Michel Foucault, from Discourse to Power: A Struggle

Michel Foucault focuses on the concepts of discourse and power. His ideas can be seen in various political practices and conflicts, which I will discuss after I summarize his ideas below.

To Foucault, discourse are practices that enhance our knowledge. Everything representing discourse consists of three important characteristics: authorization (enable), constraint, and identity (constitute). Specifically, they are social practices that we participate (John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture An Introduction, 128-130). For example, let’s take a look at experience. It enables you to interpret your surroundings and understand the perspectives others have. On the other hand, it constrains you to ignorance, for you might not know something others know. More importantly, your knowledge is shaped partially by your experience. Thus, there is a sense of individuality that constrains you from agreeing with others and creates an identity for yourself. Nevertheless, to Foucault, discourse produces knowledge, and knowledge is power. Power is a web of “nonegalitarian and mobile relations”, has some sort of motives, and faces opposition (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 94-96). Additionally, Foucault doesn’t believe that power is absolute and negative, but I interpret what he means is that power is a struggle. All of this can be seen in American politics.

    In 2013, the U.S government was shut down from September 30 to October 17 because of the power struggle. The House Republicans wanted to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act in the funding bill while the Senate Democrats wanted to pass bills that did not affect the Affordable Care Act. This is a perfect example of Foucault’s power and resistance. The House has the power to propose bills, but the Senate has the power to review and act upon. The identity of these members are either Republicans or Democrats, which are determined by their discourse (mainly experience and background). They both are equally powerful because the system requires the harmony between the House and the Senate, further demonstrating that power is an end of relations.

2 responses to “Michel Foucault, from Discourse to Power: A Struggle

  1. I found post really helpful. Foucault’s ideas on discourse are kind of hard to grasp so reading about what you gleaned from it helped make things more clear for me. Especially what you said about how some experiences can “constrain you to ignorance”. It is counterintuitive to think that in any situation learning something can actually make you more ignorant than you were in the first place. Once you define something you know you are putting a line between what you do know and what you don’t know and giving form to what you don’t know is daunting because then you just begin to see how much you don’t know. I feel like this extends back to Meno asking about how he can even begin to learn about something he is unaware he is ignorant of. But I guess the counterintuitive-ness or lack of directionality of discourses is what makes them so cool, it creates the resistance you were talking about in your example with the Senate and the House and it gives us a lot to think about as far as “power” relations.

  2. I really like how you took Foucault’s theories of discourse and power and applied them to politics. It is very apparent, if yow look in society, to see how corrupt it is, and to see how power played a role in that corruptness. Yes, I also think that power is not “absolute and negative”, but I think that put in the hands of different types of people, it is seen as something negative. Therefore, mostly, in today’s society, people associate power with negativity, instead of just thinking of power in its pure form. Society has too many examples of people abusing power. I even think that it was an abuse of power when the government shut down like that in 2013. Any group of people that can completely shut down a fundamental principle of an entire country has too much power to me.

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