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Poststructuralism and Michel Foucault

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John N. Abletis Prof. Laura L. Samson MA Sociology Student Popular Culture (Socio 243) 2009-79293 UPD-CSSP-Dep’t. of Sociology March 2, 2011 Poststructuralism 1 PART 1 Structuralism vs. Postructuralism Poststructuralism can be defined as “a school of thought that builds upon... but seeks to distance itself from, the structuralism associated with thinkers like Ferdinand Saussure, Roland Barthes [his early works on semiology], Claude Levi-Strauss, Louis Althusser... existentialism, phenomenology, Freudian theory (as well as Marxism).” 2 The conventional route, however, in discussing Postructuralism is its effort to distance itself from Linguistic (French) Structuralism which is, in its turn, distancing itself from Humanism. I. Liberal Humanist tradition in Literary Criticism The HUMANIST model presupposed: 3 That there is a real world out there that we can understand with our rational minds. That language is capable of (more or less) accurately depicting that real world. 1 The following are excerpts from selected references listed under the Bibliography of this written report. Phrases were copied verbatim, except for some occasional editing as indicated by ellipses and brackets. Emphases (in bold letters) are mine. 2 Ritzer, 1997, p. 32 3 http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/1derrida.html 1
Page 1: Poststructuralism and Michel Foucault

John N. Abletis Prof. Laura L. SamsonMA Sociology Student Popular Culture (Socio 243)2009-79293 UPD-CSSP-Dep’t. of Sociology

March 2, 2011


PART 1Structuralism vs. Postructuralism

Poststructuralism can be defined as “a school of thought that builds upon... but seeks to distance itself from, the structuralism associated with thinkers like Ferdinand Saussure, Roland Barthes [his early works on semiology], Claude Levi-Strauss, Louis Althusser... existentialism, phenomenology, Freudian theory (as well as Marxism).”2

The conventional route, however, in discussing Postructuralism is its effort to distance itself from Linguistic (French) Structuralism which is, in its turn, distancing itself from Humanism.

I. Liberal Humanist tradition in Literary Criticism The HUMANIST model presupposed: 3 That there is a real world out there that we can understand with our rational minds.

That language is capable of (more or less) accurately depicting that real world.

That language is a product of the individual writer's mind or free will, meaning that we determine what we say, and what we mean when we say it; that language thus expresses the essence of our individual beings (and that there is such a thing as an essential unique individual "self").

The SELF--also known as the "subject," since that's how we represent the idea of a self in language, by saying I, which is the subject of a sentence--or the individual (or the mind or the free will) is the center of all meaning and truth; words mean what I say they mean, and truth is what I perceive as truth. I create my own sentences out of my own individual experiences and need for individual expression.

II. Structuralism By the mid 20th century there were a number of structural theories of human existence. In

the study of language, the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) suggested that meaning was to be found within the structure of a whole language rather than in the analysis of individual words. For Marxists, the truth of human existence could

1 The following are excerpts from selected references listed under the Bibliography of this written report. Phrases were copied verbatim, except for some occasional editing as indicated by ellipses and brackets. Emphases (in bold letters) are mine.

2 Ritzer, 1997, p. 323 http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/1derrida.html


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be understood by an analysis of economic structures. Psychoanalysts attempted to describe the structure of the psyche in terms of an unconscious.4

In the 1960's, the structuralist movement, based in France, attempted to synthesise the ideas of Marx, Freud and Saussure. They disagreed with the existentialists' claim that each man is what he makes himself. For the structuralist the individual is shaped by sociological, psychological and linguistic structures over which he/she has no control, but which could be uncovered by using their methods of investigation.5

[Structuralists basically argue that] Human culture may be understood as a series of signs or symbols.6

[It] is appealing to some critics because it adds a certain objectivity, a SCIENTIFIC objectivity, to the realm of literary studies (which have often been criticized as purely subjective/impressionistic). This scientific objectivity is achieved by subordinating "parole" to "langue;" actual usage is abandoned in favor of studying the structure of a system in the abstract [--Ferdinand de Saussure]... [That it is] language [that] speaks us; that the source of meaning is not an individual's experience or being, but the sets of oppositions and operations, the signs and grammars that govern language.7

Langue is the formal, grammatical system of language. It is a system of phonic elements whose relationships are governed... by determinate laws... The existence of langue makes parole possible. Parole is actual speech, the way that speakers on a day-to-day basis use language to express themselves.8

To Saussure, language is a ‘closed system in which all parts are interrelated...’ [He developed a theory of synchronic language, how language works in the present. He argued that the relationship between the spoken word (signifier) and object (signified) is arbitrary and that meaning comes through the relationship between signs]9 Especially important... are relations of difference, including binary oppositions... Meanings, the mind, and ultimately the social world are shaped by the structure of language. Thus, instead of an existential world of people shaping their surroundings, we have here a world in which people, as well as other aspects of the social world, are being shaped by the structure of language and its code, or the arbitrary rules for combining words. 10

In structuralism, the individuality of the text disappears in favor of looking at patterns, systems, and structures. Some structuralists… propose that ALL narratives can be charted as variations on certain basic universal narrative patterns. [In short, rather] than seeing the individual as the center of meaning, structuralism places THE STRUCTURE at

4 http://www.philosopher.org.uk/poststr.htm5 Ibid6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism7 http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/1derrida.html8 Ritzer, 1996, p. 594; Ritzer, 1997, p. 299 McBride (n.d.)10 Ibid


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the center--it's the structure that originates or produces meaning, not the individual self. Language in particular is the center of self and meaning; I can only say "I" because I inhabit a system of language in which the position of subject is marked by the first personal pronoun, hence my identity is the product of the linguistic system I occupy.11

In this way of looking at narratives, the author is canceled out, since the text is a function of a system, not of an individual. The Romantic humanist model holds that the author is the origin of the text, its creator, and hence is the starting point or progenitor of the text. Structuralism argues that any piece of writing, or any signifying system, has no origin, and that authors merely inhabit pre-existing structures (langue) that enable them to make any particular sentence (or story)--any parole. Hence the idea that "language speaks us," rather than that we speak language. We don't originate language; we inhabit a structure that enables us to speak; what we (mis)perceive as our originality is simply our recombination of some of the elements in the pre-existing system. Hence every text, and every sentence we speak or write, is made up of the "already written."12

By focusing on the system itself, in a synchronic analysis, structuralists cancel out history. Most insist, as Levi-Strauss does, that structures are universal, therefore timeless. Structuralists can't account for change or development; they are uninterested, for example, in how literary forms may have changed over time. They are not interested in a text's production or reception/consumption, but only in the structures that shape it.13

Saussure and others later extended this concern for language to all sign systems. Roland Barthes was an important figure for this, as his Semiotics “aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all of these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification.”14 Semiotics [is] the study of signs and the various ways in which signs signify or “mean”… [it] is a method of… “reading” and “diagnosing” the productions of culture… A semiotic approach to a narrative, filmic, or televisual text would see the text as a proliferation of signs requiring, first, apprehension as a structure of meaning. Second, each individual sign within the larger structure needs to make sense in relation to that totality. Thus, if, as Saussure suggests, the signs may be ambivalent in itself, the larger structure of meaning is less so.15

French Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss extended Saussure’s work on language to anthropological issues thereby making a wide array of social phenomena amenable to structural analyses i.e. especially when “he argued that both phonemic systems and kinship systems are products of the structures of the mind,” logical structures that are unconscious16 [and neither kinship terms nor the phonemes have meanings in themselves.

11 Ibid12 Ibid13 Ibid14 Roland Barthes in Elements of Semiology, p. 9, Quoted in Ritzer, 1997, p. 3015 Gedalof, Boulter, Faflak, & McFarlane, 2005, p. 1616 Ritzer, 1997, pp. 30-31


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Instead, both acquire meaning only when they are integral parts of a larger system.]17 Levi-Strauss also contended that moiety systems [and cooking i.e. distinction between the raw and the cook] reflect the human mind’s predisposition to think and behave in terms of binary oppositions.18

The works and influence of Saussure, Barthes, and Lévi-Strauss account for the shift of focus in the social sciences from social structures to linguistic structures and more generally “to signs of various sorts”—now known as the linguistic turn.19

According to Maurice Godelier, both Marxists and Structuralists reject empiricism because “As for Marx and Lévi-Strauss a structure is not a reality that is directly visible, and so directly observable, but a level of reality that exists beyond the visible relations between men, and the functioning of which constitutes the underlying logic of the system, the subjacent order by which the apparent order is to be explained.”20

It is especially to this kind of structuralism that Jacques Derrida, the progenitor of deconstructionism, and other poststructuralists would sooner criticize.

II. The uninvited birth of a “terrifying form of monstrosity”

"Here there is a kind of question, let us still call it historical, whose conception, formation, gestation, and labor we are only catching a glimpse of today. I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the operations of childbearing— but also with a glance toward those who, in a society from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away when faced by the as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity."

-Derrida in Writing and Difference, p. 29321

In 1968, Barthes published “The Death of the Author” in which he announced a metaphorical event: the "death" of the author as an authentic source of meaning for a given text. Barthes argued that any literary text has multiple meanings, and that the author was not the prime source of the work's semantic content. The "Death of the Author," Barthes maintained, was the "Birth of the Reader," as the source of the proliferation of meanings of the text.22

“...For the last ten or fifteen years, the immense and proliferating criticizability of things, institutions, practices, and discourses; a sort of general feeling that the ground was crumbling beneath our feet, especially in places where it seemed most familiar, most solid, and closest to us, to our bodies, to our everyday gestures. But alongside this crumbling and the astonishing efficacy of discontinuous, particular, and local critiques, the facts were also

17 Ritzer, 1996, p. 59518 Ember & Ember, 1997, p. 21719 Ibid, p. 2920 Maurice Godelier in Rationality and Irrationality in Economics, Quoted in Ritzer, 1997, p. 3121 Quoted in Dumont, 2008, p. 322 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism


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revealing something... beneath this whole thematic, through it and even within it, we have seen what might be called the insurrection of subjugated knowledges.”

– Foucault in Society Must be Defended, 7th January 197623

III. The context [The] foundational experience of the French intellectual during the

[Nazi] occupation was the underground resistance movement. This was in contrast to the Americans who thought of themselves as heroic conquerors of evil and the German intellectuals who were forced to quit their native society for England or the United States. The French experience thus explained the starkly different, and rival, schools of French social thought in the postwar era. On one side, structuralisms, such as the cultural theories of Claude Lévi-Strauss (who suffered the war in exile), were attempts to rethink the structural whole of culture with respect to its hidden members. On the other side, existentialisms, such as that of Jean-Paul Sartre (whose war experience was shaped by the Resistance), emphasized a radical consideration of the moral choices made in the flux of historical action.24

During and immediately after World War II, French intellectual life was dominated by Marxian theory. However, as many intellectuals began to grow disillusioned with Soviet-style communism, they became attracted to Sartre’s existentialism, especially the promise of individual fulfillment in the modern world. But Sarte’s ideas began to lose favor because he continued to support the communists despite a growing recognition of the repressiveness of the Soviet Union. In their search for alternative theoretical perspective, some scholars were drawn to structuralism, which permitted them to remain socialists while giving their work a non-Marxist theoretical underpinning. Structuralism also appealed to those who wanted to develop a science of human subjects.25

In the late 1960s (i.e. 1968), students and workers rebelled against the state in France. Its impetus was the criminal charges against the "Movement 22 of March' at the University of Paris at Nanterre; Groups were against class discrimination, modern consumer and technical society; they promoted workers' rights, and embraced positions that were critical of authoritarianism and Western capitalism; President Charles de Gaulle called for new parliamentary elections on June 23, 1968; protests subsided, workers went back to work after a series of deceptions by the Confederation Generale du Travail (the leftist union federation) and the PCF (Parti Communiste Francais; French Communist Party); May 1968 a political failure for the protesters but its impact was a major shift from conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) to a more liberal moral ideal (sexual liberation).26

23 Ibid24 Lemert, 2005, p. 28525 Ritzer, 1997, p. 3426 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968_in_France


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French Communist Party’s support for the oppressive policies of the USSR contributed to popular disillusionment with orthodox Marxism. As a result, there was increased interest in alternative radical philosophies, including feminism, western Marxism, anarchism, phenomenology, and nihilism.27

[Feelings of disillusionment] increased in the next few decades as communism progressively unraveled and then collapsed completely in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. In France, the election of a socialist president, Franḉois Mitterand, failed to bring with it the promised reforms. The social democracies throughout Europe that had instituted a variety of well-funded welfare programs began to discover that they could not longer afford such programs. All these failures brought with them the sense that the old hopes for a grand solution had been illusory. In fact, as the excesses of the Soviet Union came to light, they pointed, as had the Nazi Holocaust, to the fact that such grand solutions could just as easily bring terror as hope.28

Led by the feminists, a variety of new social movements arose, and many new voices were being heard within France and throughout the world. These groups were clamoring for greater power over their lives as well as in the societies in which they lived.29

A scant generation [after the war], the name “poststructuralism” came to be affixed to those, such as Foucault, for whom the war had faded as a defining experience. They sought to reconstruct both society and social thought, which led them to develop a theoretical position that was at once structural and existential, without being either objectivist or subjectivist.30 [They] offered a means of justifying [criticisms led by social movements], by exposing the underlying assumptions of many Western norms.31

The map of the world was being redrawn as colonial empires were dismantled, decolonialism proceeded apace, and many new and independent came into existence.32

The economies of the advanced nations, including France, were growing, but poverty and other social ills showed no signs of disappearing. Furthermore, those economies were changing with many industries both retrenching and restructuring... [The] economy was moving from the dominance of Fordist production jobs to post-Fordist service-type occupations. Furthermore, the emphasis seemed to be less on production and more on consumption; were are witnessing the emergence of the “consumer society.”33

Key to the consumer society was the growing importance of the mass media, especially television. The latter not only serves to advertise all of the allures of the consumer society, but it bombards people with a wide array of images that have dramatically

27 Ibid28 Ritzer, 1997, p. 3429 Ibid30 Lemert, 2005, p. 28531 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism32 Ritzer, 1997, p. 3433 Ibid


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altered their lives. Television brought with it an explosion of information, albeit often in the form of infotainment. More generally, information technologies grew and then exploded with the wide-scale availability of home computers.34

IV. What is Poststructuralism? Post-structuralism is not a theory but a set of theoretical positions, which have at their

core a self-reflexive discourse which is aware of the tentativeness, the slipperiness, the ambiguity and the complex interrelations of texts and meanings.35

It is most often associated with the work of thinkers such as Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Thomas Khun, Edward Said, Luce Irigay, Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva.

Lifetime Nationality ProfessionJacques Marie Émile Lacan

1901-1981 French Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist

He took Saussure's ideas and applied them to psychoanalysis, arguing that the unconscious is structured like a language, that is, the unconscious is a semiotic system signs stand arbitrarily for particular meanings. Lacan also postulated that every human being goes through the mirror stage in which we construct our sense of coherent selfhood by seeing ourselves in a mirror (real or imaginary; other people can also mirror us back to ourselves). But that self and its coherence are based on méconnaissance or misrecognition, because the mirror image shows us to be more unified and separate than we actually are. As in Saussure's linguistic theory, here the self has no ontology but is rather a construct, a sign, created through relationship and difference.36

Roland Barthes 1915-1980 French French literary theorist,

Philosopher, Critic, and


Thomas Kuhn 1922-1996 Philosopher The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) [argues that] science is not an

evolutionary, progressive march towards greater and greater truth but rather "a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions" (Foucault's "ruptures") in which one point of view is replaced by another… So science's claim to truth is highly questionable and even ephemeral; since the truths of past science have passed away, we can be certain that what science claims today will itself one day be superseded by the claims of a new paradigm, which will itself one day be superseded…37

34 Ibid35 http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/poststruct.php36 McBribe, (n.d.)37 McBribe, (n.d.)


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Gilles Deleuze 1925-1995 French Philosopher

Michel Paul Foucault

1926-1984 French Philosopher, Historian of

Systems of Ideas, Psychologist, and Political activist

Edward Said 1935-2003 Palestinian-American

Literary theorist, Literary critic,

Political activist He used poststructuralist ideas to analyze Orientalism, the study of the Orient

by academics of the West. He showed how the academics and their disciplines constructed an object of study that had very little to do with the East (which is East, of course, only in relationship to the West, a binary relationship in which one terms has more value than the other).38

Jacques Derrida 1930-2004 French-Jewish Philosopher Derrida bases his thinking on Saussure’s work on speech at the same time that

he critiques Saussure for subordinating and excluding that which was to be become of central concern to Derrida—writing. This led Derrida to the creation of a field, “grammatology,” or the theoretical science of writing.39

Luce Irigaray b. 1932 Belgian Feminist, Philosopher,

Linguist, Pyschoanalyst, Sociologist, and Cultural theorist

Helene Cixous b. 1937 French Feminist writer, Poet, Playwright,

Philosopher, Literary critic,

and Rhetorician

38 McBride, (n.d.)39 Ritzer, 1997, p. 33


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Julia Kristeva b. 1941 Bulgarian-French

Philosopher, Literary critic, Psychoanalyst,

Sociologist, Feminist, and


[It aims] to go beyond the structuralism of theories that imply a rigid inner logic to relationships that describe any aspect of social reality, whether in language (Ferdinand de Saussure or, more recently, Noam Chomsky) or in economics (orthodox Marxism, neoclassicalism, or Keynesianism). Marx and Freud have, alternatively, been described as structuralists (creators of deterministic grand narratives) and as post-structuralists (breaking with the enterprise of creating deterministic grand narratives) in their theoretical innovations and inventions.40

It rejects structuralism because of the inefficiency of structures of language, especially binary opposition, in understanding human culture. 41

It is antihumanist; it rejects the enlightenment subject, and of existential phenomenology; and it rejects claims of absolute truths (metaphysics, metanarratives, logocentrism)42

Contends that all significations are a form of writing… emphasizing the ambivalence of language and impossibility of essential meaning.43

Post-structuralists generally assert that post-structuralism is historical, and classify structuralism as descriptive. This terminology relates to Ferdinand de Saussure's distinction between the views of historical (diachronic) and descriptive (synchronic)reading. From this basic distinction, post-structuralist studies often emphasize history to analyze descriptive concepts. By studying how cultural concepts have changed over time, post-structuralists seek to understand how those same concepts are understood by readers in the present. Structuralists also seek to understand the historical interpretation of cultural concepts, but focus their efforts on understanding how those concepts were understood by the author in his or her own time, rather than how they may be understood by the reader in the present.44

[Jacques] Derrida insists that every text is undecidable in the sense that it conceals conflicts within it between different authorial voices--sometimes termed the text and subtext(s). Every text is contested terrain in the sense that what it appears to "say" on the surface cannot be understood without reference to the concealments and

40 http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/sgabriel/post_structuralism.htm; also Hooker & Murphy, 2005, pp. 189-19041 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism42 Ibid43 Hooker & Murphy, 2005, pp. 189-19044 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism


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contextualizations of meaning going on simultaneously to make the text's significance (e.g. the use of specialized jargon). These concealments and contextualizations might be viewed as the assumptions that every text makes in presuming that it will be understood. But these assumptions are suppressed, and thus the reader's attention is diverted from them.45

Derrida's notion of undecidability rests on his notions of difference and differance. Essentially, he argues that it is in the nature of language to produce meaning only with reference to other meanings against which it takes on its own significance... meaning is a result of the differential significance that we attach to words... Derrida plays on the French word differance to show that one cannot hope to arrive at a fixed or transparent meaning as long as one uses a necessarily deferring as well as differing language: Every definition and clarification needs to be defined and clarified in turn; meaning always lies elusively in the future.46

Post-structuralism recognizes that the power of discourse to shape reality (both perceptions of reality and the concrete reality that is perceived). Discourse (theory) can produce SIGHT of FICTIVE objects, such as race (as in white race), or deny SIGHT of REAL social relationships/objects, such as class (as in feudal class relationships). In other words, at any given moment and theoretical understanding, we experience only limited aspects of the world and some of what we experience is based on falsehoods embedded in some of the discourses we have learned (falsehoods in the sense of not existing separately from the theoretical constructs, not even satisfying the coherence of defined objects within that discourse, as subject to investigation on the basis of the internal rules of coherence and fact of the discourse (e.g. the genetic notion of race fails upon inspection of the correlation between those physical features ascribed to races and the genetic make-up of those so grouped)). 47

As an ontology, overdetermination implies that existence is comprised of mutually constitutive processes.  This overdetermined existence/BEING is complex and not conducive to the rigidity of the grand narrative which seeks to find a singular explicable Truth about reality. In this complexity, all processes are continuously in a state of transformation and Processes are continuousmovement/change/happening.48   

As Heraclitus said, "You can never step in the same river twice."

"Logocentrism is a term that describes the tendency of Western thinkers to privilege one term in a binary opposition over the other term, thus creating a hierarchy that organizes thought (e.g., speech over writing, male over female, reason over superstition). This hierarchy then appears to be a stable and natural one that has its roots in a stable system of language and its elements. Derrida aims to upset these hierarchical relationships by showing that binary oppositions are rarely exhaustive and mutually exclusive, and are

45 Agger, 199146 Ibid47 http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/sgabriel/post_structuralism.htm48 Ibid


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often contradictory, rendering the binary useless for any descriptive or epistemological purposes. In addition, the two terms of a binary opposition define themselves against each other (which he calls supplementarity), and any hierarchy is therefore merely arbitrary" (p. 591). [Logocentrism is also the search for a universal system of though]49

—deconstruction of logocentrism, involves breaking down the ways in which logocentrism operates in order to dismantle its hegemony in Western society.50

Deconstruction involves demystifying a text, tearing it apart to reveal its internal, arbitrary hierarchies and its presuppositions.51

A deconstructive approach examines what is left out of a text, what is unnamed, what is excluded, and what is concealed. But the goal is to do more than overturn oppositions, for this would permit new hierarchies to be reappropriated (Derrida, 1981, p. 59) Deconstruction is not designed to merely unmask "error," for this would assume that truth exists (Vattimo, 1988). Deconstruction, rather, aims to transpose a text—transforming it, re-defining it—all the while simultaneously operating within the deconstructed text itself… Following Nietzche, "deconstruction deconstruct itself, and at the same time creates another labyrinthine fiction whose authority is undermined by its own creation" (Miller, 1981, p. 261)52

Below are the guidelines on the strategies of the deconstructive method.53

 1. Find an exception to a generalization in the text and push it to the limit so that this

generalization appears absurd; in other words, use the exception to undermine the principle.

2. Interpret the arguments in a text being deconstructed in there most extreme form.3. Avoid absolute statements in deconstructing a text, but cultivate a sense of

intellectual excitement by making statements that are both startling and sensational.4. Deny the legitimacy of all dichotomies because there are always a few exceptions to

any generalization based on bipolar terms, and these can be used to undermine them.

5. Nothing is to be accepted; nothing is to be rejected. It is extremely difficult to criticize a deconstructive argument if not clear viewpoint is expressed.

6. Write so as to permit the greatest number of interpretations possible; ambiguity and ambivalence re not to be shunned but rather cultivated. Obscurity may "protect from serious scrutiny" (Ellis, 1989, p. 148). The idea is "to create a text without finality or completion, one with which the reader can never be finished" (Wellberg, 1985, p. 234).

7. Employ new and unusual terminology in order that "familiar positions may not seem too familiar and otherwise obviously relevant scholarship may not seem so obviously relevant" (Ellis, 1989, p. 142).

49 Ritzer, p. 1996, p. 59750 Murphy, 2005, p. 59151 Rosenau, 1992, p. 12052 Ibid53 Ibid, p. 121


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8. "Never consent to a change of terminology and always insist that the wording of the deconstructive argument is sacrosanct." More familiar formulations undermine any sense that the deconstructive position is unique and distinctive (Ellis, 1989, p. 145).

Post-structuralists hold that the concept of "self" as a separate, singular, and coherent

entity is a fictional construct. Instead, an individual comprises tensions between conflicting knowledge claims (e.g. gender, race, class, profession, etc.). Therefore, to properly study a text a reader must understand how the work is related to his or her own personal concept of self.54 

The author's intended meaning, such as it is (for the author's identity as a stable "self" with a single, discernible "intent" is also a fictional construct), is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives. Post-structuralism rejects the idea of a literary text having a single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence. Instead, every individual reader creates a new and individual purpose, meaning, and existence for a given text.55

Emphasis [is given to] a destabilized meaning. In the post-structuralist approach to textual analysis, the reader replaces the author as the primary subject of inquiry. This displacement is often referred to as the "destabilizing" or "decentering" of the author, though it has its greatest effect on the text itself. Without a central fixation on the author, post-structuralists examine other sources for meaning (e.g., readers, cultural norms, other literature, etc.). These alternative sources are never authoritative, and promise no consistency.56

A post-structuralist critic must be able to use a variety of perspectives to create a multifaceted interpretation of a text, even if these interpretations conflict with one another. It is particularly important to analyze how the meanings of a text shift in relation to certain variables, usually involving the identity of the reader.57

54 Ibid55 Ibid56 Ibid57 Ibid


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PART 2Michel Paul Foucault

“Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same... More than one person, doubtless like me, writes in order to have no face”

—Michel Foucault58

I. BiographyA. Reminder:

“I do not understand what kind of problem is common to the people we call post-modern or post-structuralist”

—Michel Foucault59

In reading the work of a particular analyst it is necessary to be aware of the tendency to invoke “the author as the unifying principle in a particular group of writings or statements” –Foucault in Orders of Discourse, p. 1460

Foucault comments on the way in which in literature the author function seems to have become even more important—authors are required to “answer for the unity of the works published in their names;... [to] reveal, or at least display the hidden sense pervading their work;... [and] to reveal their personal lives, to account for their experiences and the real story that gave birth to their writings” (Foucault in Order of Discourse, p. 14)61

“Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same... More than one person, doubtless like me, writes in order to have no face” (Foucault, cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 19)62

[However, far] from becoming a matter of indifference, the author function remains significant and Foucault’s tendency to reinterpret his analyses serves as confirmation that the writing subject has not disappeared...63

Foucault... led an extremely interesting life, and the themes that characterized his life tended to define his work as well. In fact, it could be argued that through his work Foucault was seeking to better understand himself and the forces that led him to lead the life that he did.64

B. Significant events in Foucault’s life58 Foucault cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 19. Quoted in Ritzer, 1996, p. 60559 Smart, 2005, p. 22260 Quoted in Smart, 2005, p. 20861 Ibid62 Quoted in Ritzer, 1996, p. 60563 Smart, 2005, p. 20964 Ritzer, 1996, p. 604


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Foucault was born to a bourgeois family in provincial Poitiers.65

His early schoolwork was undistinguished. Eventually, his intellect began to flourish under the care of priests in a local Catholic school. Thereupon he was sent to Paris, as are many of provincial France's most brilliant young people. Foucault completed his secondary education at the prestigious Lycee Henri IV…66

Thereafter, from 1946-1950, he studies at the École Normale Supérieure, France's elite school of higher education in the arts and sciences.67 Foucault described his time at the ENS as "sometimes intolerable," and accounts of his arguments with fellow students, his attempt at suicide, and his difficulty coming in terms with his homosexuality provide an insight into the difficulties with which he had to cope while pursuing his interests in psychology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry, and reading the works of Bataille, Blanchot, and Klossowski on "transgression" or the "limit experience." The intellectual environment in which Foucault studied was dominated by phenomenology. However, for the students who attended ENS with Foucault in the years 1946-50 it was the philosophy of Hegel, not Sartre, that was of central importance, and only after Hegel, and writing a dissertation on his phenomenology, did Foucault move on the works of Marx, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. Reflecting on this period in an interview conducted in 1984, Foucault explains the "philosophical shock" of reading Heidegger and subsequently the work of Nietzsche, "the two authors I have read the most" (Foucault in Michel Foucault—Politics, Philosophy, Culture. Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, p. 250).68

Foucault enjoyed an excellent formation during the school days in Paris, where he encountered firsthand the teachings of Jean Hyppolite, Louis Althusser, and Georges Canguilhem, all of whom encouraged his gift for rethinking the terms of classical social thought.69

Existentialism and phenomenology represented only one part of the intellectual context in which Foucault’s thinking initially developed; Marxism also exerted a powerful presence. Indeed, in the early 1950s Foucault was a member of the Communist Party, and he is reported to have said that at this time “Marxism as a doctrine made good sense to me” (Eribon, 1992, p. 52). Notwithstanding the influence exerted by Louis Althusser over Foucault, his relationship to Marxism was always somewhat marginal and indirect. When called upon to discuss his intellectual formation in general, and his relationship to Marxism and communism in particular, Foucault remarks that it was through Nietzche and Bataille, rather than Hegelian philosophy, that he found communism—“Thus it was that without knowing Marx very well, refusing Hegelianism, and feeling dissatisfied with the limitations of existentialism, I decided to join the French Communist Party. That was in 1950. A Nietzschean Communist!” (Foucault in Remarks on Marx—Conversations with

65 Lemert, 2005, p. 28466 Ibid67 Ibid68 Smart, 2003, p. 219 69 Lemert, 2005, p. 284


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Duccio Trombadori, p. 58). Within a very few years Foucault’s “feeling of discomfort and uneasiness” with Communist Party political practices caused him to leave the party and immerse himself to his studies...70

Still, after an initial failure in 1951, Foucault passed France's most competitive and distinguishing postsecondary examination, the agrégation de philosophie, an achievement that virtually assures career success, especially for intellectual.71

On receiving the agrégation in 1951 Foucault left the ENS for the Fondation Theirs, where he spent a year doing research before going on to teach at the University of Lille in 1952. In Lille Foucault wrote a book, Maladie mentale et personnalité (1954), and a long introductory essay to Ludwig Binswanger's Le Rêve et l'existence (1954).72

In 1955, he turned to government service as a cultural attaché to French foreign missions in Uppsala,73[Sweden, to escape the constraints of French social and cultural life and to try to find greater personal freedom].74

[At the University of Uppsala, where he worked as a French instructor in the Department of Romance Studies],75 he began the archival research for… Folie et déraison: Historie de la folie á l' âge classique (partially translated into English as Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1965). [He later left the University because of intellectual and personal disappointment. From Sweden, Foucault moved in 1958 to the University of Warsaw and then to the Institut Français in Hamburg, before returning to France in 1960]76 The years abroad gave Foucault the freedom to deepen his understanding of psychology, to begin his research career, and to enjoy the pleasures and risks of gay sexual life.77

Foucault remained mobile, moving from the University of Clermont-Ferrand, where he taught psychology and philosophy (1961-6), to a philosophy post at the University of Tunis (1966-8), on very briefly, literally a matter of weeks, to the University of Nanterre, and from there to the University of Vincennes, to a tenured professorship in philosophy (1968-70), finally being appointed in 1970 to a chair in the History of Systems of Thought at the most prestigious institution in France, the Collège de France in Paris, where he remained until his death in 1984.78

In 1961, Folie et déraison was published, and the year following, it was presented and defended as his thesis for the doctorat d' étati, France's highest postgraduate degree.79

70 Smart, 2003, p. 22171 Lemert, 2005, p. 284 72 Smart, 2003, p. 22073 Lemert, 2005, p. 28474 Smart, 2003, p. 22075 Ibid76 Ibid77 Lemert, 2005, p. 28478 Smart, 2003, p. 22079 Lemert, 2005, p. 284


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Immediately, Foucault’s reputation grew as more and more of his writings appeared: Maladie mentale et psychologie (1962), Raymond Roussel (1963), Naissance de la clinique (1963), Les mots et les choses (1966), and L’archaeologie du savoir (1969).80

Foucault returned to France in the wake of May 1968.81 [He] did not participate in the political struggles which took place on the university campuses and in the streets of France during May 1968, as he was working at the University of Tunis at the time, but he has acknowledged that the transformations induced in the intellectual and political climate had a decisive influence upon his work—“it is certain... that without May of ’68, I would never have done the things I’m doing today: such investigations as those on the prison, sexuality, etc., would be unthinkable’ (Foucault in Remarks on Marx—Conversations with Duccio Trombadori, p. 140). As well as making possible the study of particular practices and institutions, the events of May 1968 contributed to Foucault’s thoughts on the changing status of the intellectual, and the possibility of “reaching a new kind of relationship, a new kind of collaboration between ‘intellectuals’ and ‘non-intellectuals’ that would be completely different from the past (ibid, p. 142).82

In the aftermath of 1968, the French government created a new experimental university, Paris VIII, at Vincennes and appointed Foucault the first head of its philosophy department in December of that year. Foucault appointed mostly young leftist academics… whose radicalism provoked the Ministry of Education, who objected to the fact that many of the course titles contained the phrase "Marxist-Leninist," and who decreed that students from Vincennes would not be eligible to become secondary school teachers. Foucault notoriously also joined students in occupying administration buildings and fighting with police.83

Foucault's tenure at Vincennes was short-lived, as in 1970 he was elected to France's most prestigious academic body, the Collège de France, as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought. His political involvement increased, and his partner Defert joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault helped found the Prison Information Group (French: Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons or GIP) to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns. This coincided with Foucault's turn to the study of disciplinary institutions, with a book, Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), which "narrates" the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the 18th century, with a special focus on prisons and schools.84

Translations of [his] books established Foucault’s international reputation as a revolutionary social thinker and historian: Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1973), The Order of Things (1970), and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972).85

80 Ibid81 Smart, 2003, p. 22082 Ibid, p. 22283 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault84 Ibid85 Lemert, 2005, p. 284


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For Foucault, the regular visits [to the US in the 1970s], especially to the University of California at Berkeley, were a relief from the pressures at home and a free space to explore his own personal politics—to both creative and tragic ends.86

Moi, Pierre Rievière ayant égorge ma mere, ma soeur et mon frère [Moi, Pierre Rievière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother] (1973) was published.

Surveiller et puner: Naissance de la prison [Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison] (1975) was published.

Foucault had… a "limit experience” (where people [including himself] purposely push their minds and bodies to the breaking point)… at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley in the spring of 1975. There Foucault tried LSD for the first time, and the drug pushed his mind to the limit: "The sky has exploded… and the stars are raining down upon me. I know this is not true, but it is the Truth" (cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 250). With tears streaming down his face, Foucault said, "I am very happy… Tonight I have achieved a fresh perspective on myself… I now understand my sexuality… We must go home [to the self] again" (cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 251).87

La volonté de savoir [The History of Sexuality: An Introduction] (1976) was published.

After the first volume of The History of Sexuality, in 1976, there was a long wait for Foucault's next books. He was, in these years, as productive as ever as an essayist, activist, teacher, and researcher. The demands on him in France had grown to a degree that lesser men would have found them unbearable. He spent more and more time at Berkeley. San Francisco drew him not only for the pleasure of the intellectual company at the university but also for the sexual pleasures of the gay community, in the days before AIDS was known to be what it has become.88

Foucault appears to have been drawn to the impersonal sex that flourished in the infamous bathhouses of that time [in San Francisco]. His interest and participation in these settings and activities were part of a lifelong interest in "the overwhelming, the unspeakable, the creepy, the stupefying, the ecstatic" (citied in J. Miller, 1993, p. 27). In other words, in his life (and his work) Foucault was deeply interested in "limit experiences" (where people [including himself] purposely push their minds and bodies to the breaking point) like the impersonal sadomasochistic activities that took place in and around bathhouses… As he put it, "I think S/M is much more than that; it's the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure, which people had no idea about previously" (Foucault, cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 27).89

86 Ibid87 Ritzer, 1996, p. 60588 Lemert, 2005, p. 28889 Ritzer, 1996, p. 604


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Thus, sex was related to limit experiences, and both, in turn, were related in his view to death: "I think the kind of pleasure I would consider as the real pleasure would be so deep, so intense, so overwhelming that I couldn't survive it… Complete total pleasure… for me, it's related to death" (Foucault, cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 27).90

Herculin Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth century French Hermaphrodite (1980) was published.

When back in France, Foucault made the time to research the history of sexuality. Then, he worked mostly in the archives of the Catholic traditional and turned ever more back to the Greeks...91

Even in the fall of 1983, when he was well aware of AIDS and the fact that homosexuals were disproportionately likely to contract the disease, he plunged back into the impersonal sex of the bathhouses of San Francisco…According to Foucault's longtime companion, "He took AIDS very seriously… When he went to San Francisco for the last time, he took it as a 'limit-experience'" (cited in J. Miller, 1993, p. 380).92

The second and third volumes of the sexuality project, L’usage des plaisirs, 1984 (The Uses of Pleasure, 1985) and Le souci de soi, 1984 (The Care of the Self, 1986) were published.

Foucault died of AIDS on June 25, 1984 [at 57 years of age],93 just as his books on the care of the pleasuring self appeared.94

II. Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse of Language (1969, 1971/1976) Foucault is more interested in the “micro-politics of power”

[The] reader can appreciate that though books such as Archaeology of Knowledge are intensely theoretical (and to some impenetrable), Foucault's theoretical position was forged on strict empirical grounds. [In] contrast to many widely read and productive historians, Foucault is known to have done the archival work himself… To work on a daily basis with fragile pages of letters or court documents (or poor facsimiles thereof) is to experience the strange effect of the past on the researcher. One digs through the layers to find documents as real as any one finds today. But always the question is: In what does the truth or reality of the text subsist? It is never, for example, possible to fact-check an ancient text by asking its authors what they meant. Archives of the historical past are, strictly speaking, unguarded by the voice of an author. In other words, they are pure discourse, outside the sphere wherein anyone can second-guess the meanings. In contrast, even, to literary texts, where one is tempted to imagine what the poet meant, it is nearly impossible to attribute meanings to the archival texts. Most of the time, the author or authors are unknown. When they are known, usually

90 Ibid, pp. 604-60591 Lemert, 2005, p. 28892 Ritzer, 1996, p. 60593 Ritzer, 1996, p. 60494 Lemert, 2005, p. 288


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(as in the case of private letters) the texts convey meanings outside and often at odds with the exterior record of their public lives.95

The interpretation of texts without authors is closer, thereby, to natural history and astronomy than to survey research or ethnography. It is, in short, to use the word Foucault made famous, closest of all to the work of the archaeological digs of the physical anthropologist… The story of the first man is a story without an author. Foucault chose his terms prudently when he described his method, first, as an "archaeology" and later as "genealogy."96

Archaeology' is the term Foucault used during the 1960s to describe his approach to writing history. Archaeology is about examining the discursive traces and orders left by the past in order to write a 'history of the present'. In other words archaeology is about looking at history as a way of understanding the processes that have led to what we are today.97

In Foucault's method, the truth of the archival past is a truth that survives on the wings of the descriptive presentation of the facts, that is, on the descriptive work permitted in a given historical time by the predominant community of discourse. Whether in science or practical life, certain things cannot be said, however true they may be… The prevailing norms do not always allow the ancient truths to be told. Hence, madness was not originally a disease, even a disorder; and punishment was a cruel public spectacle without the least consideration of rehabilitating the interior attitude of the criminal. Likewise, medicine before the modern era was a kind of epidemiological study (often of humors or fluids, only later of germs) in a world in which, remarkable, the body was not a significant etiological site due to moral restrictions on the physical examination of bodies. In a similar fashion, what we today call the "social sciences" were, in the classical era, the formal classification of naturally occurring forms that corresponded to abstract types, as opposed to the empirical examination of variances as they occur in the evidentiary record. When one works in archives, the labor is so time-consuming that as much as one would like to it is impossible to go to ancient court records looking for some preconcieved form. One can only read, and take notes, and read, then (as Max Weber one said) wait for the idea to occur to you.98

The unity of such statements, the way that they come to form a science or a discipline, does not come from the human subject or the author… but rather from basic discursive rules and practices extant at a given time and place (Flynn, 1978). More specifically, Foucault is interested in the basic discursive practices that formed the base of scientific discourse, particularly in the human sciences.99

95 Ibid, p. 28696 Ibid97 O’Farrell, 200798 Lemert, 2005, p. 28699 Ritzer, 1997, p. 38


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To Foucault, archaeology is concerned with objects, things without context, articles left from the past, silent moments... In focusing on objects, he wants to move away from the sovereignty of the subject [humanism] that has reigned, in his view, since the nineteenth century... Thus, [he] takes as his goal the creation of “a method of analysis purged of all anthropologism”; his position is anti-humanistic (Panden, 1987).100

Instead of focusing on people and what they say, Foucault (1978) focuses on discourse as practice.[... He] is interested in getting, at least initially, at the regularities that exist within discourse [not the traditional unities such as psychopathology]. He traces those regularities to [major fields] of relationships—relations between statements, between groups of statements, and the “relations between statements and groups of statements and [more sociologically] events of a quite different kind (technical, economic, social, political)” (Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 29).101[...] Specifically, he is interested in discursive formations where a system of dispersion exists among the statements where there is regularity among elements such as “objects, types of statements, concepts, or thematic choices” (Ibid, p. 38)... Alan Sheridan contends that Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge involves a search for “a set of rules of formation that determine the conditions of possibility of all that can be said within the particular discourse at any given time” (1980, p. 48). Foucault admits that this is an blank , uncharted, indifferent space , but he is prepared to focus on it rather than the foci of most of his predecessors—authors, oeuvres (bodies of work), the origin of ideas , influences, traditions, and most generally the history of ideas.102

Foucault outlines a five-step process for the analysis of a field of discursive events:103

o Grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrenceo Determine its conditions of existenceo Fix at least its limitso Establish its correlates with other statements that may be connected with ito Show what other forms of statement it excludes

“The rules of formation of... concepts “operate not only in the mind or consciousness of individuals, but in discourse itself, they operate... on all individuals who undertake to speak in this discursive field” (Foucault, 1969, p. 40). He looks at the three major fields mentioned above and is interested in both the similarities and differences among concepts (as well as other elements of discourse) in these fields.104

Foucault’s unit of analysis in such comparative studies is the statement... [which was] thought of as functions than structures... As functions, statements “cuts across a

100 Ritzer, 1997, pp. 38-39101 Ritzer, 1997, p. 39102 Ibid, p. 40103 Ibid, p. 39104 Ibid, p. 40


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domain of structures and possible unities, and... reveals them, with concrete contents, in time and space” (Foucault, 1969, p. 87). In these terms, a discourse (or a discursive formation) can be defined as the “group of statements that belong to a single system of formation” (Foucault, Ibid, p. 107).

One way to look at this is to recognize a system of discourse as a system of exclusion or constraint. It is a set of boundaries as to what can be said and what cannot be said; accordingly, if something cannot be said, it cannot even be thought about. Foucault suggests there are three great forms of exclusion: the division between madness and reason; prohibited words; and the will to truth.105

Foucault articulates four principles that distinguish the archaeology of knowledge from the history of ideas[which is concerned with the genesis of ideas, their continuity over time, as well as totalizations such as the spirit of an age]:106

o Archaeology does not focus on the “thoughts, representations, images, themes, preoccupations that are concealed or revealed in discourses.” Rather, it is concerned with “those discourses themselves... as practices obeying a certain rules.” To put it another way, archaeology does not treat “discourse as document, as a sign of something else,” but is rather concerned with discourse itself “as a monument.” Archaeology “is not an interpretive discipline: it does not seek another, better-hidden discourse” [or underlying structures] (Foucault, 1969, p. 139)

o Archaeology does not seek to rediscover the linear and gradual slope that characterizes discourses and their relationship to the other discourses that precede, surround, and succeed them. Rather, the goal “is to define discourses in their specificity... a differential analysis of the modalities of discourse” (Ibid).

o Archaeology is not concerned with individual bodies at work, or oeuvres. Rather it is concerned with the “types of rules for discursive practices that run though individual oeuvres”; rules that govern them in whole or in part. It therefore involves a rejection of a focus on the author of the oeuvre and does not see the author as the basis of the unity of that work (Ibid).

o Finally, archaeology does not involve a search for the origins of discourse, but rather “it is the systematic description of a discourse-object” (Ibid).

Foucault is very interested in contradictions... To [him...] a contradiction is “the very law of its [discourses] existence: it is on the basis of such a contradiction that discourse emerges... contradiction is ceaselessly reborn through discourse... Contradiction, then, functions throughout discourse, as the principle of its historicity.” The goal is not to “uncover” contradictions but to describe them in themselves; they are objects to be described in themselves; they are objects to be described through archaeological analysis. Rather than seeking to eliminate

105 Collins, 1998, p. 262106 Ritzer, 1997, p. 41


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contradictions as does the history of ideas, “archaeology describes the different spaces of dissension” (Foucault, 1969, p. 152).107

The goal is to compare contradictions; indeed archaeology is inherently comparative... [It] is always plural looking at two or more discourses simultaneously... [It looks for] the tangle of contradictions and analogies that make up one discourse in contrast to others.108

“The archaeological description of discourses is deployed in the dimensions of a general history; it seeks to discover that whole domain of institutions, economic processes, and social relations on which a discursive formation can be articulated” (Foucault, 1969, p. 164)109

While it was written prior to The Archaeology of Knowledge, The Order of Things can be seen as an effort to apply at least an earlier conception of archaeology to a specific set of intellectual issues. [i.e. his historical studies of the human science—the natural science of biology (“naturalist”), economics, and linguistics (“grammarians”):110

Unknown to themselves, the naturalist, economists, and grammarians employed the same rules to define the objects proper to their own study, to form their concepts, to build their theories. It is these rules of formation [discourses] which were never formulated in their own right, but are to be found only in widely differing theories, concepts, and objects of study, that I have tried to reveal, by isolating, as their specific locus, a level that I have called, somewhat arbitrarily perhaps, archaeological. Taking as an example the period covered in this book, i have tried to determine the basis or archaeological system common to a whole series of scientific “representations” or “products” dispersed throughout natural history, economics, and philosophy [or linguistics] of the Classical period.

-Foucault in The Order of Things, pp. xi-xii

To put it succinctly and in terms of the title of his work, Foucault is seeking to describe archaeologically the order among (discursive) things in the fields of biology, economics, and linguistics.111

[Foucault is pointing that transitions in episteme do] not necessarily represent progress but merely a change in the way things are ordered [and conceived].112

Epistemic changes113

16th century 17th century 18th century, [mid 20th century]

107 Ibid108 Ibid, p. 42109 Ibid110 Ibid111 Ibid, p. 43112 Ibid. Episteme is the body of ideas that determine the knowledge that is intellectually certain at any particular 

time (from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/episteme)113 Ritzer, 1997, pp. 43-45


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[19th century]characterized by the view that the empirical world is composed of “a complex of kinships, resemblances, and affinities” (Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 54)

Representations replace resemblance: “It is through resemblance that representations can be known, that is, compared with other representations that may be similar to it, analysed into elements (elements common to it and other representations), combined with those representations that may present partial identities, and finally laid out into an ordered table” (ibid, p. 68)… “The fundamental task of Classical ‘discourse’ is to ascribe a name to name things, and in that name to name their being.” (Ibid, p. 141)

Representation has been displaced, and knowledge has “now escaped from the space of the table” (Ibid, p. 239). The new basis of knowledge is the “transcendental field of subjectivity” (Ibid, p. 250). More specifically, “what matters is no longer identities, distinctive characters, permanent tables with all their possible paths and routes, but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history” (Ibid, p. 251)… Thus, in the Modern Age, the human being is born and replaces the table as the center of our systems of knowledge.

Linguistic turn. Focus has shifted from human beings to language.

Foucault’s early archaeological analysis of discourse was later abandoned for an even more poststructuralist approach because Foucault came to realize that is archaeology was silent on the issue of power as well as on the link between knowledge and power. Foucault’s genealogy [of power] focuses on the origins (in concrete historical conditions) and the (largely discontinuous) development of power/knowledge regimes. The most important source [of this thinking] is his 1971 lecture and essay, “The Discourse on Language.”114

I am supposing that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed according to a certain number of

114 Ibid, p. 45


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procedures whose role is to avert its powers and dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous awesome materiality.

—Foucault in The Archeology of Knowledge, p. 216

Foucault's remarks on the difference between archaeology and genealogy are generally rather vague and confusing. The tools Foucault uses to practice both methods are to all intents and purposes the same. But, if archaeology addresses a level at which differences and similarities are determined, a level where things are simply organized to produce manageable forms of knowledge, the stakes are much higher for genealogy. Genealogy deals with precisely the same substrata of knowledge and culture, but Foucault now describes it as a level where the grounds of the true and the false come to be distinguished via mechanisms of power.115

Foucault identifies four domains in which discourse is considered to be particularly dangerous: politics (or power), sexuality (or desire), madness, and most generally, what is considered to be true or false. Foucault, following Nietzsche, identifies the latter area as the “will to truth” or “the will to power.” In linking these, Foucault (like Nietzsche) is linking knowledge to power; the idea that knowledge is pursued for its own sake, and not to gain power, is rejected by Foucault.116

Foucault (in The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 220) differentiates between systems of exclusion… and “internal rules, where discourse exercise its own control; rules concerned with the principles of classification, ordering and distribution.” That is, disciplines have their own rules that serve to control what is said in them.117

Thus, Foucault sees himself as undertaking two often (but not always) interrelated tasks. The first is the critical task of dealing with “forms of exclusion, limitation and appropriation… how they are formed, in answer to which needs, how they are modified and displaced, which constraints they have effectively exercised, to what extent they have been worked on” (Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 231). The second, or genealogical, task is to examine “how series of discourse are formed, through, in spite of, or with the aid of these systems of constraint: what were the specific norms for each, and what were the conditions of appearance, growth, and variation” (Ibid, p. 232).118

Overall, Foucault is concerned with how people regulate themselves and others through the production and control of knowledge. Among other things, he sees knowledge generating power by constituting people as subjects and knowledge being used to govern the subjects.119

115 O’Farrell, 2007116 Ibid117 Ibid, p. 46118 Ibid119 Ibid


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Although he sees links between knowledge and power, Foucault does not see a conspiracy by elite members of society. Such a conspiracy would imply conscious actors, whereas Foucault is more inclined to see structural relationships, especially between knowledge and power…[Further] Foucault believes that knowledge-power is always contested; there is always ongoing resistance to it.120

III. Madness and Civilization (1961) Foucault is doing… an archaeology of knowledge… of psychiatric knowledge.121

[Foucault] begins with the Renaissance, when madness and reason were not separated, when there was an incessant dialogue between madness and reason, when they both spoke the same language. However, in the Classical Age (between 1650 and 1800), distance between them was established, the dialogue began to be silenced, they began to speak different languages, and ultimately, reason came to subjugate madness. In other words, one form of knowledge came to exert power over another (madness). Foucault is describing “a broken dialogue” between reason and madness (Foucault, 1961, p. x), one with the following end result:122

Here reason reigned in the pure state, in a triumph arranged for it in advance over a frenzied unreason. Madness was thus torn from that imaginary freedom which still allowed it to flourish on the Renaissance horizon. Not so long ago, it had floundered about in broad daylight, in King Leari, in Don Quixote. But in less than half-century, it had been sequestered and, in the fortress of confinement, bound to Reason, to the rules of morality and to their monotonous nights.

—Foucault in Madness and Civilization, p. 64

Foucault does not see what has happened to the mad as an isolated process. The same kind of thing was happening to others, including the poor, the unemployed, and prisoners. Thus, the Renaissance is the period of the founding of houses of confinement—madhouses, workhouses, and prisons… [They] are not to Foucault what they purport to be but rather part of a broad system in place during the Renaissance to judge and to oppress people.123

While this system may not have succeeded in terms of its original purposes [of forestalling agitation and uprising by putting people to work and by confining others who could not work in places like hospitals, prisons, and mental institutions during the economic crises in the 17th & 18th century], it did serve to define the lack of work, that is, idleness… as an ethical and moral problem. And from the beginning the mad were linked to the poor and the idle. For the first time in history, institutions of morality were formed combining moral obligation and civil law. More generally, things like morality, virtue, and goodness became concerns of the state.124

120 Ibid, p. 47121 Ibid122 Ibid123 Ibid, p. 48124 Ibid. Until the seventeenth century, what was considered to be evil was dealt with in public. The 17th century

witnessed the beginnings of the rise of confinement for those who were considered “evil.” By the eighteenth


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The scientific psychology and psychiatry of the nineteenth century eventually arose out the separation of the made from the sane, the “invention of madness, in the eighteenth century… psychiatry [was described by Foucault] as a “monologue of reason about madness” (Foucault, 1961, p. xi). At first, medicine was in charge of the physical and moral treatment of the mad, but later scientific psychological medicine took over the moral treatment. It was the definition of madness as a moral problem that made psychology possible… Thus, for Foucault, psychology (and psychiatry) is a moral enterprise, not a scientific behavior, aimed against the mad who are progressively unable to protect themselves from this “help.” He sees the mad as being sentenced by so-called scientific advancement to a “gigantic moral imprisonment.”125

Unreason had emerged from confinement in the eighteenth century because of a fear that mental disease was spreading in the houses of confinement. It was as if “maleficent vapors” were pervading the institutions. While this new fear was put in medical terms, it was “animated, basically, by a moral myth” (Foucault, 1961, p. 202). In any case, “unreason was once more present; but marked now by an imaginary stigma of disease, which added its powers of terror” (Ibid, p. 205)… It was this, more than improved knowledge, that led medicine to deal with mental illness.126

One example of such an “advance” was the great reform movement of the second half of the eighteenth century in which houses of confinement were more completely isolated so that they could be surrounded by purer air. Such isolation was also designed to allow “evil” to vegetate in the asylums without spreading to the larger community. This served to eliminate, in the view of the day, the risk of contagion while at the same time retaining the asylum, and the mad contained in it as an example for the spectators. It remained “a spectacle conclusively proving the drawbacks of immorality” (Foucault in Madness and Civilization, p. 207)127

Needless to say, Foucault rejects the idea that over the years we have seen scientific, medical, and humanitarian advances in the treatment of the mad. What he sees, instead, are increases in the ability of the sane and their agents (physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists) to oppress and repress the mad who, we should not forget, had been on equal footing with the sane before the Renaissance. More recently, the mad have come to be less judged by these external agents and more by themselves; “madness is ceaselessly called upon to judge itself” (Foucault in Madness and Civilization, p. 265)… [Madmen were made] to be aware of, to feel guilty about, their own madness. Madmen were sentenced to a lifetime of anguish of responsibility and conscience. As a result, the mad were forever vulnerable to punishment not only by others but also by themselves. 128

century the process had reached such an extreme that it was believed that only oblivion, like that associated with confinement, could suppress evil. Shame had come to be associated with that which was inhuman (Ibid).

125 Ibid, p. 49126 Ibid, pp.49-50127 Ibid, p. 50128 Ibid


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[The] inmate is “imprisoned in a moral world” (Foucault, 1961, p. 269)129

IV. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1963) It is a historical shift in the gaze of medicine that is the focus of Foucault’s


In the eighteenth century, medicine was largely a classificatory science [of diseases]…As yet there was not clinical structure in medicine. However, in the nineteenth century the gaze of the medical practitioner shifted from the classificatory system, from the “table [of classification],” to the patient and the patient’s body. The key was the development of the clinic where patients were observed in bed (Long, 1992). Here the gaze of the physician on the body “was at the same time knowledge” (Foucault, 1963, p. 81)130

The ability to see and touch sick people [and to examine, gaze upon, dead bodies in autopsies] was a crucial change in medicine and an important source of knowledge (and ultimately power)… [The] ability to study the dead illuminated many things about health, disease, and death… Because of the autopsy and its focus on things like diseased organs, the “being,’ and the “essence,” of diseases disappears. We are left with the realization that all that exists is a series of diseases caused by “a certain complex movement of tissues in reaction to an irritating cause” (Foucault, 1963, p. 189). In addition to the deromantization of human life (and death), with this, the medicine of diseases ends and the medicine of pathological reactions begins.131

Foucault sees the anatomo-clinical gaze as the “great break” in Western medicine. Thus, there is no gradual evolution of knowledge leading up to the gaze. Rather, anatomo-clinical gaze represented a fundamental epistemic change… After the change in the gaze, doctors were no longer playing the same game; it was a different game with different rules. In the new game, people (patients), and not the disease as part of a broader classification system, had become the object of scientific knowledge and practice.132

[A] radical change in medical knowledge took place: “A way of teaching and saying became a way of learning and seeing” (Foucault, 1963, p. 64)… Seeing replaced dogmatic language as a way of learning the truth.133

“The science of man… was medically… based” (Foucault, 1963, p. 36)… prior to the nineteenth century… medicine was a classificatory science, and the focus was on a clearly ordered system of diseases. But in the nineteenth century, medicine came to focus on diseases as they existed in individuals and the larger society (epidemics). Medicine came to be extended to healthy people (preventive care), and it adopted a

129 Ibid, p. 51130 Ibid, p. 53131 Ibid132 Ibid133 Ibid, pp. 53-54


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normative posture distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy and, later, normal and pathological state.134

It is understandable, then, that medicine should have had such importance in the constitution of the sciences of man—an importance that is not only methodological, but ontological, in that it concerns man’s being an object of positive knowledge”

—Foucault in The Birth of the Clinic, p. 197

V. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975/1979) [The] genealogy of power takes more of center stage, and much less attention is

devoted to the archaeology of knowledge, structuralism, [and] discourse…135

[Power] and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relations without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”

—Foucault in Discipline and Punish, p. 27136

The focus shifts away from those who created, or were subjected to, the power-knowledge nexus and toward that nexus itself: “it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determine the forms and possible domains of knowledge” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 28).137

Discipline and Punish is concerned with the period between 1757 and the 1830s, a period during which the torture of prisoners was replaced by control over them by prison rules.138

The prisoner’s body [is the subject of punishment and] the object of officials [in the period]. [Its state after punishment and the] public ceremonies involved in such torture [judicial and political rituals] demonstrate both that a crime has taken place [, the accused was found guilty,] and that power is being manifest in an effort to control it… Executions and torture not only showed the operation of power but also revealed the “truth” of that power.139

However [public torture and execution of prisoners] was “a bad economy of power” because… it tended to incite unrest among the viewers of the spectacle (Foucault, 1975/1979, p.79). Spectacles like execution also tended to lead to “centres of

134 Ibid, p. 54135 Ibid, pp. 54-55136 Ibid, p. 55137 Ibid138 Ibid139 Ibid


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illegality” (Ibid, p. 63). The taverns were full, stones were thrown at executioners, fights erupted, and spectators grabbed at the victims. Furthermore, overtime, protests against public executions increased. For all these reasons officials needed to end public confrontations with the condemned.140

Within less than a century a new system of punishment was in place. Torture disappeared as a public spectacle. Punishment became less physical and much more subtle. The body ceased to be the major target of punishment. Instead of imposing “unbearable sensations” on prisoners, the focus was on things like suspending their rights. Punishment came to be rationalized and bureaucratized. Bureaucratic restraint and control was reflected in the fact that “a whole army of technicians took over for the executioner…: warders, doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, educationalists” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 11).141

The criminal, and what is done to him, is a source of knowledge and information for the larger public. As Foucault (1975/1979, p. 112) puts it, the punishment of the criminal is “a living lesson in the museum of order.” Thus, the new forms of punishment were less ceremonies and spectacles and more schools for the larger population… While in an earlier time there were huge ceremonies involving torture and execution, in the modern world we have instead “hundreds of tiny theatres of punishment” (Ibid, p. 113). More generally, the prison had replaced the scaffold, and this signified, among other things, that power was inscribed into the very heart of the state since the penal system was run by the state.142

[This shift in the forms of punishment relates] to the broader development of… disciplines, which, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, became the general mechanism for exercising domination. The disciplines involve a series of exercises designed to exert meticulous control over the body… The disciplines not only occurred in prisons but also in public education…, hospitals, the workplace…, and the military. Discipline involves the distribution of individuals in space including the enclosure and partitioning of individuals and the development of functional sites and ranks.143

Discipline is a mechanism of power which regulates the behaviour of individuals in the social body. This is done by regulating the organisation of space (architecture etc.), of time (timetables) and people's activity and behaviour (drills, posture, movement). It is enforced with the aid of complex systems of surveillance. Foucault emphasizes that power is not discipline, rather discipline is simply one way in which power can be exercised.144 

Foucault identifies three instruments of [the new technology of] disciplinary power, derived in large part from the military model. First is hierarchical observation, or the

140 Ibid141 Ibid, p. 56142 Ibid, pp. 56-57143 Ibid, p. 57144 O’Farrell, 2007


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ability of officials to oversee all they control with a single gaze… The goal is observation that is discreet, largely silent, and permanent. Second is the ability to make normalizing judgments and to punish those who violate the norms… Such normalizing judgments serve to compare, differentiate, hierarchicalize, homogenize, and where necessary, exclude people. Third is the use of examination to observe subjects and to make normalizing judgments about them (Meadmore, 1993)… An examination is a wonderful example of the power-knowledge linkage; those who have the power to give examinations gain additional knowledge and thereby more power through the imposition of examinations on subjects… While we usually associate the examination with schools, it is also manifest in psychiatry, medicine, personnel administration, and so on.145

Foucault offers several other important generalizations about the examination:146

o It “transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 187)

o It “introduces individuality into the field of documentation” (Ibid, p. 189)o “the examination, surrounded by all documentary techniques, makes each

individual a ‘case’” (Ibid, p. 191). As a case, the individual becomes both an object of knowledge and an object of control…

Foucault does not simply adopt a negative view toward the growth of the disciplinary society; he recognizes that it has positive consequences as well. For example, he sees discipline as functioning well within the military and industrial factories. However, Foucault communicates a genuine fear of the spread of discipline, especially as it moves into the state-police network for which the entire society becomes a field of perception and an object of discipline.147

Foucault does not see discipline sweeping uniformly through society. Instead, he sees elements of it “swarming” through society and affecting bits and pieces of society as it goes. Eventually, however, most major institutions are affected. Foucault asks rhetorically, “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” (1975/1979, p. 228). In the end, Foucault sees the development of a carceral archipelago in which discipline is transported “from the penal institution to the entire social body” (Ibid, p. 298).148

The transition from torture to prison rules constituted a switch in the object of punishment from the body to the soul or the will. This, in turn, brought with it considerations of normality and morality. Judgment came to be passed “on the passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments… agressivity… perversions… drives and desires” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 18). Even the subject’s will came to be judged. Science entered the process, and this helped give officials greater

145 Ibid, pp. 57-58146 Ibid, p. 58147 Ibid148 Ibid


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control over not only offensive acts but over people, “not only on what they do, but also on what they are, will be, may be” (Ibid).149

Those in power took to “judging something other than crimes, namely the ‘soul’ of the criminal” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 19). Things like insanity and madness came to be associated with crime with the result that officials were now in the position to judge “normality” as well as to prescribe actions that would help bring about the normalization of those who were judged to be abnormal… The power and ability to judge, especially normality and abnormality, has been generalized [and extend to other “small-scale judges”] and is no longer restricted to the penal system. Out of this emerged new bodies of scientific penal knowledge, and these served as the base of the modern “scientific-legal complex.”150

Human beings became the objects of punishment and of scientific discourse. Scientific knowledge helped make the body a political field and gave birth to political technologies [i.e. Panopticons] designed to control the body. However, these technologies, and control more generally, were not centralized in the state or in any other structure or institution. Rather, they were diffused in bits and pieces, in a series of tools and methods, throughout society…. [In effect] innumerable micro-centers of power do not lend themselves easily to destruction in a single stroke by a massive revolution.151

A Panopticon is a structure that allows officials the possibility of complete observation of criminals; in other words, it permits a certain kind of gaze… Constant visibility traps the subjects in “so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 200). In fact, officials need not always be present in the Panopticon; the mere existence of the structure (and the mere possibility that officials might be there) constrains criminals. Power functions in the Panopticon nearly automatically. Power here is visible, but it is also unverifiable in that the subjects never know at any given moment whether or not they are actually being observed by officials… Thus the power lies more in the structure, and in the system of which it is part, than in the person who designs or occupies it.152

The Panopticon helps to perfect the exercise of power. It reduces the number of people needed to exercise power, while at the same time it increases the number of people over whom power is exercised. Constant pressure is exerted on those observed, even before an act is committed, and officials have the ability to intervene at any point in the process. The Panopticon itself is noiseless and unobtrusive…153

149 Ibid, pp. 58-59150 Ibid, p. 59151 Ibid, pp. 59-60. [Foucault] is willing to admit that there are occasional radical ruptures, but it is the small-scale

eruptions that are much more common and likely (ibid, p. 67).152 Ibid, pp. 60-61153 Ibid, p. 60


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[Foucault sees] the Panopticon as a kind of laboratory (a laboratory of power) for the gathering of information about people. It was the forerunner of the social-scientific laboratory and other social-science techniques for gathering information about people.154

Foucault [also] sees the Panopticon, or the panoptic principle, as the base of… the disciplinary society, a society based on surveillance.155

Discipline may be found in such a wide array of settings because it “may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or an ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 215). Thus, the disciplinary system does not supplant existing systems; rather it infiltrates all of them. The disciplines involve a series of minute technical mechanisms that help to create micro-mechanism of power in whatever setting they infiltrate.156

The prison is Foucault’s paradigm for what is happening throughout society. The prison is an “exhaustive disciplinary apparatus,” on which all other systems are modeled to one degree or another (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 235). The prison is a carceral system that sets the stage for society as a whole to become such a system. Processes begun in the prison, and more generally in the judicial system, spread throughout society producing a “carceral net” or a “carceral archipelago” that came to encompass the “entire social body” (Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 298).157

VI. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, An Introduction (1978/1980) His major objective is to “define the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure that

sustains the discourse on human sexuality in our part of the world’ (Foucault, 1978/1980, p. 11).158

Foucault argues that “since the end of sixteenth century, the ‘putting into discourse of sex,’ far from undergoing a process of restriction, on the contrary has been subjected to a mechanism of increasing incitement” (1978/1980, p. 12).159

Foucault (1978/1980, p. 24) argues that following the advent of Victorianism those in power devoted “a steady gaze to these [sexual] objects.” Not only did those in power seek to analyze and study sex, they also sought to gain control over sex and sexual discourse by making it something to be administered, something to be policed.

154 Ibid 155 Ibid156 Ibid157 Ibid, pp. 61-62158 Ibid, p. 63159 Ibid


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[Those] in power were faced with a series of economic and political problems caused by population growth. At the heart of these problems was sex, specifically things like the birth rate, age of marriage, legitimacy, and contraception.160

Dominant powers, whether the capitalist class in the modern era or the priestly class in the Middle Ages, had no choice but to regulate sexual practices, because sex is necessarily central to their need to regulate the growth of populations, whether of workers or adherents. Pure repression, thus, is impossible. Without sex, no babies; the population dies off, and the system collapses.161 In became clear to those in power that the future of society depended on the sexuality of individuals and the ability of the powerful to control it. There resulted studies of, and efforts to intervene in, population growth. Sex became a public issue.162

Those in power concentrated more and more of their gaze on sex. However, it wasn’t suppression that resulted from the increased gaze but rather the intertwining of power and sexual pleasure… A dialectic emerged between power and pleasure: “Pleasure spread to the power that harried it; power anchored the pleasure it uncovered… [It is a] “pleasure that comes of exercising a power that questions, monitors, watches, spies, searches out, palpates, brings to light; and on the other hand, the pleasure that kindles at having to evade this power, flee from it, fool it, or travesty it” (Foucault, 1978/1980, p. 45).163

Also involved in the morality of sexuality is religion, especially Western Christianity, the confession (a kind of discourse), and the need for the subject to tell the truth, especially about sexuality.164

The confessional was thus the precursor to the nineteenth-century factory school and the diffusion of self-help and therapeutic practices in the twentieth century. Power regulates sex (hence: reproduction) by forming subjects who willingly subject themselves to the prevailing regime of power. How is this done? The only way it can be done: by inducing the subjects to talk about sex, to talk in ways that adjust sexual behaviors to the needed level of fertility. This explains the French title of the book, La volonté de savoir: The Will to Knowledge. This play on Nietzsche’s idea of the Will to Power… suggest that power/knowledge was at work well before the industrial system was to assert that the modern world worked according to a virtually universal requirement of social power.165

Confession about sex, and most other things, has found its way into medicine, education, family relationships, love relationships, and so on. Power flows to those who are in a position to receive the information divulged in a confession, specifically to receive knowledge about individual sexuality. To Foucault, the wide-

160 Ibid, p. 64161 Lemert, 2005, p. 288162 Ritzer, 1997, p. 64163 Ibid, p. 65164 Ibid165 Lemert, 2005, p. 288


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scale use of the confession comes down to the extortion of sexual knowledge from people. This was made possible in the Occident because science became implicated in the sexual confession; those who received confessions were often scientists… Because the dangers posed by sex were so ubiquitous and because they were generally hidden, they had to be hunted down ruthlessly and tirelessly through such mechanisms as the confession. Further, those who listened to the confessions were supposed to be peculiarly endowed with the ability to interpret them. Therefore it was the listener who “was the master of truth” (Foucault, 1978/1980, p. 67).166

Since it was deemed to be the possessor of the truth, science was in a position to determine what was normal and what was pathological sexuality. The sources of the pathologies were hidden, and they needed to be ferreted out by the scientist (especially psychoanalyst) empowered to listen to sexual confessions. Once the sources of the sexual pathologies were uncovered, they were to be treated therapeutically by those very same scientists.167

[Power is] the “multiplicity of force relations imminent in the sphere in which they operate” (Foucault, 1978/1980, p. 92). Thus… power is not an institution, a structure, a superstructure, or even a strength that people are endowed with. Power is omnipresent

not because it has the privilege of consolidating everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced from one moment to the next, at every point, or rather in every relation from one point to another. Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.

—Foucault in The History of Sexuality, p. 93

Starting in the seventeenth century, the power over life took two basic forms. The first, the anatomo-politics of the human body, involved the discipline of the body to optimize its capabilities and increase its use and its docility. The second, the bio-politics of population, involved the regulation of the population as a whole and utilized controls to regulate births, mortality, level of health, and so on (Hewitt, 1983). These two forms of control, taken together, represented a major change in that the sovereign powers switched from control through death (and the threat of it) to control through life.168

Is there any hope of emancipation?169

In is the agency of sex that we must break away from, if we aim—through a tactical reversal of the various mechanisms of sexuality—to counter the grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures, and knowledges, in their multiplicity and their possibility of resistance. The rallying point for the counterattack

166 Ritzer, 1997, pp. 65-66167 Ritzer, 1997, p. 66168 Ibid, p. 67169 Ibid


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against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures.

—Foucault in The History of Sexuality, p. 157

VII. The Use of Pleasure (1984/1985) and The Care of the Self (1984/1986) Substantially, Foucault shifted from the modern West to Greco-Roman culture

between the fourth B.C. and the second century A.D. Theoretically, Foucault (1984/1985, p. 12) moved from a genealogy of power to a genealogy of self-awareness, self-control, self-practices—as he puts it, a “genealogy of desiring man.”170

Foucault describes his shift:I insisted maybe too much… on techniques of domination… other techniques [are important]… techniques which permit individuals to effect a certain number of operation on their own bodies, on their souls, on their own thoughts, on their own conduct, and this in a manner so as to transform themselves, modify themselves, or to act in a certain state of perfection, of happiness, of purity, of supernatural power, and so on.

—Foucault (in Miller, 1993, pp. 321-322)171

[Foucault] takes as the key question in this research, “why is sexual conduct, why are the activities and pleasures that attach it, an object of moral solicitude?” (Foucault, 1984/1985, p. 10). To put it another way, why has sexuality become a “moral problematic”?172

The problematization of sexuality is related to what Foucault calls the “arts of existence,” or the “techniques of the self”:

those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria. These “arts of existence,” these “techniques of the self,” no doubt lost some of their importance and autonomy when they were assimilated into the exercise of priestly power in early Christianity, and later into educative, medical and psychological types of practice.

—Foucault in The Use of Pleasure, pp. 10-11

To Foucault, morality has two basic elements… The first are codes of behavior in which those in authority enforce the dictates of the code. The second are forms of subjectivation, or practices of the self. It is the latter that is focal in the classical world and of focal concern to Foucault. “Here the emphasis is on the forms of relations with the self, in the methods and techniques by which he works them out, on the exercise by which he makes of himself an object to be known, and on the practice that enable him to transform his own mode of being” (Foucault, 1884/1985, p. 30)173

170 Ibid, p. 68171 Ibid172 Ibid, p. 69173 Ibid


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Foucault identifies four central domains, four major areas of experience: the relationship to one’s body, one’s wife or marriage, boys, and the truth. Four types of “stylization” are related to each of these focal concerns: body-dietetics, marriage-economics, boys-erotics, truth-philosophy. More generally, Foucault (1984/1985, p.91) is concerned with aphrodisiac, or “acts intended by nature, associated by nature with intense pleasure, and naturally motivated by a force that was always liable to excess and rebellion.”174

Two major variables are associated with aphrodisiac in the classical world. First, there is a quantitative emphasis on things like moderation and excess and not a qualitative focus on the nature of the act. The issue was extent of involvement and not whether an act was good or bad. Excess was identified as a problem, and it was traced to a lack of self-restraint. Second, there is focus on role-polarity, especially active-passive, subject-objects. The passive and object poles, identified with women, boys, and slaves, were more likely to be defined as problems. Men who were prone to excess and passivity were seen as immoral.175

Three issues were central in reflecting on the use of pleasure. The first was the individual’s need. However, since individual needs vary, it was impossible to come up with a code or a law that applied to everyone, everywhere. Rather than being amenable to codification, moderation required “an art, a practice of pleasures that was capable of self-limitation” (Foucault, 1984/1985, p. 73). The second was timeliness, practices that took place at the right time and involved the right amount. The third was status; the proper use of pleasure varied with the user’s social status. Again, it is clear that no code could be developed to handle dimensions with such a high degree of variation.176

Instead of the code, the focus in classical society was on one’s attitude, especially the “domination of oneself by oneself” (Foucault, 1984/1985, p. 65)… [by one’s ability to] “care of the self,” meaning the ability “to attend effectively to the self, and to exercise and transform oneself.” This self-mastery was not only important to the individual but also the state.177

Foucault offers a succinct contrast between classical and modern society. In the classical world , the control of aphrodisiac was178

not defined by a universal legislation determining permitted and forbidden acts, but rather by a savoir-faire, an art that prescribed the modalities of a use that depended on different variables (need, time, status)… In the Christian morality of sexual behavior… Subjection was to take the form not of savoir-faire, but of a recognition of the law and an obedience to pastoral authority.

174 Ibid175 Ibid, p. 70176 Ibid177 Ibid178 Ibid, pp. 70-71


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—Foucault in The Use of Pleasure, pp. 91-92

The way in which the classical Greeks handled dietetics (another aphrodisiac) is closely tied to the way they dealt with sexuality. Especially important is the development of a diet, a regimen that ultimately led to “a whole art of living” (Foucault, 1984/1985, p. 101)… Moderation was the key to regiment, and sex acts eventually came to be seen as a proper domain for a regimen and moderation.179

[Reasons and anxieties] behind the vigilance associated with sexuality:180

1. Concern over deleterious effects of excess on the body2. Concern about the well-being of the progeny3. The form of the [sexual] act… could be a problem4. Concern about cost, especially the expenditure of bodily fluids5. [Sex act was associated] with death, at least as contrasted to the life giving of


[Anxiety] existed not because sex was seen as evil,181

but because it disturbed and threatened the individual’s relationship with himself and his integrity as an ethical subject in the making; [if] it was not properly measured and distributed [managed?], it carried the threat of a breaking forth of involuntary forces, a lessening of energy, and death without honourable descendants.

—Foucault in The Use of Pleasure, p. 137

Foucault (1984/1985, p. 153) also related this [diet, self-mastery, moderation] to economics, which he defines as “the practice of commanding.” The economic art was practice not only in business but also in managing city, the household, and even one’s marriage. Self-mastery was demonstrated, perhaps most elegantly, in having sexual relations only with one’s wife. This kind of self-mastery was seen as a moral precondition for managing others.182

In his discussion of erotics, defined as the “purposeful art of love,” Foucault (1984/1985, p. 229) focuses on relations with boys (with men), relations that in the Classical Age were not seen as the opposite of heterosexual relations. Thus, the moral issue was excess, whether it involved homosexual or heterosexual relationships. Self-control involves the ability to abstain from either homosexual or heterosexual relations.183

[In the classical period] homosexuality was accepted, but it certainly was not a matter of indifference. The concern that existed was for the object of pleasure, the boys. This

179 Ibid, p. 71180 Ibid181 Ibid182 Ibid183 Ibid, pp. 71-72


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was to stand in contrast to Christian society where the concern would focus on the subject and the question: How could a man desire a boy or another man?184

[In The Care of the Self (1984/1986)] while there were changes [in the first two centuries of A.D.], they did not represent a dramatic shift to focus on interdictions, or a tightening of the code, but rather “an intensification of the relation to oneself by which one constituted oneself as the subject of one’s acts” (Foucault, 1984/1986, p. 41). This, in turn, was to have a wide-ranging series of effects:185

It also took the form of an attitude, a mode of behavior; it became instilled in ways of living; it evolved into procedures, practices and formulas that people reflected on, developed, perfected and taught. It thus came to constitute a social practice giving rise to relationships between individuals, to exchanges and communications, and at times even institutions. And it gave rise, finally, to a certain mode of knowledge and to elaboration of a science.

—Foucault in The Use of Pleasure, p. 45

Force is now required to deal with sexual pleasure, but it is in this epoch a force that comes from within, through self-mastery, rather than from without. A new art of living is required. And this requires a greater importance be placed on self-knowledge:

The task of testing oneself, examining oneself, monitoring oneself in a series of clearly defined exercise, makes the question of truth—the truth concerning what one is, what one does, and what one is capable of doing— central to the formation of the ethical subject. Lastly, the end result of this elaboration is still and always defined by the rule of the individual over himself. But his rule broadens into an experience in which the relation to self takes the form not only of a domination but also of an enjoyment without desire and without disturbance.

—Foucault in The Care of the Self, p. 68

Instead of increasing prohibitions, what marked this early era was increased self-preoccupation. Foucault closes with a view of what is to come in the modern Christian world:186

Those moral systems will define our modalities of the relation to self: a characterization of the ethical substance based on finitude, the Fall, and evil; a mode of subjection in the form of obedience to a general law that is at the same time the will of a persona god; a type of work on oneself that implies a decipherment of the soul and a purificatory hermeneutics of the desires; and a mode of ethical fulfillment that tend toward self-renunciation… a profoundly altered ethics and… a different way of constituting oneself as the ethical subject of one’s sexual behavior.

—Foucault in The Care of the Self, pp. 239-240

184 Ibid, p. 72185 Ibid186 Ibid, p. 75


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VIII. [The Role of the Intellectual, an Ethic for the intellectual] Foucault argues that the notion of the intellectual as a representative consciousness, as

able to speak for others- "to place himself 'somewhat ahead and to the side' in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity"—could no longer be convincingly sustained. In contrast, the appropriate task for the intellectual identified by Foucault is "to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of 'knowledge', 'truth', 'consciousness', and 'discourse' (Foucault in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, p. 207-8). In consequence, the responsibility of the intellectual is no longer assumed to be the provision of knowledge for others, for they are already considered the to "know perfectly well, without illusion" (Foucault in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, An Introduction, p. 207); rather, the central objective is to challenge the prevailing regime of the production of truth which disqualifies local forms of knowledge as illegitimate (Foucault in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977).187

In Foucault's work it is not solutions or programmatic statements that one finds, but the identification of problems, literally "how and why certain things (behavior, phenomena, processes) became a problem" (Foucault in On Problematization, p. 16).188

[Questions to ponder] The theories inspired by Saussure's linguistic theory have influenced every academic discipline because they all bear on epistemology or what can be known. If knowledge is relationship, a product of societies, the medium of power, then academic endeavor is not about the discovery of truth but rather its construction. Furthermore, the methodologies we employ in our various academic endeavors are undermined by the insights of poststructuralism. What is the relationship between the academic and the object of study? In what way can we know that object; is it available to us at all? What can we know about the past? What does it mean to interpret or analyze a work of literature? How do we choose what works to study? What is the role of the aesthetic in either art history or literary study? How is the canon of literature or art produced? How do we decide what is "good" or "beautiful"? Can there be any absolute standards of value at all if meaning is a product of arbitrary relationship and difference?189

Poststructuralism has also influenced materialist theory or Marxism by providing a way of understanding ideology and showing how important it is to the maintenance of any economic system. The union of poststructuralist and materialist theory produced cultural theories and cultural studies, including, in literature, new historicism and cultural materialism, in which the goal is to understand cultures as both material and discursive. In such theories, everything can be a text (a semitic system), everything can be "read." But no one kind of text is privileged over another. All texts are literary in a sense, as they are all produced in what we might call a self-

187 Smart, 2003, p. 222188 Ibid, pp. 222-223189 McBride (n.d.)


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conscious manner. On the other hand, no self produces any text; there is no authorial intention; language speaks through all of us, even the most "intentional" author.190

The influence of Poststructuralism, particularly in its union with materialism, is what has produced the "cultural turn" in the social sciences and humanities. And cultural criticism tends to be interdisciplinary, as the questions it asks cannot be answered from within the old disciplinary boundaries. Anyway, disciplines themselves have been called into question by the foucauldian critique of discourses. We understand them as social constructs rather than as taxonomies that arise from the nature of things.191

IX. Difference between Poststructuralism and Postmodernism Postmodernism importantly seeks to identify a contemporary state of the world, the

period that is following the modernist period. Postmodernism seeks to identify a certain juncture, and to work within the new period. Post-structuralism, on the other hand, can be seen as a more explicitly critical view, aiming to deconstruct ideas of essentialism in various disciplines to allow for a more accurate discourse.192

[The] major difference is one of emphasis more than substance: Post-modernists are more oriented to ward cultural critique while the post-structuralists emphasize method and epistemological matters. For example, post-structuralists concentrate on deconstruction, language, discourse, meaning, and symbols while post-modernists cast a broader net.193

Poststructuralism is the most important theoretical source of postmodern social theory… Postructuralism tends to be more abstract, more philosophical, and less political, than postmodernism.194


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