Michel Foucault on Discourse

Topics: Michel Foucault, Discourse, Sociology Pages: 24 (5836 words) Published: June 10, 2013
Discourse: based on ideas of Michel Foucault, discourse theory refers to the idea that the terms in which we speak, write and think about the world are a reflection of wider relations of power, and since they are also linked to practise, are themselves important in maintaining that power structure

In the Order of Things (1970) Foucault focuses on fields of knowledge, such as economics, or natural history and the conventions according to which they were classified and represented in particular periods

While they were represented as objective and politically neutral, he shows how areas of knowledge are socially, historically, and politically constructed

Discourses of power while represented as objective and natural actually construct their subjects in particular ways and exercise power over them

Following on from Foucault since late 70 and 80s there has been an increasing awareness of the relationship between discourse (fields of knowledge, statements and practice such as development) and power

So all categories which lump peoples or experience together become politically suspect.

Power and knowledge

For Foucault, a discourse is a group of statements made up of ‘laws of possibility, rules of existence for the objects that are named, designated or described within it, and for the relations that are affirmed or denied in it’

Discourse includes not only language, but also what is represented through language

What we get in this later period is the emergence of government and a fantastic increase in the ability ig the state to control its people

Through discipline

The emergence of new social institutions and practices, involving confinement Confinement refers to the construction of places where people were locked away, secluded, and subject to disciplinary regimes Lunatic asylums, other hospitals, work houses, prisons, even schools

The development of new kinds of knowledge, medicine, psychiatry, criminology, pedagogy, the social sciences, which provided first the criteria for exclusion, difference, the insane, the sick, the criminal, and then proscribed suitable forms of treatment Above all the rise of statistics, which are the science of the state, produces/records knowledge, and basis for allocation and all forms of government

Disciplinary power works on the individual through the disciplining of the body, creating subjects who regulate themselves, governmentality i.e. you wont need repression when scientific knowledge defines what deviant behaviour is F defined power by refusing to reduce is to negative control of the will of others by prohibition Disciplinary power is a form of surveillance that is internalized. Where each person disciplines him or herself


F works anaylse the link between power and knowledge. He oulines a form of covert power through people rather than only on them.

F claims belief systems gain momentum and hence power as more people come to accept the particular views associated with that belief system as common knowledge.

Such belief systems define their figures of authority such as medical doctors or priests in a church.

Within such a belief system or discourse, ideas crystallize as to what is right, what is wrong, what is normal and what is deviant.

Within a particular belief system, certain thoughts or actions become unthinkable.

These ideas are considered undeniable truths, come to define a particular view of the world, and the particular was of life associated with such truths becomes normalized.

This subtle form of power lacks rigidity, and other discourses can contest it. Indeed power itself lacks any concrete form, occurring as a locus of struggle. Resistance through defiance, defines power and hence becomes possible through power. Without resistance, power is absent. This view grants individuality to people and other agencies, even if it is assumed a given agency is part of what power works in or upon. Still in...
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