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.

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