Foucault n Post Structuralism

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  • 7/29/2019 Foucault n Post Structuralism


    Q) Position of discourse in Post Structuralism from your reading of Foucault.

    Foucault was not a social theorist. He did not concern to create a social theory that would

    "explain" or "interpret" the history of the West in terms of "power." He was not a historian of

    ideas. He presented himself as an "archaeologist," who must be content with describing the

    invisible cultural formations that, he believed, produced the visible social and literary evidence

    he examined. He sought the conditions of possibility of discourse, the rules which governed the

    putting together of statements, and the ruptures in formations where novelty could appear. He

    wrote: "Archaeology tries to define not the thoughts, representations, images, themes,

    preoccupations that are concealed or revealed in discourses; but those discourses themselves,

    those discourses as practices obeying certain rules." (Horus Publications, 1998) The main

    influences on Foucault's thought were German philosophers Frederick Nietzsche and Martin

    Heidegger. Nietzsche maintained that human behavior is motivated by a will to power and that

    traditional value had lost its power over society. The terms genealogy, discourse, essentialism,

    power/knowledge, repressive, hypothesis, subject, discipline, panopticon have remarkable

    significance in Foucault's terminology. However in most of his work a special emphasize will be

    given to these two terms: Discourse and Power. "Discourse in Foucault's vocabulary is an

    authoritative way of describing. Discourses are propagated by specific institutions and divide up

    the world in specific ways. For example, we can talk of medical, legal, and psychological

    discourses. Literary criticism is also a discourse, as is the terminology associated with grading."

    Like the structuralism of de Saussure, Michel Foucault was concerned with, the

    principles by which elements can be organized together to produce coherent and

    meaningful patterns. However, whereas de Saussure would seek the value of such

    patterns with respect to an idealized language system, Foucault always seeks to

    describe concrete relationships that can be described between concrete items. Foucault

    describes arrangements of this kind as discursive formations. Simply put, a discursiveformation refers to the ways in which a collection of texts are organized with respect to

    each other. To draw on Foucaults words, whenever, between objects,types of

    statement, concepts, or thematic choices, one can define a regularity (an order. . .), we

    will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation .

  • 7/29/2019 Foucault n Post Structuralism


    For Foucault discursive formations are entities to be seen, touched, and experienced

    because they are composed of material objects, such as books. It follows, then, that

    because discursive formations are material, they have material effects.

    According to Foucault, we see that 'discourse' (a group of statements) is a way of

    representing the knowledge about a particular topic at a particular historical moment.

    Discourse constructs the topic. It defines and produces the objects of our knowledge. It

    also influences how ideas are put into practice and used to regulate the conduct of

    others. So the meaning is constructed through discourse, nothing has any meaning

    outside of discourse. The main point here is the way discourse, representation,

    knowledge and 'truth' are historicizedby Foucault, in contrast to the ahistorical tendency

    in semiotics. That is, things meant something and were 'true' only within a specific

    historical context. He thought that in each period, discourse produced forms of

    knowledge, objects, subjects and practices of knowledge which differed from period to

    period, with no necessary continuity between them. For instance, there may always

    have been what we now call homosexual forms of behaviour. But 'the homosexual' as a

    specific kind of social subject which was produced, and could only make its appearance

    within the moral, legal, medical and psychiatric discourses, practices and institutional

    apparatuses of the late nineteenth century, with their particular theories of sexual

    perversity. Knowledge about and practices around all these subjectswere historically

    and culturally specific.

    The question of the application and effectivenessof power/knowledge was more

    important, Foucault thought, than the question of its 'truth'. He thought that knowledge

    linked to power, not only assumes the authority of 'the truth' but has the power to make

    itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has real effects, and in that

    sense 'becomes true'. So there is no 'Truth' of knowledge in the absolute sense -- aTruth, whatever the period, setting, context, is a discursive formation sustaining a

    regime of truth(not 'what is true' but 'what counts as true').For Foucault, power does not function as a center but exercise through a net-like

    organization. This suggests that we are all caught up in the circulation of power relation

  • 7/29/2019 Foucault n Post Structuralism


    -- oppressors and oppressed. Power is also productivenetwork which runs through the

    whole social body because it induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, produces

    discourse. For Foucault, the concept of power knowledge is thus a pragmatic

    conceptualization. Foucault's approach to representation is that he concerned with the

    production of knowledge and meaning through discourse. For him, the production of

    knowledge is always crossed with questions of power and the body, and this expands

    the scope of what is involved in representation. For him, it is discourse, not the subject

    which produces knowledge. Discourse is enmeshed with power, but it is not necessary

    to find a 'subject' like the king, the ruling class, the state -- for power/knowledge to

    operate. Of course Foucault was deeply critical of the traditional conception of the

    subject (an individual, the core of the self, and the independent, authentic source of

    action and meaning). His most radical propositions is that the 'subject' is produced

    within discourse. That is, the subject cannot be outside discourse because it must be

    subjectedto discourse and also exists within the knowledge (which is produced by

    discourse), the discursive formation of a particular period and culture. So the subject

    can become the object through which power is relayed, and should be located in the

    position from which the discourse can make sense of it. Anyhow, individuals may differ

    as to their social class, gendered, racial characteristics, they will not be able to take

    meaning until they have identified with those positions which are constructed by the

    discourse, subjectedthemselves to its rules, and hence become the subjects of its

    power/knowledge. Foucault suggests that there are epistemic breaks, that is, at certain

    moments in a culture, there are discontinuous developments in discursive structures.


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