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Nondomination or Practices of Freedom? French Muslim Women, Foucault, and The Full Veil Ban

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2016

Ohio State University
Inés Valdez is Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, 154 N Oval Mall, 2140 Derby Hall, Columbus, OH 43210 (inevaldez@


This article proposes a conception of freedom understood as practices. Based on Michel Foucault's work on the ethics of the self, I develop a conception of freedom that exceeds liberation and distinguishes between genuine practices of freedom and practices of the self that are unreflective responses to systems of government. I develop and illustrate this conception through an engagement with the recent French ban on full veils in public spaces and the ethnographic literature on European Muslim revival movements. I reconstruct how Muslim women relate to alternative discourses through specific practices of the self. These practices reveal that French Muslim women actively contest discourses of secularism and liberation that construct them as inherently passive and in need of tutelage. The conception I develop sheds light on some shortcomings of Philip Pettit's notion of freedom as nondomination. I argue that the proposed account is useful to, first, criticize the centrality of the opposition between arbitrary and nonarbitrary power in the definition of freedom. Second, I show that the predominant engagement with the external dimension of freedom in Pettit makes it difficult to capture the particular subjective practices that make up freedom and its development in the presence of power and/or attempts at domination.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

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