Foucault and the Discourse

Michel Foucault


D I S C O U R S E   I


Prof. Dr.Lynn Mario T.Menezes e Souza

2nd Assessment



Q u e s t i o n s:



       Please answer with reference to the texts, whenever possible:



1) Comment on the forms of controlling discourse that Foucault mentions in the texts you have read.


All prohibitions involving speech reveal a strong liaison between ‘power’ and ‘desire’. What Foucault suggests is that the production of discourse is somehow controlled by a number of different procedures. So, there is a control, a priori, external and responsible for the regulation and delimitation of discourse, which consist on:


ü    Censorship: rules of exclusion which prohibits certain objects (sexuality, for example, or politics);


ü    The ‘Binary Opposites’: fabricated ‘dichotomies’ and ‘divisions’ recurrent in societies, such as ‘reason’ and ‘insanity’. As a result of it, all discourse enunciated by those considered ‘insane’ in the given example will be considered null and void;


ü    The ‘Will to Truth’: the opposition between true and false recalls historical and, thus, modifiable systems of exclusion which form the domain of the true. This ‘will to truth’ is subtended by both institutional support and distribution, being a manner in which knowledge is employed, divided, attributed  and exploited  in a society, making explicit a ‘will to knowledge’, which exercises a "power of constraint upon other forms of discourse.




However, there is another level of control over discourse, which is exercised by internal rules in charge of controlling and delimitating it a posteriori, through principles of classification, ordering and distribution, as follows:



ü    Intertextual Repetition: Every society has its major narratives which are privileged for some hidden secret or wealth. Examples of them are religion and literature, as well as judicial and scientific speech;


ü    Authorship: This is not the individual who writes but, instead, the unifying principle lying at the origins of their significance, as the seat of their coherence. So, what Foucault focuses here is not the biography of the individual but the principles which demarcate one body of writing from another one;


ü    Discursive Formations: what Foucault has in mind here is the organization of the ‘disciplines’, which could be defined by groups of objects, methods, their corpus of propositions considered to be true, and the interplay of rules and definition, of techniques and tools involved in their production;


ü    Qualification to Speak: Foucault argues here that no one may enter into discourse upon a specific subject unless he has satisfied certain conditions or being qualified to do so, as an universal communication of knowledge does not exist.





2) How does Foucault conceive power and how can power be productive according to him?


According to Foucault, power is not only a mere thing that individuals, groups, or classes exercise, and which exists everywhere and in everything, being, consequently, ‘dangerous’. It can be positive or negative, productive or repressive, and every instance of power brings with it an instance of resistance to power.


Foucault also created the term ‘power-knowledge’ to indicate the close relationship between knowledge and power. So, production and dissemination of knowledge is always an expression of power, and the expression of power always involves the production and dissemination of knowledge.


In other words, ‘power-knowledge’ both informs and influences, both educates and dominates. So, power is not only negative but also productive, as it produces meaning and subjects while producing resistance to itself. Legal education texts, academic papers and others are all expressions of power seeking to achieve particular objectives.




3) What do you understand by ‘Will to Truth’?


Foucault theorizes that each society creates an own ‘regime of truth’ according to its beliefs, values, and mores. The creation of such truth in contemporary western societies considers the following traits:


ü    The centering of truth on scientific discourse and economic or political forces;


ü    The ‘diffusion and consumption’ of truth through societal apparatuses;


ü    The control of the distribution of truth by ‘political and economic apparatuses’;’ and


ü    The fact that it is ‘the issue of a whole political debate and social confrontation’.



Consequently, Individuals should do their best to recognize a politically and economically constructed ultimate truth apparatuses truth (a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements), which commands and disseminates such power through the society.


As its knowledge involves power, this ‘truth’ also generates a ‘will to truth’, which coexists with a ‘system of exclusion’ (historical, modifiable, institutionally constraining). This ‘will to truth’ is spread and reinforced through various social practices including Pedagogy, as books editing, publishing and distribution systems – as well as the diffusion of their contents – will obey to a certain social, economic and political logic. In the same way, laboratories will produce knowledge and develop experiences according to the same already mentioned logic and principles.


In a more profound understanding of the whole process, we are talking about the manner in which knowledge is employed in society and the way it is exploited, divided and actively attributed.




4) What connections may be made between Bakhtin's and Foucault's views of discourse?


Michel Foucault developed a totally original notion of discourse as a system of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, actions, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects we speak about and shape the environment we live in. As already seen, it implicitly refers to social practices that constitute power relations, associated to strategies of domination and resistance.





For Mikhail Bakhtin, discourse is a social fact that displays a variety of voices and stylistic registers, and in which participants take turns to each other for a mutual ‘utterance’ in view of social interaction. However, such ‘utterance’ is also shaped by many previous ‘parallel dialogues’ and other existing specificities in a given environment, making language both a ‘social’ and an ‘individual’ phenomenon.



We can observe, therefore, that Bakhtin already considered, in his studies, not only the importance of the individual (and the perception about the exchanging roles of 'issuer' and 'receiver'), but, also, the relevance of the ‘context’ involving 'speaker' and 'listener'. Foucault, on the other hand, deepens the analysis of that ‘context’, considering social, political and ideological implications involved in the discursive act. Thus, Bakhtin’s approach is more of ‘centrifugal’ while Foucault’s point of view is more ‘centripetal’. But it is important to emphasize that one vision does not necessarily eliminates the other, being both of them complementary.