SOSC 2350 Note 12
- Important French intellectuals
- This material moves us beyond our assigned readings.
o This lecture will be an extension of our readings.
o How can you use Foucault to talk about or analyze/ deploy the law
- Foucault is going to be important as we go forward in the term.
- He was an important French social theorist of extraordinary intellect. He was
world-famous and is referred to as a political theorist, cultural critic and
historian (technically not)
o He’s important and he was a professor at in France
He worked on Madness and Civilization
Birth of the Clinic
The Archeology for knowledge
The order of things
Discipline and Punish
The history of sexuality
- He had huge impact on areas such as sociology, criminology, police studies,
culture studies, literary studies, historiography, Marxism, Gay studies and
many more areas.
o He makes major poststructuralist claims:
Man is a product f modernity
Knowledge is not Truth, but power
For example, sexuality does not exist except as a part of
o Poststructuralist: characterized as something essential: the denying of
the human being as the privileged object of philosophical analysis.
Since they deny human being (the status of being privileged)
they focus on the social, linguistic and unconscious
determinance of thought.
“If you want to understand men, look at language”
Look very closely at the unconscious determinance of
- Discourse: in the simplest of manifestation: conversation and information
o Some discourses are marginalized: subjecated:
What is the process that discourse becomes privileged or
o Domination or subjecation of discourse by looking at madness.
How is madness constructed? Socially constructed.
o By looking at punishment and sexuality.
- Look at the world around you, nothing is fixed
o By saying this he’s asserting that nothing is permanent, nothing is
unchangeable in the structure of the social or personal identity. If we think of our practices there is nothing that is fixed.
Everything for Foucault:
The law, our personal identity, etc. is socially
o The subject is COMPLETELY socialized
- He claims that we just invent ways of doing, living and understandings.
Therefore, there is nothing “true” about them. Therefore, there is nothing
preventing us from inventing new ways of being and seeing. Nothing to
prevent us from new ways of doing
o We can keep reconstructing our world or our identities.
- Think of the way we punish: there is nothing inevitable about our system of
punishment: it’s just one-way. It’s one way we chose. There’s nothing natural
about the way we choose to punish people. It is simply one way we have
o Things like morality are created by discourse: through our thought
o Think the X-Files: the truth is out there: BULLSHIT. There is no truth
to be discovered out there.
The point is: we act as though the truth is out there.
We act as if there’s one morality, one truth, or one truth.
We’re very invented in this idea.
o Every age has an element of discursive elements that people accept
In the past the idea of individualism was discoursed by
Communism ruled. It privileged individualism as what
o By stressing certain values (education) you implicitly marginalize
those who are against the norm.
o Discourse: an arrangement of ideas and concepts that give us an
understanding of the world.
They give us a picture, a sense of the world.
Think how we behave when we don’t know something:
o We try to distance ourselves from this thing that
we don’t understand. We have no history with
which to engage this “thing”
o Therefore, any new ideas we will understand as aberrations.
- It is completely normal and natural to reject a new idea and see it as
o This doesn’t mean that it will not change.
Maybe if someone popularizes it enough, everyone will accept
1) Archaeology of Knowledge
a. Discourse and rules and strategies for the formation of subject-
positions and knowledge 2) Genealogy of power/knowledge
a. Examines a variety of institutions and non-discursive practices to
show how power/knowledge is pervasive.
- Foucault provides us with an analysis of power.
o He wants us to understand power in a way that’s different from our
traditional way of understanding it.
When we think of power, we think of it as something
repressive. (Top-Down relationship)
This causes us to think of power as a negative.
The same thing can be said about the law: negation,
prohibition, and sanction
- Foucault says we have to understand law and power as something else: not
just prohibition. It’s inaccurate to only label it as one.
o There are other functions that are taking place.
o Perhaps the law is productive, and it is influencing us in ways that are
productive to society.
Consider the law, and the police. When we usually talk about
them we focus on the prohibition, and we skip the fabrication
and the production.
There is always a producing that takes place.
The law produces and the police produce and fabricate.
o Consider police:
Quite often they make the decision not to enforce the criminal
code, even in obvious situations.
This is because they enjoy wide discretion.
They usually take other tools out of the toolbox to help
them fix scenarios
Usually, it is enough through their symbolic power to take
apart a bad situation
By showing up with their badge, their uniform and
cruiser, they automatically intimidate everyone.
The important point about this is that policing isn’t only about
prohibition, there’s also a production.
Police officers also depend on normative assumptions
on how things are or how they’re meant to be.
They work to produce our ideas of what constitutes
o Therefore, it’s not only about a prohibition.
- Freedom is a guiding question to Foucault: this was throughout his
o His career was to use and understand history to understand and
change society for the direction of greater freedom.
Change society into the direction of greater freedom
If you understand society, you can resist homogenizing forces.
- Knowledge is linked to power. o He wrote that power reaches in the very grain of individuals and
enters their daily life
Knowledge can also be gained from power
- Through observation, new knowledge is produced. There, knowledge is
forever connected to power.
o There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a
field of knowledge not any knowledge that does not presuppose and
constitute at the same time, power relations
o Knowledge must always exist with power.
- What Foucault is saying, is that for him power exists everywhere, as well as
comes from everywhere
o This notion of knowledge/power was a key concept because it acts as
a type of relation between people.
o It’s a complex form of strategy with the ability to shape others
o The way to understand power is not only one-way.
Power is everywhere.
- Power is understood as pervasive:
o Not just top-down: it circulates, working in multiple direction like
o E.g. control and regulation of our health, sexuality (reproductive
mechanism), or any other forms of social production
o Foucault sees this as a ritual of truth. He looks at the effect it has on us
as a thing of truth.
o He doesn’t care about the power itself, he’s interested in THE EFFECT
of power it has on ourselves, others, and society.
o It has major effects: it impacts EVERYTHING
o The power of the effect is what he’s getting at.
- Power is pervasive in the sense that it