Context of Foucault’s Writings
- Enlightenment concepts of progress being challenged in the mid-twentieth century.
- World War Two, the Holocaust in Germany, challenging the idea that Europe was civilised.
- Capitalism itself had been challenged by the Soviet Union and China.
- By 1960s de-industrialisation in Europe and the decline of the factory within capitalism was leading to a rethinking of Marxian theory.
- This context led to Foucault’s desire to rethink what was seen as normative within society as well as the way power operated.
The Age of Enlightenment
- The philosophical movement that took over the 18th century.
- Related to the rise of scientific thinking.
- Decartes: ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’
Foucault ‘Madness and Civilisation’ 1961
- This challenged our conception of madness.
- Madness in the renaissance was an experience that as integrated into the rest of the world, whereas in the 19th century it had become a moral and mental disease.
The Birth of the Clinic 1963
- The Medical Gaze – seeing people as nothing but organs – articulation of power.
- A critique of the professionalisation of disciplines central to bourgeois society.
The Archaeology of Knowledge 1969
- Systems of thought and knowledge are governed by rules.
- Conceptual possibilities are determined by the boundaries of thought and language used in a given domain and period.
- This creates ‘regimes of truth’ and ‘discursive formations’.
Discursive Formations – Women & Medicine
- Power and knowledge is always rooted in particular contexts and histories.
- The production of knowledge is always crossed with questions of power and the body.
- In the 19th century hysteria was regarded as a female malady.
- Hysteria was performed and documented through the use of photography.
Power and Knowledge
- Power operates through discourse.
- Power to make ‘truth’.
CRITIQUE OF FOUCAULT – He roots too much influence in ‘discourse’ and not enough in the material and economic structures in the operation of power/knowledge.
Discipline and Punishment
- Challenging enlightenment concept of humanism.
- Debates on power.
- The prison is a metaphor for the policing and running of society ourselves.
- The body of condemned.
- Foucault suggests two different types of Punishment.
- Sovereign power involves obedience to the law of the King or central authority figure.
- Punishment as inscribed on the body to prove the power and sovereignty of the King.
- POWER IS PUT ON DISPLAY, IT IS MADE VISIBLE.
- The modern prison uses this.
- Each individual is carefully supervised, time organised in an effective manner and positioned into segments.
- Punishment is no longer about crushing the body but about training, exercise and supervision.
- POWER IS MADE INVISIBLE, THE OBJECTS OF POWER MADE VISIBLE.
Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican
- Prisoners in a circular position with guard in the centre. They cannot see the guard, but the guard sees them and they see each other.
- Does the guard actually have to be there for it to work?
- They self-regulate.
Features of a Disciplinary Society
- Power is not external, its imposed from within.
- Individuals regulate themselves.
- Workers regulating other workers. Prisoners regulating other prisoners etc.
- Seen in all institutions.
- Power is everywhere and ‘comes from everywhere’ in this sense it is neither an agency nor a structure.
- If power is individualised through institutions, it acts through discoursive formations.
- Power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understand and ‘truth’.
A Reading – Stuart Hall on Foucault
- He outlines three of Foucault’s major themes – 1) the concept of ‘discourse’; 2) power and knowledge; 3) the question of the subject.
- By discourse, Foucault means a group of statements which provide a language for talking about a particular topic at a particular historical moment.
- Discourse constructs the topic.
- We can only have knowledge of something if it has a meaning – a discourse to which we understand it so it is the discourse that gives/produces knowledge.
- e.g. madness, sexuality, feminism, punishment.
- Things are only ‘true’ in specific historical contexts.
- If discourse produced knowledge it would be different in each period.
- Thus mental illness was not an objective fact.
- The classic Marxist theory is that ideas reflect the economic basis of society and thus the ‘ruling ideas’ are those of the ruling class which governs a capitalist economy and correspond to its dominant interests.
- Foucault argued this reduced the relation between knowledge and power to a question of class power and class interests.
- He believed all political and social forms of thought were inevitably caught up in the interplay of knowledge and power, so his work rejects the traditional Marxist question: in whose class interest does language, representation and power operate?
- The regime of truth: something may not be true but because everyone believes it to be and punishes accordingly, this will have real consequences, and eventually become ‘true’.
- Foucault believed that power does not operate in a linear fashion from top to bottom. Instead he believed it was deployed in a ‘net-like’ organisation diffusing between institutions etc.