The politics and gender of truth-telling in Foucault’s lectures on parrhesia

  • Lida Maxwell


This essay challenges dominant interpretations of Foucault’s lectures on parrhesia as affirming an ethical, non-political conception of truth-telling. I read the lectures instead as depicting truth-telling as an always political predicament: of having to appear distant from power (to achieve credibility), while also having to partake in some sense of political power (to render one’s truth significant). Read in this way, Foucault’s lectures help us to understand and address the disputed politicality of truth-telling – over who counts as a truth-teller, and what counts as the truth – that his ethical interpreters tend to neglect. Yet the essay also shows that Foucault’s depiction of the predicament of truth-tellers is problematically gendered: focused on the masculine problem of moving in and out of the public sphere, rather than on the experience of the dispossessed, who are excluded from political power altogether. The essay mobilizes an alternative reading of one of Foucault’s key texts – Euripides’ Ion – to draw out an alternative, more democratic model of the predicament of truth-telling: of having to constitute power that can lend significant to truth-telling, while speaking from a position of powerlessness.


Foucault parrhesia ethics truth and politics feminist theory Euripides Ion 



Thanks to Japonica Brown-Saracino, Sonali Chakravarti, Lisa Disch, Laura Ephraim, Bonnie Honig, Demetra Kasimis, Sara Kippur, Jill Locke, Lori Marso, Ella Myers, Shalini Satkunanandan, Yves Winter, and two anonymous reviewers for comments and discussions. Thanks also to Ayten Gündoğdu and the participants in the Columbia Seminar on Social and Political Thought who offered helpful comments and thoughts on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceTrinity CollegeHartfordUSA

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