Search Results for foucault
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French social and historical thinker best known for his contribution to (what has been called) poststructuralism.
Foucault was a homosexual and experienced some friction over this. Succumbing to AIDS, his cultural and intellectual legacy is considerable.
Some argue that Foucault’s view is too bleak, placing undue emphasis on social power as the sole force which creates socially relative discourses and discursive practices. There isn’t too much room for “love and compassion” as a driving social force in Foucault’s analyses, although he does address this and related ideas from the perspective of deconstruction.
He read voraciously. Legend has it that each day he would return home from the library carrying a stack of books that he’d pour over that very night.
Foucault’s major works are Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), Discipline and Punish (1975) and History of Sexuality (1976).
His later views about the creative power of discourse are perhaps best summed up in a series of interviews, published the book Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (1980). And as Shaheryar Ali suggests, he had a profound influence on what was to become the ‘New Historicism’ » See in context
Foucault’s ideas are too numerous and comlicated to cover in a short entry. But searching within this site, using any of the following keywords will help to demonstrate the depth and breadth of his thought: Archaeology, Athleticism, Bourdieu (Pierre), Counter-Discourse, Deviance, Discourse, DSM-IV-TR, False Consciousness, Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), History, Hobbes (Thomas), Illness, Language, Madness, Marx (Karl), Meme, Myth, Postmodernism, Sign, Szasz (Thomas)
On the World Wide Web:
- Michel Foucault: Free Lectures on Truth, Discourse & The Self (downes.ca)
- Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume I: Re-reading its Reproduction (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Foucault’s 1968 (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- False Consciousness (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Revisiting Michel Foucault and His Contributions to Social Theory (2010) (stanfordgirlusa.wordpress.com)
- Foucault and Familial Power (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- The Identity Game: Michel Foucault’s Discourse-Mediated Identity as an Effective Tool for Achieving a Narrative-Based Ethic (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Magnus Opium’s Note on the Madness and Metaphysics Debate (magnusopium.wordpress.com)
Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French social thinker who built on ideas popularized by postmoderns such as Michel Foucault and the semiologist Roland Barthes. Like Foucault, Bourdieu was critical of Marxism, Existentialism and Structuralism and he tried to understand the practice of Sociology within its own cultural context.
Michael Payne says Bourdieu also argued that theories, beliefs and dispositions influence cultural practice, often “unconsciously and uncritically.”¹
So any good theory, including scientific theory, should be “reflexive”—that is, it should seek to identify and overcome its own biases. This sounds sensible but, at the same time, scientists are just people, with all the flaws, limitations, pride and ambition that we all share. These personal biases usually interfere, in varying degrees, with the reflexive aspect of science. In other words, the ego gets in the way. This is, perhaps, most obvious in so-called “soft science” disciplines like psychology and psychiatry, but it’s present in all aspects of science. Whenever a worldview becomes an entrenched form of belief, its reflexive aspects usually diminish. For a while, anyhow.
As a sociologist, Bourdieu developed seminal concepts such as “habitus,” “fields,” “cultural capital” and social “reproduction” to better illustrate his ideas about societal discrimination, inequity and domination. With regard to domination, he introduced the term “symbolic violence” to describe ways of seeing that are subtly imposed on groups and individuals. Along these lines, Bourdieu made important contributions toward the deconstruction of language, scholarship and science. Without the deconstruction of ideas and practices, those with social power seek to impose their particular view of the “natural” or “just” on those who lack the power to shape the understanding of these concepts within society. Whether or not this dynamic occurs willfully or unreflectively is a matter of debate.
Again, it would be wrong to say that Bourdieu was the first to come up with the idea of symbolic violence. Sociologists have been thinking out of the box ever since Max Weber argued that the Protestant work ethic played a central role in the development of Capitalism. As such, the related concepts of work and laziness have taken a definite shape and form in so-called developed societies. And Emile Durkheim looked at the phenomenon of suicide from a statistical perspective, trying to link social conditions to this tragic activity. So for Durkheim, suicide isn’t just a personal choice. It’s linked to the norms and expectations of a given culture.
¹ Michael Payne, ed. A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, Oxford: Blackwell, 1997, p. 73.
- A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu (syntheticzero.net)
- Darwin, Bourdieu and today’s scientific culture (lutzid.wordpress.com)
- Picturing Algeria (jadaliyya.com)
- Social Theory and Education Research Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida (2013) (foucaultnews.com)
- To “Commit Sociology” (everydaysociologyblog.com)
- Habitus (thoughtsinmyheart.wordpress.com)
- Soziologie und Radsport- ein gastkommentar (crispinus.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Social Work and Social Theory- Making Connections by Paul Michael Garrett (irishleftreview.org)
- Golf as a phenomena of tasteless class? Part One (jamesblogventures.wordpress.com)
Roland Barthes (1915-1980) was a French semiologist, best known for his book Mythologies (1957). Barthes argued that most of what we assume to be natural could be products of history and culture. More specifically, linguistic and artistic representations play a crucial role in the naturalization of arbitrary and morally ambiguous historical events.
By way of example, politically active gay persons usually challenge the following argument:
Homosexuality is ethically bad because it is unnatural, and heterosexuality is ethically good because it is natural.
Critics will say that, according to this line of reasoning, a deadly rattlesnake could be good for children because it is natural. And this seems a valid critique of this kind of argument. Regardless of one’s beliefs about the joys or horrors of homosexuality, to challenge it with this type of reasoning is philosophically weak.
Barthes also makes a distinction between readerly and writerly text, outlined well at Wikipedia:
A text that makes no requirement of the reader to “write” or “produce” their own meanings. The reader may passively locate “ready-made” meaning. Barthes writes that these sorts of texts are “controlled by the principle of non-contradiction” (156), that is, they do not disturb the “common sense,” or “Doxa,” of the surrounding culture. The “readerly texts,” moreover, “are products [that] make up the enormous mass of our literature” (5). Within this category, there is a spectrum of “replete literature,” which comprises “any classic (readerly) texts” that work “like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, [and] safeguarded” (200).
A text that aspires to the proper goal of literature and criticism: “… to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text” (4). Writerly texts and ways of reading constitute, in short, an active rather than passive way of interacting with a culture and its texts. A culture and its texts, Barthes writes, should never be accepted in their given forms and traditions. As opposed to the “readerly texts” as “product,” the “writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages” (5). Thus reading becomes for Barthes “not a parasitical act, the reactive complement of a writing,” but rather a “form of work”¹
However, this distinction seems spurious, for readers are always interpreting and creating as they take in a text, regardless of if being a so-called “classic” text or an “avante-garde” text. In fact, avant garde texts usually emerge within some new kind of clique or arts group that can be just as “bourgeois” as traditional groups. This was made abundantly clear whenever I attended a Cultural Studies class in university, which usually reeked with the snobbery of style exuded by some students living on their wealthy parents’ credit cards.
. See more on this distinction here:
- Jean A. Baudrillard (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Creed (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- What Every Writer Must Know: Image, Music, Text (josvensson.wordpress.com)
- “I have tried t… (epitomeofmediocrity.wordpress.com)
- From Memory Scarcity to Memory Abundance (thefrailestthing.com)
- MartinJ’s #CBR5 review #1: Mythologies by Roland Barthes (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)
- ‘Finnegans Wake’ Follows Tocqueville Onto Chinese Best-Seller List (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Sound of Photography, The Noise of Time (michaeljkramer.net)
- A Lover’s Discourse (themillions.com)
Traditionally, the term discourse was applied to any kind of serious treatise or homily that was used for educational or pastoral purposes. A good example of the older usage of discourse can be found in Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method (1637).¹
But with the rise of postmodernism, the idea of discourse underwent something of a revolution. Instead of representing the “last word” on a given topic, discourses now became socially relative truth claims. And rather than being perceived as originating from some great authority on high, to be received by a passive audience, the new idea of discourse is far more intersubjective. That is, in the grand scheme of things, one truth claim is about as good as another.
The poststructuralist thinker Michel Foucault popularized the idea of discourse as an essentially political utterance. The key for Foucault is that discourse (as relative instead of absolute truth) always occurs within a relational matrix of social power. For Foucault, a given discourse actually creates a specific truth. This truth is relative to the network from which it emerges. In postmodernism, which includes but also extends to thinkers other than Foucault, discourses may be vocal, written or gestural.
The Foucauldian understanding of discourse also includes institutionalized practices (e.g. the school system) or even architectural statements connoting a certain truth claim about a given group or society (e.g. 1 WTC, Burj Khalifa, CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Taj Mahal).
In addition, Foucault maintains that different discourses may take similar forms. For instance, political and economic discourses of the 18th and 19th centuries embrace discursive styles reflecting the scientific belief in evolution.
In the 21st century, giving a discourse a scientific look and feel may enhance its social legitimacy, appeal to the masses, and therefore have real effects. This is perhaps most obvious in TV ads, where products are often endorsed by actors portraying scientists, doctors and nurses. Dressing up ads in the garb of science is one form of scientism.
Interestingly, some contend that all of science (and not just cheesy ads) is really just another kind of mythmaking. These critics argue that science is always biased at some level, has degrees of institutionalized corruption, and reflects some kind of culturally relative paradigm (way of seeing the world).
From this perspective, science is a kind of temporary fiction. Its method does generate practical and helpful results. But some argue that scientists should better recognize their limits and not make overblown truth claims based on the visible successes of the scientific method. After all, this method is, to put it simply, one that tests hypotheses. And any hypothesis is always subject to falsification—if not today, perhaps tomorrow. So technologies usually improve, as does our grasp of ourselves and the world around us.
¹ This historical introduction is derived from David Macey’s The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, 2000, pp. 100-101.
- Foucault: His Thought, His Character (review) 2012 (foucaultnews.com)
- Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling by Foucault (2013) (foucaultnews.com)
- Discourse, ideology? MA assignment (journoactivist.com)
- Poststructuralism (prmarketingcommunication.com)
- #27: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes (1year100books.wordpress.com)
- Michel Foucault, Pierre Rivière and the Archival Imaginary (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Critical Is Sexy (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Michel Foucault: Power, Discourse and 9/11 (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- Language as the Place Where Reality Gets Constructed (intersectingspaces.wordpress.com)
- Chomsky Can’t Be Bothered to Learn C (byfat.xxx)
Deviance is a statistical term but it’s also an area of study in sociology, psychiatry, psychology and criminology.
In the social sciences deviance is about trying to understand why people break social norms and what this means for the individuals who live in and, together, comprise society. At least, that would be a good beginners definition. But in reality the social sciences dig much deeper and ask some tough questions about the why’s and how’s of deviance.
For starters, the social understanding of normality and abnormality varies dramatically across cultures and throughout history. What’s okay here is not necessarily okay there. And what’s okay now was not necessarily okay back then.
In the West, studies indicate that, on the whole, our correctional institutions do not really correct criminal offenders. On their release from prison, many resume a life of crime and become repeat offenders.
Interestingly enough, some functionalist sociologists say that society needs or, at least, indirectly benefits from crime and high recidivism rates. Criminality keeps large sectors of the labor force employed, especially those connected to law enforcement and the justice system, as well as those businesses that benefit from selling crime deterrent products (e.g. alarm and surveillance systems, locks, encryption and anti-theft software).
Also, the pioneering sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested that deviance serves another positive social function. It forces us to realize just what our rules and regulations are. And in so doing, deviance actually strengthens the social bond among the majority who, so they believe, are not deviant.
Imagine, for instance, taking a ride in an elevator. Suddenly a stranger takes their shirt off and asks you to rub their shoulders. Our society does have a place where this kind of behavior is socially acceptable among strangers—namely, the massage and physiotherapy clinic. But it is not acceptable on the elevator! And if someone tried to do that, most of us would instantly know that it wasn’t, and this knowledge would reinforce our sense of belonging to the larger clan. That is, society.
Other thinkers say that to passively accept the supposed functional aspect of deviance is to deny the possibility of a world without crime or, at least, one in which crime is not pandemic to society.
Postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault note the relativity of the term deviance and suggest that its meaning is derived through social power. For Foucault, power discursively marks off the deviant from the normal individual. In so doing, the deviant becomes marginalised—that is, deprived of the goods, opportunities, rights, privileges and other pleasures that the normal person is entitled to. This process may occur somewhat automatically when different professionals become consciously (or unconsciously) convinced of their own unshakeable authority in determining the normal, the moral and the legal.
However, corruption theorists point to the hypocrisy of societies that incarcerate low-status, petty criminals with tough sentences while government leaders and business elites caught engaging in illegitimate activities are usually given a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Others believe that deviance is largely a genetic problem. That is, criminals inherit bad genes and there’s not too much that can be done about it. To counter this claim, many sociologists say that learning and cultural deprivation have much to do with the making of a deviant.
Related Posts » Turning against the self
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- Social Learning Theory as Related to the Criminal Justice Profession (ivythesis.typepad.com)
- Deviance 101 (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- Individuality, Conformity, and Your Home (everydaysociologyblog.com)
- The deviance is in the details (overexposedandunderdeveloped.com)
- Homophobic Police Manual Withdrawn (therainbowpost.com)
- Rethinking Nudity and Deviance (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- Sociological Theories: What are They and Why do We Need Them? (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- Italian police forced to apologize for gay slur in training manual (rawstory.com)
The DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version IV with Text Revisions) is the most recent manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association, one used by health professionals to classify various psychological disorders, generally referred to as mental illnesses.
The DSM-IV-TR is used around the world, along with two other manuals (The ICD-10 produced by the World Health Organization and The Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders produced by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry).
Each diagnosis is number-coded and depending on the country, may be used by hospitals, clinics and insurance companies.
Some postmodern thinkers and particularly anti-psychiatry groups say that the DSM-IV-TR, along with its counterparts, constructs (as in creates) rather than classifies mental illnesses. For those unfamiliar with this idea, it might take a while to understand just what these thinkers are saying. But in a nutshell, postmodern critiques of the DSM-IV-TR argue that certain illnesses are, in a sense, created by the way that those with social power interpret unusual behaviors. In more common parlance, these thinkers say that those who benefit from the status quo tend to label certain people who behave differently from the social rules and expectations of the day.
These kinds of conceptual and historically based critiques of the DSM-IV-TR and of psychiatry, in general, tend to draw on the work of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Thomas Szaz, R. D. Laing, Ram Dass, David Lukoff, Stanislav Grof, L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) and others.
Other critiques focus not so much on the issue of the DSM-IV-TR’s analytical validity but on the possibility of negligence by incompetent practitioners.
Debates also exist about the relation between psychiatric classification, on the one hand, and cultural, political and economic realities on the other hand, the most visible example being the link between pharmaceutical companies and the discipline of psychiatry, and a less visible example being political in-fighting among psychiatrists.
While some readily dismiss the DSM-IV-TR as a kind of 21st-century witch hunter’s manual, we’d do well to remember that psychiatry (along with its diagnostic tools) is a developing science.¹ And human beings do live in a social and largely organizational world, and those who differ dramatically often do suffer, and in violent cases, cause others to suffer (or die).
The fact that psychiatry is a developing science is often overlooked or negatively construed by its more forceful critics, while embraced by its supporters. Regardless of one’s philosophical position on this point, sociologists will rightly note that the DSM-IV-TR still enjoys a high degree of societal legitimacy and legal power.
To this Ofer Zur, Ph.D. adds:
The DSM is a political not a scientific document. It pathologizes women, children, and minorities. It defines existentially normal behaviors as mental illnesses. It is a money making endeavor for psychiatry and other mental health professionals. It ‘dares’ to define what is normal and what is abnormal and who should be free or detained against their will…[one may find] a detailed critical article about the DSM at
» See in context
¹ As I write this a new DSM V is currently being forged, among much debate and controversy. See
Ethics is a branch of knowledge and philosophical inquiry concerned with moral ideals, choices and the good or bad actions which may or may not follow from those choices.
Ethics may focus on personal, social and spiritual issues, separately but often in relation to one another.
Within world religions, ethical decrees might seem fixed within a given faith tradition. But various schools of interpretation usually coexist, usually with some degree of tension—e.g. the Protestant acceptance of female and in some instances homosexual ministers vs. the Catholic rule of an exclusively male priesthood and homosexual acts being specified in the catechism as “intrinsically disordered.”¹
- Kant of Ga.: Bentham Mill: Normative ethics – Britannica.com (humeofga.wordpress.com)
- The Universal vs. the Particular (aleksandreia.com)
- My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- CFP: Conference on Metaphysics and Ethics, East and West (warpweftandway.wordpress.com)
- Emotions and Ethics: A Foucauldian framework for becoming an ethical educator (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
It’s often said that communism breeds mediocrity at best, and downright shoddiness at worst. And most in the developed world would agree that communism has failed miserably due to its lack of capitalist incentives for (a) company owners to make better widgets and (b) workers to create a better standard of living through hard work and merit.
But the founders of the communist ideology did make some thought-provoking – if biased and pessimistic – criticisms of capitalist society.
One of those criticisms deals with the notion of false consciousness. The idea of false consciousness is found in Karl Marx‘s theory but it’s not specifically defined by Marx. The term first appears in a letter written by his German comrade, Friedrich Engels:
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.”¹
Subsequent Marxists and lefty sociologists use the term ‘false consciousness’ to apparently account for the dynamics of class-based exploitation. Specifically, the working class (proletariat) distorts their relationship with the ruling class—that is, the worker’s understanding of his or her relation to the owners of the means of production is based on ideology instead of fact.
The proletariat’s true condition of submission to exploitative, dominating powers is effectively replaced by a phoney belief in equality, involvement and duty. Duped into believing ideological stories as if they were truth, the masses willingly – but unconsciously so – participate in their own oppression.
Talking about contemporary society, neoMarxists often say the distortion of actual conditions is largely effected through ads, the entertainment industry, and the mass media. So neoMarxists would say that a song like, for instance, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” stirs up patriotic emotions among workers who happily trudge out to the factory to make widgets for a company owner who reaps obscene profits from their hard labor. And those very same factory workers save money so they can buy “American made” trucks to feel patriotic, a sense of belonging, and pride.
Another example might be what I saw today on Yonge St. in downtown Toronto. A sort of weather-beaten looking fellow who might have been living on the streets was wearing a brand new Globe and Mail baseball jacket with fine gold lettering on black.
The Globe and Mail is Canada’s conservative newspaper. I’ve heard it called an “old man’s” paper, meaning that it generally represents the interests of conservatives with quite a bit of money. And I think it would strike some neoMarxists as ironic – and a proof of false consciousness – that this fellow was wearing that particular jacket.
These two illustrations concerning a rock and roll song and a newspaper jacket are, of course, overly cynical. But this is how many communists thinkers would view things. Someone more sympathetic to capitalism would add that factory workers receive good benefits, have a humane workplace, and are always free to leave and try something else. That is, the possibility for upward mobility exists in capitalism while it’s virtually absent in communism.
Moreover, one could argue that capitalist workers are not as dumb as Marxist theorists tend to assume, and that workers truly believe in the core values of their country—especially when compared to the violent and oppressive regimes that make up many other countries around the globe.
As for the baseball jacket, maybe that person would be out on the street in any social system. And perhaps some kind soul from the newspaper was just trying to help keep him warm.
The idea of false consciousness has also been criticized by academics. Some see it as a condescending perspective generated by social theorists who wrongly believe something along the lines of:
We intelligent theorists know what the average people want better than they, themselves, do.
Other sharp thinkers like Michel Foucault question the very idea of class and the social dynamic implied by it. For Foucault, false consciousness (and the idea of class-based oppression upon which it rests) contains far too many simplifications and faulty constructs that have little bearing on what’s really going on.
For Foucault, the struggle isn’t just about two main groups (company owners and workers). Instead, it’s a complicated, ever changing matrix of discourses, practices, and power relationships.²
² The Foucauldian perspective has its own shortcomings, particularly in its simplistic view of power. But this is a point debated elsewhere at Think Free.
- Ideology and Meanings in Communication (prmarketingcommunication.wordpress.com)
- HOW’S THAT HOPEY-CHANGEY STUFF WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): Detroit Nears Bankruptcy: Unemploy… (pjmedia.com)
- Resistance in Theory essay (christophermhenry.wordpress.com)
- Althusser – Ranciere Controversy Part II (millerjacobp.wordpress.com)
- Marx’s Materialism in Relation to Hegel and Feuerbach (symptomaticredness.wordpress.com)