwestern University in Illinois, then she was director of Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. and now is a professor of Political Science at The University of Chicago. She has published in 2009 a work called Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom. She is now publishing more works on democracy and other political topics. She is a political science professor, and she had higher education in America. She also was born and raised in America.

She is coming out of a climate that focuses on the stages of feminism. The first stage began in the bridge between the 19th and 20th century, and focused on women’s suffrage. The second wave began in the 60s, and focused on guaranteeing social equality regardless of sex. Third stage feminism began in the 90s, and it destabilized the construct of universal womanhood, body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity. Furthermore, she is writing in a sphere that has been influenced by Monique Wittig, who was a French author of novels, a social theorist, and a lesbian. She understood the category of lesbian as outside of the male and female binary. A lesbian is not a woman, according to Wittig’s essay, One is Not Born a Woman, and that is because to be a woman is to be in specific social relations to men, which means economic dependence, "forced residence", servitude, and other relational qualities.

            Linda Zerilli talks about the univocality of sex. She has concern for the univocality of sex (that is, the meaning of sex as one understanding). She realizes that out of Butler’s work stemmed a critique of this idea of the univocality of sex, that instead there was a plurality of sexes, this means that there are many different experiences of being a woman and or a man. This is how some of the fallout of the discussions lead by Butler resulted in the 90s. She went on to discuss the way that problems come out of the idea that there is only one understanding of women. She wants to figure out an answer to a problem.

            She does not talk about power as much as the other two. Her concern seems more related thinking of ideas directly related to forming political movements and conceiving them. She is concerned the political ramifications the conceptions of Butler and company had on the way that feminism now can or cannot unify. She then goes on to talk about freedom, which is a category discussed by the other authors in their discussions about the constraints of the environments and the effect that those enforcements have on the people that they are related to. Foucault’s History of Sexuality understands environment as having a massive effect on people. Furthermore, Butler understands that power has an effect on the identity constitution of people, as I see in her critique that Foucault left out the acknowledgement that power relations were involved in the constitution of Barbin’s identity.

            The problem Zerilli summarizes that feminists pointed out in response to Butler’s negation of woman as unified category, is that now feminism no longer has a single unitary subject. In whose name is now feminism to be fought? In the name of women? That category has now been problematized and expanded actions are now said to be necessary. The racialized character of second stage feminism was exposed. White women were the sole category, but now, there is a recognition that there are many different understandings of being a woman, and many different experiences, so now it is difficult to work for the sake of one of them.

            Zerilli points out the problems with the notion of a politics which is trying to form a universal theory, which reminds me of some of what was discussed in Contemporary social theory in 2016, that an impulse in postmodernism is to reject the possibility of directly accessing and understanding absolute truth, which I find similar to the idea of universal theories. Jacques Derrida finds the idea difficult that we could fully understand what love is. There we need to cross it out, because it is a problematic notion to think that we fully understood and have grasped the objectivity of it, given our subjectivity. She wants, Zerilli wants judgments to focus more on the particular.

            Zerilli references Hannah Arendt in suggesting a form of politics that is not based on a univocality of women, or a unity of women as a category, but that can comprehend and function off of a plurality of women. Her question is, how can we act in the interest of a group that is so varied and different that we can hardly or can’t even call them a unified group? Instead, we need to admit that there really are many different groups we’re working for here.

            Arendt, according to Zerilli, proposes that we re-examine the subject of freedom, and that instead of seeking to create freedom which is sovereignty for a will, instead we ought to look to create freedom for people to act politically. [17] Also the freedom is for a plurality of who’s, rather than of what’s, and that the action, once controlled, is conceived as not being able to control the outcome, for once the action has been made and put out into the world, then it goes and does its own thing. [18] This is a different conception of the individual and of freedom from what has long been understood by modernism as the way. This who as opposed to what refers to keeping the person in a high degree of complexity. They are not simplified into a what such as woman or white.

            Zerilli comes to suggest that feminism is the pursuit of political freedom, and this butts heads with some of Foucault’s work that suggests that we have docile bodies at work. However, later in his work (early 1980s) we find some admission of some ability to draw on cultural forms that allow us to cultivate the self. [19] There are some ancient practices which are available to us through history, so it is a not totally free understanding, but there is still agency and choice that can be made at the individual level. Zerilli seems to have a very different assumption about the extent to which people can act outside of their conditions have affected them. She seems to suggest that the limits of the environment put on these individuals is less than Foucault finds in his later work, in the latter editions of the history of sexuality, where he turns attention more to ethics.

Conversation on criminality

In this section, I will take some of the major themes presented in the last section, at least the more abstract themes, and apply them to the work of this work, so, there is power, and there is the formation of identity via that power. There is also the goal of feminism as a political project. There is gender, and what that category does. There is the social construction of gender. Some of these themes can be taken and applied also to criminality.

            By criminality I mean the breaking of the law, and the way that a person becomes a criminal as a result of this. What is it that makes them into a criminal? And how are their bodies controlled then? These are some relevant questions to this topic. But the phenomenon itself is the the process of people disobeying the rules that the community they are a part of agreed to form. How are those people treated? In the modern day US, rather, the contemporary US, they are often incarcerated, which Foucault discusses in his Discipline and Punish.

            I will then take the ideas of Butler and Zerilli, and take their theoretical perspective, and consider how that theory would explain or provide understanding of the criminality, or of criminal behavior. How would they understand it? What are the basic questions that those theoretical orientations they have asking? And what part of criminality do they draw our attention to? How are their perspectives different from Foucault’s?

            Exploring the relationship between power and categorization is important in this context because it relates to criminality and to sexuality. People’s sexuality, their identity gets assigned to them by power around them (already, as I suggest this phenomenon, my description is imbued with concepts of Foucault’s). Similarly, people become categorized as criminals by people in positions of power, and that varies from situation to situation. And the meaning of being a criminal varies from context to context. The meaning of that has been socially constructed.

Foucault on the carceral

In 1971, with a few other people, Foucault established a group called the Prisons Information Group (PIG). This group sought to disseminate information about prisons. Foucault stated that this was a dark social space in France. The prisons system is not very visible to the majority of people in the France of the 70s, and still today in the United States. This work involved interviewing prisoners, families, and examining the ways that prisons worked. This work brought along lawyers, social workers, physicians, and other thinkers, one of whom was Jean-Paul Sarte. This work eventually culminated in the book, Discipline and Punish.

            Foucault published Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison in 1975. In this text he goes through the history of how we got to have our contemporary prison system. The system we have today is different than the system that we had for dealing with criminals 1000 years ago. The system then was more about capital punishment, and about inflicting physical pain, and often execution on the subject. Or on the person who was transgressing the law. But now, in the contemporary time, or rather, over history, there was a shift, especially starting in the 18th century. Where there was a group of people who were punishing, and they started to lean towards rehabilitative types of punishment and eventually leading up to the contemporary prison system. These systems began to encouraging various behaviors, this power, that is. Talking about power is very important for Foucault. And in this text, he disciplines himself to talk about power as not emanating from a particular subject, but instead as something which acts and moves separately from just individuals. Sciences that sought to measure people’s movements were part of these new systems. This was discipline. So the power was making effort to create various behaviors, not only to repress them, as many people understand power in a flawed way, according to Foucault.

            Foucault suggests that the modern carceral system was completed with the functioning of a particular school in the mid 19th century France. This institution was for juvenile offenders, and it combined many elements of different institutions into one. It did not only hold prisoners while they served their sentences, but it also provided education, and regimented their every hour. This school had nearly complete control over the actions of the prisoner students.

            Foucault explains this facility as an apparatus of power. Power is instantiated here in this prison system. Here it gets to produce particular behaviors and create the criminals into docile bodies. Here we can see Foucault’s understanding of power as essentially productive, and not as essentially repressive. The repressive actions of power are secondary to the productive actions of power. And her in the prison, we see that the regular daily discipline and schedule are being created in these individuals

            He talks about power making people into a particular way or soul. Then there is an effect that these circumstances have on the prisoners. In this way, the categorization actually transforms the way that the people are and become. That is an extreme effect of the power that does the categorizing. In Foucault’s conception, it is power who is acting to categorizing the people into prisoners. Why does it do this? Because it wants to effect an impact on them.

Butler and criminology

Butler wrote on Discipline and Punish, [20] so we will examine those comments here. He talks about the soul that happens to become part of the person after much hard work and regimentation of the exterior institution that is surrounding them. Their soul is for their bodies to signify the prohibitive law. This means that they take on the manifestations of the law that tells them no. So in some way the way that their bodies move and exist communicates the message of the prohibitive law.

            When we start to imagine what might be said from Butler’s perspective, we can think that this criminality, that it may conflict with something in the lectures that Foucault gave on Territory, Security, and Population. She turned to Herculine and compared it with History of Sexuality, exploring a difference there, but then also going on to give her own critiques, furthering mentioning Herculine’s constructed identity by the power relations that she had. There were the authority figures of the physician and the pastor who she confessed to, and then they reassigned her legally, and then she legally started needing to wear different clothing once he became Herculine.

            Also, we can take Butler’s question about the construction of identity via power relations and apply it to the prisoner or the criminal. A person does not become a criminal until they either confess to an authority that they broke the law, which rarely happens in comparison to the amount that people get caught doing something wrong, and are then labeled as criminals. They become criminals, and that identity seems to go beyond just a label that is used to describe them. It is an identity that seems to be given. If someone becomes a criminal not only in label, but in identity (created by the incarceration and law enforcement systems), then Discipline and Punish’s thesis that the carceral system pushes and creates crime seems to be confirmed. I would not have considered this so much though without the way that Butler had pointed out the construction of identity according to power. Power redefined these individuals once they were caught by the law enforcement. They have the power to allow the state to back them up in their use of force.

            As Butler talks about the formation of power showing up in sex and gender relations, so too can the formation of power show up in the criminal. That identity can be conceived of as a power manifestation. Again, Butler seems to be concerned about power and its manifestations in a way that is similar to Foucault. She seeks to do a genealogical critique, which she understands like Foucault as the founder of, and she understands this critique as looking not for the origin of gender and desire, but as searching for the political effect and use of gender. And so in the same way, we can consider, what are the political effect of labeling people prisoners? Michelle Alexander, in the New Jim Crow: Incarceration in an age of Colorblindness, wrote that parolees are not allowed to vote. People labeled criminals do not need to be appealed to by people running for various governmental positions that require election. That is to the advantage of people looking to maintain the prison system. If those in prison could vote, that would lead to a much greater amount of votes for political candidates who are going to work to shorten the votes of the people who are incarcerated or still in very surveilled statuses, such as probationers an parolees.

            For power and categorization, there is an effect here of the person having their identity built by the power. There is a focus here on identity construction by power that is not explicit in Butler. At least, that was the case in the contrast between History of Sexuality and Gender Trouble, and we’ll assume a similar discrepancy here.

Zerilli and the political aim of prison movements

When we take on Zerilli’s comments and imagine how she might talk about criminality, the social phenomenon, she might point to ask, how much are really free to be outside of their limitations that their environment puts on them? The prison examines nearly every movement of the person. There is the allowing them out to shower which is facilitated by a guard. That is tight surveillance. How much freedom do they have in this intensely viewed and watched system? It seems small. Though they still have the option to follow orders or not. They have the ability to comply with the program or not. however, if they want to leave, they only have one option, and that’s to comply. They must conform their behavior to the behavior that is required by the institution. And in this way, we are seeing that power cultivates particular behaviors, not only represses some behaviors. The behaviors here that are being cultivated are regularity, discipline, an ordered life, and the prison institution is seeking to transform these people into a particular way that can be used to maximize the life of the system that is creating them. Zerilli may push back and suggest that there are more options to them than simply conform to be created in the behaviors that the institution is pushing to give to these people. Perhaps she would suggest that they are a project and they can take part in their own self creation, which is a greater view of their subjectivity and freedom to act in various ways, rather than understanding them as docile bodies.

            Zerilli might ask, can criminals be considered a unified group who can form the basis of a political project? Furthermore, she may go on to ask, do we need a unified group in which to fight for a political cause? Do we need a group’s name to fight in and for? The alternative to fighting for a particular group’s freedom is fighting for freedom in general. Contrary to Foucault’s analysis of people as docile bodies, including those in prison, who are being controlled their every movement to create particular behaviors in them, there these people need freedom just as women do too. Women and criminals both need freedom.

            The incarcerated group, similarly to women, could be difficult to find a unifying definition for. Someone could be considered a criminal if they have a criminal history, while someone maybe only could be considered incarcerated in a narrow definition that understands the people who are currently in jail as incarcerated. Some people could make a broader definition of incarceration to include those in the birdcage as Marilyn Frye discusses.

            Again, Zerilli is not as focused on power as much as she is on the way that politics and freedom is conceived. In this context of criminality, we may be quick to think of freedom merely as being set free from the prison, but she goes on to suggest, in light of Arendt, that freedom should be conceived as the who rather than the what. In this way, there is a rejection of some of the categorization that happens to the subjects of the political agenda or movement. Instead, their who-dom is focused on and supported so that they can participate politically, instead of there being a single name or category, a what being focused on.


In conclusion, I have discussed the arc of conversation on similar topics of sexuality from Foucault, Zerilli, and Butler. Foucault suggested that sexuality was a discourse that was caused by power, in order that power might maximize the productivity of populations.  Butler questioned the category of women as a comprehensive group, and recognized the difference present within that group. Zerilli picked up on the political ramifications of problematizing women as a coherent, unified group. She suggested then an alternative political way which is characterized not by a pursuit of the good of a particular group, but instead she defined feminism as the pursuit of freedom, and she accepted Arendt’s description of freedom as political action rather than as theory.

            I then imagined what the arc might look like on the topic of criminality. Foucault starts with his actually written Discipline and Punish, suggesting that the prison system creates criminals. I imagine that Butler would go on to say that criminals as a coherent group is a problematic category. Furthermore, Zerilli’s idea of a politics that fights for freedom instead of a particular group is more powerful, and that idea can be applied to political projects that move in the name of criminals. The goal there is for them to be freed and treated well, but instead, Zerilli’s idea calls me to think that a political project pursuing freedom generally is better, and a political project that conceives of freedom as political action, rather than as theory.

            Some of the new questions that this opens up are the following: What sort of effect does constitution as a criminal have on a person? What does power have to do with the creation of a criminal? What downfalls exist to a political project seeking the good of prisoners? Such as the project that Foucault worked on, PIG? How might Zerilli be wrong about suggesting that politics in the name of a group might be bad?  Is the category of criminal, or incarcerated a coherent group? How has the category criminal been constructed? What ramifications does our conception of incarceration have on our response to it?


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Frye, Marilyn. The Systemic Birdcage of Sexism essay from the book The Politics of Reality: essays in feminist theory. 1983. Crossing Press: California.

Johnson, Daniel and class. SOC 411. Contemporary Social Theory. Spring 2016. Gordon College.

Kelly, Mark. no date. Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984). Accessed on May 8, 2016 from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource. http://www.iep.utm.edu/foucault/

Rampton, Martha. 2015. Four Waves of Feminism. Accessed from the following on May 10, 2016: http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism

Sparknotes. Discipline and Punish: Michel Foucault. Accessed on May 11, 2016. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/disciplinepunish/summary.html

Taylor, James. Course seminar. Philosophical and Theological perspectives on War and Peace. Fall 2015. Center for the Study of War and Peace.

Wittig, Monique. 1993. One is Not Born a Woman. Essay within the book, The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Edited by Henry Abelove, et. al. Routledge: New York.

Wolters, Eugene. 2014. "43 Years Ago Today: Foucault’s Statement on French Prisons". Accessed on May 10, 2016 from: http://www.critical-theory.com/43-years-ago-today-foucaults-statement-on-french-prisons/

Zerilli, Linda. 2005. Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom. Print. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

—–. Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom: Rejoinder to Ferree, Glaeser, and Steinmetz. 2009. Sociological Theory 27:1. American Sociological Association: Washington, DC.


[1] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. 17. In this chapter, the Incitement to discourse, Foucault presents the way that there was much censorship to begin with in the 17th century, but then people began to feel a liberated feeling when they would share something about sex.

[2] Foucault, The History of Sexuality. 152-153. Here Foucault discusses the additional meaning that has been added on to the term, sex. "one sees the elaboration of this idea that there exists something other than bodies, organs, somatic localizations, functions, anatomo-physiological systems, sensations, and pleasures; something else and something more, with intrinsic properties and laws of its own: "sex."

[3] Foucault, The History of Sexuality. 53. Foucault states that there has been a multiplication of discourse on sex over the last two centuries.

[4] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 4-5. "gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, . . . it becomes impossible to separate out "gender" from the political and cultural intersections in which it is invariably produced and maintained."

[5] Linda Zerilli, Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom, 33.

[6] Mark Kelly. Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984).

[7] Kelly, Michel Foucault.

[8] Discipline and Punish. Google Scholar.

[9] Foucault, The History of Sexuality. 148. In the time of kings through the middle ages and Renaissance, there was a discourse on the symbolics of blood. "The new procedures of power that were devised during the classical age and employed in the nineteenth century were what caused our societies to go from a symbolics of blood to an analytics of sexuality." We can even see this in the language of the Bible and its heavy discussion on blood.

[10] Daniel Johnson. SOC 411 Contemporary Social Theory. Spring 2016.

[11] Michel Foucault. Introduction to Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. xi. "Brought up as a poor and deserving girl in a milieu that was almost exclusively feminine and strongly religious, Herculine Barbin, who was called Alexina by her familiars, was finally recognized as being "truly" a young man."

[12] Brian Duigan. 2012. Judith Butler: American Philosopher. Article on Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed on May 11, 2016: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Judith-Butler

[13] Butler, Judith, and Jonathan Judaken. April 4, 2014. Judith Butler on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Anti-Semitism, and Cohabitation

[14] Judith Butler. 2012. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-century France. vii. "Subjects of desire is the work that emerged from Judith Butler’s dissertation thesis . . . on the reception of Hegel in twentieth-century French thought."

[15] Butler. Your Behavior Creates Your Gender. Video.

[16] Butler. Gender Trouble. 131. Here is the contrast that Butler points out, which is between Foucault’s repression of emancipatory discourse in History of Sexuality, and his indulgence in that discourse in the introduction to Herculine Barbin. "The sexual world in which Herculine resides, according to Foucault, is one in which bodily pleasures do not immediately signify "sex" as their primary cause and ultimate meaning; it is a world, he claims, in which ‘grins hung about without the cat’ (xiii). Indeed these are pleasures that clearly transcend the regulation imposed upon them, and here we see Foucault’s sentimental indulgence in the very emancipatory discourse his analysis in The History of Sexuality was mean to displace."

[17] Zerilli. 2009. Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom: Rejoinder to Ferree, Glaeser, and Steinmetz. 91.

[18] Zerilli. 2005. Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom. 13-14. "Who someone is, by contrast with what she is (for example, a white middle-class American woman, qualities she necessarily shares with others like her) is the unique disclosure of human action in Arendt’s view (HC, 184). This "who" is no substance that can be cognized or in any way known; it can only show itself through ‘manifest signs’ (HC, 182). Although any attempt to capture the ‘who’ in language always risks reducing it to a ‘what,’ the ‘who’ lives on from the stories, narratives, and other human artifacts which speak of it and without which it would vanish without a trace (HC, 184)."

[19] Kelly. Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984)

[20] Butler, Gender Trouble 183.

Here is the syllabus for Contemporary Social Theory.