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Critical Theory: Other Perspectives Michel Foucault


'It's not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would ... Ideology presupposes truth is opposite to power. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Critical Theory: Other Perspectives Michel Foucault

Critical Theory Other PerspectivesMichel
  • Its not a matter of emancipating truth from
    every system of power (which would be a chimera,
    for truth is already power), but of detaching the
    power of truth from the forms of hegemony,
    social, economic and cultural within which it
    operates at the present time
  • Michel Foucault, Truth and Power, 131

The relation between truth and power
  • Foucault examines the relation between truth and
    power. For him, truth isnt outside power, or
    lacking in power. Truth isnt the reward of
    free spirits, the child of protracted solitude
    Truth is a thing of this world it is produced
    only by virtue of multiple form of constraint
  • What does Foucault mean by truth?

The relation between truth and power
  • Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered
    procedures for the production, regulation,
    distribution, circulation and operation of
    statements (133).
  • Truth is linked with discourses within which
    propositions have truth valuei.e. either
    true/false. Example.
  • In addition, Foucault tells us that truth is
    linked in a circular relation with systems of
    power which produce and sustain it, and to
    effects of power which it induces and which
    extend it (133).

The relation between truth and power
  • Foucaults conception of truth is not typical
    of tradition philosophy.
  • Traditional theory of knowledge is concerned with
    the necessary and sufficient conditions for
    someone to know a state of affairse.g. there is
    a red car across the street
  • The picture gets muddied when we consider much
    more complex examples, such as the claim that
    children between ages 2 and 4 do not have
    abstract principles guiding classification

The relation between truth and power
  • These are the examples that interests Foucault.
  • Truth isnt outside power, or lacking in power.
    It induces regular effects of power (131).
  • He wants to examine the effects of the social
    relations that sustain bodies knowledge on
  • E.g. Children ought to segregated from adults

The relation between truth and power
  • Notice though Foucault does not claim that social
    relations determines/produces which statements
    are true. That would be a fallacy.
  • Why?
  • That would be akin to saying the powerful
    determines the truth.

Foucault and ideology
  • Foucaults conception of truth has implications
    for critical theory with its emphasis on critique
    of ideology. Why?
  • Ideologies systematically distort social reality.
    This implies there is true view behind ideology.
  • For Foucault, the workings of modern relations of
    power cannot be explained by a ruling class
    generating a set of beliefs that systematically
    distorts social reality. Why is that?

Foucault and ideology
  • Ideology presupposes truth is opposite to power.
    Truth can undermine ideological distortions and
    their power over individuals.
  • However since in Foucaults view, truth and power
    are interrelated, the question is not a matter
    of emancipating truth from power (which would
    be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of
    detaching the power of truth from hegemony. The
    political question is not error, illusion it
    is truth itself (133).

Foucault and ideology
  • Furthermore, Foucault sees ideology critique as
    focusing on the beliefs and intentions of
    individuals. The problem for him is not about
    changing peoples consciousness or whats in
    their headsbut the political, economic,
    institutional regime of the production of truth
  • Is this Marxs view about ideology critique, i.e.
    changing peoples consciousness?

What is to be done?
  • Given his view of power and knowledge, what work
    is to be done by intellectuals?
  • Intellectuals are not bearers of universal
    values they are not masters of truth and
    justice (126).
  • Rather intellectuals play a specific roleas
    specific intellectualsbecause of their expertise
    they can map out the political, economic and
    institutional regime for the production of truth.
    Their role is to provide tools to aid everyday
    struggles (126).

  • Foucault hints at the relation between power and
    knowledge in his comment that since the 17th
    Century, a form of power came into being that
    begins to exercise itself through social
    production and social service. It becomes a
    matter of obtaining productive service from
    individuals Power had to gain access to the
    bodies of individuals, to their acts, attitudes
    and behaviour (125).
  • He gives us a more in-depth account in Right of
    Death and Power over life

  • The political question in todays society is life
  • Whereas the sovereign had the right to take life
    or let live (259), in todays society the
    governing mechanism is to foster life by
    administrating it properly.
  • Power has a positive influence on life it
    endeavours to administer, optimize and multiply
    it, subjecting it to precise controls and
    comprehensive regulations (259). Examplepublic

  • Foucault calls this form of power biopower. It
    simultaneously aims at two targets the
    anatomo-politics of the human body and a
    bio-politics of the population (262).
  • It seeks to obtain knowledge in both fields
    knowledge about the human bodyergonomic studies
    of workersand knowledge about groups of
    individualsmorbidity rates in communities.
  • Such knowledge is used to regulate individuals
    and populations

The norm
  • The focus on fostering life has the consequence
    of normalizing society.
  • Modern mechanism of government do not wield power
    as a brute force as a sovereign might. Rather, it
    seeks to qualify, measure, apraaise and
    hierarchize, rather than display itself in its
    murderous splendour it effects distributions
    around the norm. A normalizing society is the
    historical outcome of a technology of power
    centred on life (266).

The power of the norm
  • Why are norms effective in governing individuals?
  • Think about the word normal. It is a powerful
    word it can affect the behaviour of individuals.
  • What do normal and its opposite abnormal
  • Normal suggests health abnormal sickness.
    Individuals want to be normal.
  • Note though it is individuals who fit the norm

Foucault and Critical Theory
  • Marxist account of ideology attempt to explain
    social reality by reducing it to one ideathe
    domination of the ruling class.
  • On Foucaults account, the story is much more
    complicated. It isnt just ownership and control
    of the means of production because the
    normalization of society takes place in
    non-capitalist societies as well