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Power and discourse: the approach of Foucault

Whilst not necessarily challenging these effects, Foucault offers another perspective on how power operates.

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He deals in a currency that is accepted everywhere: truth and power.

Then, given that the perceived link between the mass media and power is so strong, it is pertinent to review Foucault's understanding of the nature of power.

Frank’s The Wounded Story Teller and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish

Such characteristics of the operation of modern power originated, according to Foucault, in the micro-techniques and practices of early industrial workplaces and schools, the early hospitals, asylums and prisons which were concerned with the "...various social techniques for the administration of corporeal, attitudinal and behavioural discipline" (O'Neill 1987:42). Foucault does not regard power as only contained in the state or other political structures; in his view "Power is everywhere" (Foucault 1978:93). Power is firstly found and constituted at the micro level in various local sites. From here Foucault argues it was incorporated and developed into larger more institutionalised structures of instrumental rationality, control and discipline. From a plurality of local points, power has developed into global or macro strategies of domination:

Foucault and Sedgwick: The Repressive Hypothesis ..

It is certainly Foucault's view that

The plague stricken town, transversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies-this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city” (Foucault, 6) This quote extracted from the Essay Panopticism written by Michel Foucault perfectly describes in detail the controls put on the citizens of Big Brother’s Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984....

Indeed, if as Foucault suggests, power/knowledge can be resisted, an attempt to problematise in the media might actually result in an opportunity for the so-called "problem" to be validated as an acceptable norm.

Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume 1 - …

Foucault argues that it is the people who have authoritative knowledge, particularly those in positions of power that create social order.

Foucault's approach to power was established through a large number of studies of the microphysics of power, in particular those micro-practices and techniques which emerged during seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which were evidence of the strategic linkage of power/knowledge/discourse. However, in the latter part of his life Foucault's attention turned to reflections on the operation of modern power in its global or macro settings. From his historical research Foucault detected that the origins of modern power, in the macro sense, could be found in late sixteenth century Germany with the advent of Polizeiwissenschaft, or `science of police' ("...the English word `policy' is arguably a better equivalent to this meaning of Polizei." [Gordon 1991:10]).

Foucault's position on power/knowledge/discourse provides a powerful theoretical framework for an analysis of environmental conflicts and the struggle over the knowledges and the always provisional and contingent `truth' governing `nature'. In order to expand our framework concerning the constitution of environmental struggles it is important to consider the discursive functions and operations of government. Again I start with Foucault's concept of `governmentality' and then move to the associated analytics of `problematics of government' recently developed by Rose and Miller (1992). These concepts are used to understand the recent growth of the government of `nature'. This is the subject of the next section.

In an excerpt called Discipline and Punish, contemporary theorist Michael Foucault explains these two concepts.
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  • Notes on and quotations from Michel Foucault

    o What is Foucault’s criticism of the repressive hypothesis and what evidence does he use to present his criticism?

  • Foucault quotes Notes on and quotations from Michel Foucault

    Foucault's ideas of Power/Knowledge leading to conduct including the possibility of resistance will be deployed.

  • Doubts of Repressive Hypothesis (Foucault)

    What is the repressive hypothesis and why does Foucault think it is ..

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Foucault Based on the above quote from ..

On Foucault's account, modern control of sexuality parallels moderncontrol of criminality by making sex (like crime) an object ofallegedly scientific disciplines, which simultaneously offer knowledgeand domination of their objects. However, it becomes apparent thatthere is a further dimension in the power associated with the sciencesof sexuality. Not only is there control exercised via others' knowledgeof individuals; there is also control via individuals' knowledge ofthemselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciencesof sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to thesenorms. Thus, they are controlled not only as objects ofdisciplines but also as self-scrutinizing and self-formingsubjects.

Foucault repressive hypothesis quote

Foucault's history of sexuality was originally projected as a fairlystraightforward extension of the genealogical approach ofDiscipline and Punish to the topic of sexuality. Foucault'sidea is that the various modern bodies of knowledge about sexuality(various “sciences of sexuality”, including psychoanalysis)have an intimate association with the power structures of modernsociety and so are prime candidates for genealogical analysis. Thefirst volume of this project, published in 1976, was intended as theintroduction to a series of studies on particular aspects of modernsexuality (children, women, “perverts”, population, etc.)It outlined the project of the overall history, explaining the basicviewpoint and the methods to be used.

Given his critique of the repressive hypothesis, Foucault ..

Foucault's final engagement with traditional philosophy arises fromthe rather surprising turn toward the ancient world he took in thelast few years of his life. The History of Sexuality had beenplanned as a multi-volume work on various themes in a study of modernsexuality. The first volume, discussed above, was a generalintroduction. Foucault wrote, but never published, a second volume(The Confessions of the Flesh) that dealt with the origins ofthe modern notion of the subject in the practices of Christianconfession. His concern was that a proper understanding of theChristian development required a comparison with ancient conceptionsof the ethical self, something he undertook in his last two books(1984) on Greek and Roman sexuality: The Use of Pleasureand The Care of the Self.

From the first mention of the repressive hypothesis, Foucault ..

On Foucault's account, the relation of power and knowledge is farcloser than in the familiar Baconian engineering model, for which“knowledge is power” means that knowledge is an instrumentof power, although the two exist quite independently. Foucault's pointis rather that, at least for the study of human beings, the goals ofpower and the goals of knowledge cannot be separated: in knowing wecontrol and in controlling we know.

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