Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Summary: Truth and Power / Foucault

a)      Power is a key interest for Foucault.  Not just economic power (Marx) or status (Weber), but power instantiated in rules, language and institutions.  Foucault is arguing that power is rife throughout our social system, particularly in “control technologies” such as prisons and medicine.  He is one of the first to make this claim so starkly.
b)      “Geneology” is “a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledge, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs i its empty sameness throughout the course of history.” – its looking at particularistic elements and showing how one transforms into the other.  A key element here is that we can’t suppose a single ever-lasting notion of truth that is the same forever, or even a single purpose origin or principle.  Things emerge accidentally, and are often the result of a plurality of sources.
c)      Foucault does not like the Marxist notion of “ideology”
a.       It presupposes a truth he’s unwilling to accept
b.      It refers to the order of a subject – an actor driving history, rather than events
c.       Ideology is seen as secondary to something more fundamental, like “structure” and he thinks this is a false dichotomy
d)     Power is more than repression. It’s more than just “saying no” – it’s generative and pushes us to do things.  Modern times are marked by an efficient exercise of this sort of power. [the case of sexuality is an example (p.204)]
e)      Discipline is the key concept to take from Foucault with respect to power.  It’s summarized well on p.205: “…that vast system … comprising the functions of surveillance, normalisation, and control and … punishment….”
a.      Note this is only partly a state issue, discipline and the power it controls is wider than that.
f)        Note his treatment of power as a puzzle: how to make sense of what it means to say that power is endemic to discipline.  “All these questions need to be explored.  In any case it’s astonishing to see how easily and self-evidently people talk of war-like relations of power or of class struggle without ever making it clear whether some form of war is eant, and if so what form.” ([.206)
g)      In the next section he’s really extending his idea of what changed in recent times to extend power.  The ability to measure and control social features – though population projects, health claims, etc., represents an ability to constrain free action and thus represents a form of power.  It’s key is the efficiency and wide-spread nature.
h)      In the last section he introduces a concept of discourse and relative truth that we’ve not seen until now.  The point is similar to what Mannheim and Arendt refer to in ideology, but made *much* more general:  every epoch has
“Each society has its regime of truth, its general politics of truth: that is the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth, the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.” (p.207)

i)        In our society, truth rests on 5 elements        
a.      Truth is centered on the form of scientific discourse
b.      It is subject to constant economic and political incitement (demand)
c.       It is the object of immense diffusion and consumption
d.      It is produced under the control of a few great political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media, etc.)
e.       It is the issue of a whole political debate and social confrontation (ideology struggles)
j)        To understand what intellectuals can do, we have to thus recognize their position in this system
k)      He thus ends with a few hypotheses about truth:
a.       Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements
b.      Truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power (a regime of truth)
c.       The specifics of this regime rest on capitalism
d.      The role of the intellectual is to demonstrate the potential for a new politics of truth
e.       They goal is to disentangle truth from power and Hegemony
f.       The political question is thus not error or illusion, but truth itself.

More about Foucault:
 Discipline and Punish - notes

Recommended books by and on Foucault: