Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foucault's theory of language and discourse - overview

Foucault is interested in language and discourse and discourse’s relationship to knowledge and power
  • Foucault’s interest in language was in large measure a reflection of his interest in “the central problem of power.”
  • Power was not, for Foucault, a fixed and predictable element in social structures.
  • Nor was it principally something imposed from above through social structures and hierarchies.
  • Rather, power was a fluid concept closely connected to the strategies of discourse—with the ways we talk, and the systems of talk in which we participate.
  •  Foucault was particularly concerned with the systems of talk within the limits of various disciplines such as medicine or law or business. 
  • Such discourse systems, he maintained, control how we think and how we know. 
  • Power, for Foucault, is a matter of how discourse constrains what we can know.

"episteme" in Foucault's theory
·         Foucault believed that discursive texts, understanding the term very broadly, could be
treated as archaeological artifacts, and that what they revealed was what he termed an
archaeology of knowledge.
·         Foucault's archaeological study was pursued in the search for the episteme of an age, that is, the totality of discursive practices of a society at a particular point in time. 
·         As Foucault moved through the various historical strata, he sought to reveal the conditions that allowed people at a particular time to manage the relationship between knowledge and discourse.
·         Foucault sought the history of rational possibilities; he wished to understand the underlying potentialities that made certain thoughts possible at a given time in human history.
·         An episteme is a way of organizing knowledge by regulating discourse, but it is more.
·          It is an underlying and probably largely subconscious set of assumptions and operating hypothesis that make thought and social life possible. 
·         Foucault was interested in the discursive practices within a culture which provided the framework for knowledge, meaning, and power.

 “archaeology of knowledge”
·         Foucault described his work as exploring archives, which he defined as the rules which, at a particular time and in a given society “define the limits and forms of the sayable.” 
·         He understood this work as similar to that of the archaeologist digging through the strata revealing the physical or material life of earlier societies. 
·         Foucault sought the symbolic or linguistic lives of earlier societies.

More about Foucault:

Recommended books by and on Foucault: