Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Linda Martín Alcoff

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Philosophy


rape, discourse analysis, resistance


After many decades of feminist struggle, victims of sexual violation finally have the (relative) freedom to speak about their experiences in different venues to diverse audiences; however, they continue to be silenced, spoken over, and spoken for. While scholars and activists maintain close attention to the content of what survivors say and the means by which their speech is suppressed, there is less interrogation into the power relationships that structure the conditions through which this speech is made possible. This approach, sometimes referred to as “Foucauldian discourse analysis,” is associated with the French post-structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault argued that hegemonic discourses about the self in modern societies are largely formed through institutionally regulated, confessional speech. Confession occurs when a subject utters a “true” statement about herself out of a sense of duty. Foucault poses confession as the inverse of critique. In confession, the task for the subject is to name what exists, so what exists can be analyzed and deciphered in intricate detail and its hidden aspects can be illuminated. In critique, identifying what exists is only a door that opens to the more important political task of historical investigation into its conditions of emergence and its potential for transformations. I argue that within American discourse, victims of sexual violation are systemically encouraged to adopt a mode of self- expression that is excessively confessional and insufficiently critical. Victim speech in America is largely mediated by legal, clinical, and media norms of veridiction that often discourage, rather than prompt, critical reflection and theoretical elaboration. To counteract this problem, I propose prioritizing the creation of alternative discourses for victims that evade or subvert these institutional norms.