Thursday, November 23, 2017

Short Summary: "The History of Sexuality" by Foucault Explained

At the beginning of his "History of Sexuality" Michel Foucault criticizes the long held convention according to which the 19th century expelled sexuality from public discourse. Foucault calls this notion "the repressive hypothesis" since it holds that sexuality was repressed and therefore in need of liberation. Instead of the repressive hypothesis Foucault suggests the proliferation of the discourse on sexuality. He argues that technologies of power that were employed on 19th century sexuality by doctors, psychiatrists and educators were not technologies of repression but rather of excessive speech. Sex was indeed viewed as something private and internal but was still constantly discussed and addressed. Foucault says that the discourse on sexuality, even when dealing with restrictions and prohibitions, in fact articulated sexuality, classified it as normal and abnormal and positioned in as a predominant focus of the individual's relationship to himself.

Through his theory on the discourse on sexuality Foucault tries to understand sexuality and the history of sexuality as the product of discourse within a certain context. This means that our innermost drives and desires are shaped by social structures. Sexuality for Foucault is not "natural" but rather constructed by discourse. Foucault argues that in history sexuality was viewed and experienced in manners very different from our own.

Another important point  in the introduction to "The History of Sexuality" is the "birth of homosexuality" in the 19th century. Foucault holds that the classifying discourse on sexuality identified and in fact formed sexual identities. Sexuality moved from being a matter of law and morals and into a matter of identity. Those who tried to expel homosexuality just gave it a name and allowed for it, nowadays, to become excepted.    

"The History of Sexuality" expresses some of Foucault's post-structuralist tendencies in viewing the human subject and all of its features not as fixed, essential and determinate structures but rather as historical products subjected to discourse and the power and knowledge it incorporates. Another important methodological aspect of "The History of Sexuality" is it genealogy of discourse, retracing its development in history, which is characteristic of Foucault's work (inspired by Nietzsche). 

More about Foucault:

Recommended books by and on Foucault:


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Culture Industry - notes

         Two of Frankfurt School’s key theorists Max Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno in their book "Dialectic of Enlightenmentdeveloped an account of the "culture industry" to call attention to the industrialization and commercialization of culture under capitalist relations of production
         They coined the term "culture industry" to signify the process of the industrialization of mass-produced culture and the commercial imperatives that drove the system

         They analyzed all mass-mediated cultural artifacts within the context of industrial production
         They argued the commodities of the culture industries exhibited the same features as other products of mass production:
        standardization, and
         The culture industries had the specific function, however, of providing ideological legitimation of the existing capitalist societies and of integrating individuals into its way of life

The Culture Industry:
"The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.“ (--Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer from Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944)

         Moving through nearly all aspects of the popular culture of their time--movies, radio, music--they argue that the logic of modern capitalism deskills labor and concurrently dumbs down culture.  The result is a world in which a mass public has trouble distinguishing between the real world and the illusory world created by the industry of culture.
         The values perpetuated by the media were contradictory to the values of the radical Enlightenment tradition. The masses are ‘dumbed’ by the banality of the media. Their ability to function efficiently as citizens in a democratic state is replaced by their ceaseless consumption of culture or products, or both.
         Though the functionalist and Marxist approaches are radically different in their underlying assumptions, they are similar in that they both presume audiences to be passive and powerless.
         They critique society as being in a state of false consciousness, a consciousness which hides the reality of domination and oppression of the masses under capitalism.  The role of the media in this framework is to offer to consumers propaganda which lulls them into accepting their conditions.

         In their theories of the culture industries and critiques of mass culture, Adorno and Horkheimer were among the first social theorists to note its importance in the reproduction of contemporary societies
         In their view, mass culture and communications stand in the center of leisure activity, are important agents of socialization, mediators of political reality, and should thus be seen as major institutions of contemporary societies with a variety of economic, political, cultural and social effects
         Furthermore, the critical theorists investigated the cultural industries in a political context as a form of the integration of the working class into capitalist societies
         The Frankfurt school theorists were among the first neo-Marxian groups to examine the effects of mass culture and the rise of the consumer society on the working classes

         They argued that the system of cultural production dominated by film, radio broadcasting, newspapers, and magazines, was controlled by advertising and commercial imperatives, and served to create subservience to the system of consumer capitalism
         Later, critics pronounced their approach too manipulative, reductive, and elitist.
         However, it still provides an important corrective to more populist approaches to media culture that downplay the way the media industries exert power over audiences and help produce thought and behavior that conforms to the existing society

         The culture industry thesis described both the production of massified cultural products and homogenized subjectivities
         Mass culture for the Frankfurt School produced desires, dreams, hopes, fears, and longings, as well as unending desire for consumer products
         The culture industry produced cultural consumers who would consume its products and conform to the dictates and the behaviors of the existing society 

         Frankfurt school work was an articulation of a theory of the stage of state and monopoly capitalism that became dominant during the 1930s
         This was an era of large organizations
         The state and giant corporations manage the economy and individuals submit to state and corporate control
         This period is often described as "Fordism" to designate the system of mass production and the homogenizing regime of capital which wanted to produce mass desires, tastes, and behavior 

         Fordism was an era of mass production and consumption characterized by uniformity and homogeneity of needs, thought, and behavior producing a mass society
         Frankfurt school described it as "the end of the individual"
         No longer was individual thought and action the motor of social and cultural progress
         Instead giant organizations and institutions overpowered individuals

         During this period, mass culture and communication were instrumental in generating the modes of thought and behavior appropriate to a highly organized and massified social order
         Thus, the Frankfurt school theory of the culture industry articulates a major historical shift to an era in which mass consumption and culture was indispensable to producing a consumer society based on homogeneous needs and desires for mass-produced products and a mass society based on social organization and homogeneity

         The culture industry fuses the old and familiar into a new quality
         The culture industry is not like mass culture which arises spontaneously from the masses themselves
         The products are tailored for consumption by masses
         These products and the nature of consumption are manufactured more or less according to plan

The Frankfurt School: summary

         Frankfurt school is not a place
         It is a school of thought
         It is a group of similar theories that focus on the same topic
         The scholars that made up the Frankfurt school were all directly, or indirectly associated with a place called the Institute of Social Research
         The nickname of the thinkers, originates in the location of the institute, Frankfurt Germany
         The "Frankfurt School" refers to a group of German-American theorists who developed powerful analyses of the changes in Western capitalist societies that occurred since the classical theory of Marx

         Prominent theorists within this school of thought are: Max Horkheimer,T.W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, and Erich Fromm
         Each of these philosophers believed, and shared Karl Marx’s theory of Historical Materialism
         Each member of the Frankfurt school adjusted Marxism with his additions, or "fix“.
         Then, they used the "fixed" Marxist theory as a measure modern society needed to meet
         These ideas came to be known as "Critical Theory"
Note: Remember Marxist Theory
         Developed by Karl Marx in the 19th century. 
         Argues that hierarchical class system is at the root of all social problems and must be ended by a revolution of the workers.
         Dominant classes directly control the means of production (labor, factories and land), which is called the base of society.
         Rulling classes also control the culture, which is called the superstructure of society. Therefore, the dominant ideology of a society is the ideology of rulling class.
         Base: the means of production
         Superstructure: a society’s culture
         Ideology: ideas present in a culture that mislead average people and encourage them to act against their own interests
The Neo-Marxist Approach: Frankfurt School
         The Marxist approach to the media studies developed in parallel with the functionalist approach. It is best characterized by the work of the Frankfurt School founded in 1923.
         The school was concerned with developing a revolutionary, philosophical variant of Western Marxism, opposed to capitalism in the west and Stalinism in the East, which came to be called critical theory.
         In 1930s when Hitler came to power, the Institute was forced to leave Germany for New York.
         In 1953 it was re-established in Frankfurt.
         Adorno and Horkheimer developed a Marxist sociological approach to media studies. They saw the media as a cultural industry that maintained power relations and served to lessen the ‘resistance standards’ of cultural aesthetics by popularizing certain types of culture.

         They produced some of the first accounts within critical social theory of the importance of mass culture and communication in social reproduction and domination.
         They generated one of the first ,modes of a critical cultural studies that analyzes the processes of cultural production and political economy, the politics of cultural texts, and audience reception and use of cultural artifacts (Kellner 1989 and 1995) 
         Frankfurt school developed a critical and transdisciplinary approach to cultural studies and communications studies, combining political economy, textual analysis, and analysis of social and ideological effects

The contribution of the Frankfurt School
         Frankfurt school made historical materialism a centerpiece in social theory
         It forced Marxist ideology to broaden its scope
         While Marx said, "This is historical materialism, and this is what it does”
         The Frankfurt School said, "This is historical materialism; this is what’s right with it, this is what’s wrong with it, and this is how it works” 

         The Frankfurt school also had it’s own effects on philosophy as a whole
         It affected philosophy by preserving the notion of meta-analysis of society through its economic, political, and social systems
         It introduced the notion of social philosophy and made theory part of everyday practice by "mixing" philosophical problems, and empirical problems 

See: One Dimensional man / Herbert Marcuse

Critical Theory - short summary

Critical Theory
         Traditional theory is oriented only to understanding or explaining society
         Critical theory, in contrast, is social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole.
         A critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms
Critical Theory: Narrow and Broad
         Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences
         In the narrow sense it designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School
        Max Horkheimer
        Theodor Adorno
        Herbert Marcuse
        Leo Lowenthal
        Erich Fromm

         Although this “narrow” conception of critical theory originated with the Frankfurt School, it also prevails among other recent social scientists, such as
        Pierre Bourdieu,
        Louis Althusser and arguably
        Michel Foucault and
        Bryan Reynolds,
        as well as certain feminist theorists and social scientists.

         According to these theorists, a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human emancipation
        “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982, 244)
         Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many “critical theories” in the broader sense have been developed.
        world systems theory,
        feminist theory,
        postcolonial theory,
        critical race theory,
        critical media studies,
        queer theory,

         Core concepts are
        That critical social theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it came to be configured at a specific point in time)
        That Critical Theory should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology
        The normative orientation of Critical Theory, at least in its form of critical social inquiry, is therefore towards the transformation of capitalism into a “real democracy”

         A critical theory is adequate only if it meets three criteria:
        It must be explanatory: explain what is wrong with current social reality
        It must be practical: identify the actors to change it
        It must be normative: provide both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation
         It must satisfy all three of these criteria at the same time

Summary - Foucault: The Discourse on Language

Power and Discourse
  • Discourse is a  central terms in Michel Foucault’s work—he was particularly interested in knowledge of human beings and power that acts on human beings

  • Power and knowledge are intrinsically related

  • In his “Discourse on Language” Foucault introduces us to power and knowledge through analysis of control of discourse

  • In broadest sense, discourse anything written, said or communicated using signs

  • Specifically: writing in an area of technical knowledge, ie, areas in which there are specialists, specialized or technical knowledge and specialized or technical vocabulary

  • Each era will define its own discourses, and these definitions may vary (even radically) overtime

  • Technical specialists work together to establish their field & its dominant ideas and have ever-increasing power over people

  • And these discourses have shaped the structure of society
    • consider, for example, the discourse on madness
    • it’s produced by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other experts
    • it defines the roles of madness--what it is, who has it, how to address it . . .
    • and so defines the roles of normalcy that structure society

A Discourse on Language

  • was his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, where he was appointed in 1970

  • serves as a kind of introductory essay for the work he proposed to do, which appears later as The Archaeology of Knowledge

  • An explanation of his own aims and methods

  • Foucault writes that he would like "freed from the obligation to begin." Instead, "speech would proceed from me, while I stood in its path-a slender gap-the point of its possible disappearance" (215). 

  • FOUCAULT is commenting here on two of central concepts, "discourse" and "the author function." Heidegger had said that "language speaks through us," but FOUCAULT will suggest that discourses provide the limits to what can and can't be said or heard.
  • The author function is what FOUCAULT prefers to the romantic, humanist, modern notion of the author. 

  • For instance, we wouldn't consider a grocery list by Vonnegut to be "authored" by him. 

  • So it's not the "author" that produces the oeuvre but rather the oeuvre that produces the author or the author function. 

  • So, in these opening paragraphs, FOUCAULT is illustrating the way in which this particular "discourse" on language is capable of producing him as author. 

  • In more general terms for FOUCAULT it is discourse as a medium for power that produces subjects or, as he puts it, "speaking subjects," which, for him, are the only kind there are.

Foucault’s Hypothesis
  • in every society the production of discourse is at once
    • controlled,
    • selected,
    • organized and
    • redistributed
  • according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is "to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality."

  • Discourse is controlled in order to have its transformative potential checked, in order to limit the occurrence of the unexpected, and to limit the substance of discourse as an event in itselFoucault

  • Discourse is controlled externally through the rules of exclusion, which include prohibition.

The Control of Discourse
  • Rules of Exclusion (external delimitations)
  • Discourse operates by "rules of exclusion" concerning what is prohibited. 

  • We know perfectly well that we are not free to say just anything, when we like or where we like.
  • There are three types of prohibition:
    • objects (what can be spoken of)
    • ritual (where and how one may speak), and
    • the privileged or exclusive right to speak of certain subjects (who may speak).

The Control of Discourse

These prohibitions interrelate, reinforce and complement each other, forming a complex web, continually subject to modification. 

The areas most tightly woven today are politics & sexuality.

The prohibitions surrounding speech reveal its links with desire and power.

The opposition of reason and madness
·      old division, which used to count mad speech either as wholly irrational, therefore devoid of truth, or revealing a hidden rationality, therefore almost preternaturally true, is still here, but proceeds along different lines--institutions, psychiatrists, etc. The psychiatrist listens to speech invested with desire, crediting itself--for its greater exaltation or its greater anguish--with terrible powers.

The opposition between true and false.

              That helps to show the "rules of exclusion" that govern discourses and do not-cannot-recognize a whole range of thoughts or speech that do not conform in terms of object, ritual, or right to speak. 

              Will to truth - the final rule of exclusion, and one becoming increasingly central is the division into true and false.

§  The will to truth, a changing system of inclusion into truthfulness that governs scope and use of knowledge.

§  The will to knowledge determines what truth is and what kind of truth is important.

§  Foucault documents the shift from truth being manifest in the speaker to being manifests in the content of speech and the subjects to be discussed.

§  The will to truth exerts constant pressure on discourse but yet is invisible.

Internal Systems   
  • Discourse employs a system of internal rules dealing with classification, ordering, and distribution in the control of events and chance. Although Foucault calls them rules, they are best understood as forms.

  • One such rule is commentary.
i.              Commentary, commenting on a primary text, allows new discourse while controlling the content of the discourse.
ii.             Foucault discusses the myths and stories that color or shape our national discourses; at the same time, the discourse shapes the ways in which we understand the stories, the "commentary" on the seminal stories like The Odyssey, for instance.
iii.            Ultimately commentary is nothing but recitation as commentators are merely announcing what has already been stated, albeit less explicitly, in the primary text.
for the control & delimitation of discourse

Here, discourse exercises its own control, rules regarding principles of classification, ordering and distribution. It is as though we were now involved in the mastery of another dimension of discourse: that of events and chance.

Internal Systems
  1. Another such rule is the author.
i.              The author also is directed at chance events by imposing the limit of individuality (the author’s ‘I’).

ii.             While the function of the scientific author as an index of truthfulness has declined over time, the author is increasingly important in literature.

iii.            Thus the literary author is lead to consider what to write, less in relation to the individual work under construction, but instead in relation to an oeuvre, or life’s work.

  • The principle does not deny the existence of individuals who write, however when they write, they put on the author-function, and texts are organized respectively around the function, not the individual.


  • Another mechanism of control internal to discourse is the disciplines.
    1. Disciplines are anonymous (unlike author) and not repetitious (unlike commentary).
    2. They constitute a field in which there is a shared set of definitions, methods, and/or subject matter.

  • Discourse is also controlled by rules governing “the conditions under which discourse may be employed.”

  • Such rules limit access to discourse.

  •  Education is the means whereby discourse is appropriated by society as educational systems maintain the divisions within society (disciplines, fellowships of discourse, etc.).

o   Furthermore, only some speaking subjects may deploy certain discourses: "none may enter into discourse on a specific subject unless he has satisfied certain conditions or if he is not, from the outset, qualified to do so.

Conditions of Deployment
Conditions under which discourse can be employed
Who is qualified to enter into the discourse on a specific subject?
Not all areas of discourse are equally open & penetrable.
Moreover, exchange and communication probably cannot operate independently of complex but restrictive systems.

1.    Ritual defines the qualifications and role of the speaker, lays down the gestures to be made, the behavior, circumstances and a whole range of signs, and the supposed or imposed significance of the words, their effect on those addressed, the limitation of their constraining validity. 

2.    Fellowship of discourse, whose function is to preserve or to reproduce discourse, but in order that it should circulate within a closed community, according to strict regulations, without those in possession being dispossessed by this very distribution. It functions through various schema of exclusivity and disclosure.

3.    Doctrine (religious, political, philosophical, etc)

Doctrine is opposed to fellowship of discourse, which limits class of speakers

4.    Education: the social appropriation of discourse

------Most of the time these four conditions are linked together, constituting great edifices that distribute speakers among the different types of discourse, and which appropriate those types of discourse to certain categories of subject

...these are the main rules for the subjection of discourse.

Philosophical Themes
  • conforming to & reinforcing the activity of limitation and exclusion: i.e. eliding the reality of discourse
1.    The theme of the founding subject

--------The task of the founding subject is to animate the empty forms of language with his objectives; through the thickness and inertia of empty things, he grasps intuitively the meanings lying within them.

-------conforming to & reinforcing the activity of limitation and exclusion: i.e. eliding the reality of discourse
2.    The theme of originating experience 

(the opposing theme to 1.)

-------This asserts, in the case of experience, that even before it could be grasped in the form of a cogito, prior significations, in some ways already spoken, were circulating in the world. i.e. there is meaning out there which we find
3.    The theme of universal mediation

------The logos is already discourse, or things and events which insensibly become discourse in the unfolding of essential secrets.

The result of any of these is that discourse is seen only as an activity, or writing
1.    Reading
2.    or exchange
3.    involving only and exchange of signs. 

Discourse in placing itself as the signified of a signifier, disappears itselFoucault

Elucidation of Discourse
  • Logophobia
    • The apparent supremacy given discourse in our culture masks a fear; all our forms of discourse serve to control it, to relieve its richness of its most dangerous elements; to organize its disorder.
    • This logophobia is a fear of the mass of spoken things, the possibility of errant, unrestrained discourse.

o   Decisions in order to erase logophobia
§  In order to analyze the conditions of this fear, we need to resolve ourselves to accept three conditions, which our current thinking rather tends to resist, and which belong to the three groups of function Foucault has just mentioned:

1.     to question our will to truth;
2.     to restore to discourse its character as an event;
3.     to abolish the sovereignty of the signifier.

Methodological Demands
  • We are a civilization absolutely dependent on discourse-logophilia seems to define us (228). 

  • But FOUCAULT suggests that behind the logophilia is logophobia, a fear that, without all these discursive "taboos, . . . barriers, thresholds and limits," discourse might be dangerous and uncontrollable-a fear "of everything that could possibly be violent, discontinuous, querulous, disordered even and perilous in it [discourse], of the incessant, disorderly buzzing of discourse" (228, 229).

  • To counter this fear (and, presumably, our subject to disciplines and discourses), we must "question our will to truth; . . . restore to discourse its character as an event; . . . [and] abolish the sovereignty of the signifier" (229). We can do this through these tasks:

  1. The principle of reversal
    Reversal: rather than thinking we can identify the source of a discourse and its principles, we must rather "recognize the negative activity of the cut-out and rarefaction of discourse.”

  2. The principle of discontinuity
    Discontinuity: we must not imagine that as an alternative to the negative activity of discourse there is some kind of place of "limitless discourse, continuous and silent, repressed and driven back" which it is our task to restore. Rather, we must recognize discourse as a "discontinuous activity."

  3. The principle of specificity
    Specificity: we must not imagine that we can make sense of or decipher a particular discourse by a "prior system of significations" that is more true to reality, one that will reveal all and make sense of everything; the world does not present us with "a legible face." Rather, discourse is "a violence that we do to things, or, at all events, . . . a practice we impose upon them.”

  4. The principle of exteriority
    Exteriority: there is no center, no core, no heart of a discourse where true meaning resides. Rather, discourses must be understood by their "external conditions of existence."

  • Through the mechanisms and rules just described, the true nature of discourse is concealed. “It would have appeared to have ensured that to discourse should appear merely as a certain interjection between speaking and thinking” (p. 227).
i.              Discourse is an event imbued with power.
ii.             Accordingly, discourse is afforded its particular status and meaning because it is feared and must be controlled.
  • Therefore, in order to undertake analysis of the discourse, one must:
iv.           question the will to truth
v.            restore to discourse its character as an event
vi.           dispense with the belief that meaning is discovered and not created.

More about Foucault:

Recommended books by and on Foucault:

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