Amy Allen is Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College, where she has taught since 1997. She chaired the Department of Philosophy at Dartmouth from 2006-2012. She is currently Executive Co-Director of SPEP, the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy; a member of the APA Eastern Division Executive Committee; Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory; and series editor of the Columbia University Press series New Directions in Critical Theory. She has received prestigious fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation. In 2010 she was named one of the 100 most notable alumni of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, one of only two philosophers, and the only woman philosopher, to receive that honor.
Allen received her PhD in philosophy in 1996 from Northwestern, with a dissertation on feminist theories of power, under the direction of Nancy Fraser. In 1999, she published a revised and expanded version of this dissertation as a book entitled The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity (Westview Press). In The Power of Feminist Theory, Allen critically assesses existing feminist conceptions of power, including those presupposed by radical feminists, ethic of care feminists, and French feminists, and draws on the work of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Hannah Arendt to develop a new feminist conception of power. Central to Allen’s conceptualization of power is her distinction between different modalities of power – including power-over, power-to, and power-with – and her attempt to understand how these different modalities relate to one another. Her analysis of power-with, in particular, has been influential in subsequent debates about power.
Allen’s second book, The Politics of Our Selves: Power, Autonomy and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory (Columbia University Press, 2008), furthers the line of inquiry laid out in her earlier work, but focuses more specifically on the relationship between power and autonomy in the constitution of the subject. Here Allen tackles a question that has vexed feminist theorists and critical theorists alike: whether it is possible to understand gendered subjects as both constituted by power relations and capable of being autonomously self-constituting. Allen maintains that it is. Through a critical reconstruction and radical re-interpretation of the work of Foucault and Jürgen Habermas, as well as an analysis of the closely related feminist debate between Judith Butler, Nancy Fraser, and Seyla Benhabib, she develops an account of what she calls the politics of our selves. The aim of this account is to analyze power and subjection in all their depth and complexity but without giving up on the possibility of autonomy understood as critical reflection on and deliberate self-transformation of the relations of power that constitute us as gendered subjects.
Allen’s current research project aims to expand her conceptualization of power to encompass issues of nationality and culture within a transnational frame. This move has been driven by the recognition that a genuinely intersectional analysis of gender subordination must not only encompass race, class, sexuality and gender but must also confront issues of nationalism, colonialism and post-colonialism, and cultural imperialism. Her current work explores the pressure that this transnational, intersectional, postcolonial feminist perspective puts on the broadly speaking left-Hegelian strategy, adopted by prominent critical theorists such as Habermas and Axel Honneth, that seeks to ground normativity in a progressive reading of history. Her aim is to find an alternative strategy for grounding normativity that remains true to the methodology of critical social theory while taking on board a postcolonial-feminist perspective. This project will soon culminate in a book, tentatively titled The End of Progress: Critical Theory in Postcolonial Times.