Posts Tagged ‘theory’

Foucault and post-structuralism

December 10, 2013

Foucault is often identified as a “post-structuralist.” But what exactly is post-structuralism? I have found this to be a much-discussed question in courses about social theory. In a lecture delivered in 1973, Foucault discussed how his intellectual approach differs from that of structuralists. Specifically, he noted that he is not concerned with what is traditionally called “structure”:

Neither Deleuze, nor Jean-François Lyotard, nor Guattari, nor I ever do structural analyses; we are absolutely not “structuralists.” If I were asked what I do and what others do better, I would say that we don’t study structures; indulging in wordplay, I would say that we study dynasties…I would say that we try to bring to light what has remained until now the most hidden, the most occulted, the most deeply invested experience in the history of our culture–power relations. (p. 17)

Foucault went on to suggest that, “curiously,” economic structures have received much more critical attention than power relations. However, this is a problem, because there are certain phenomena “that can be explained only if they are related not to economic structures, to the economic relations of production, but to the power relations that permeate the whole fabric of our existence” (p. 17).

Foucault, M. (1994). Power. New York: New Press.

A proper level of modesty

February 3, 2013

How to go about beginning a lecture with a proper level of modesty? Here is one idea:

What I would like to tell you in these lectures are some things that may be inexact, untrue, or erroneous, which I will present as working hypotheses, with a view to a future work. I beg your indulgence, and more than that, your malice. Indeed, I would be very pleased if at the end of each lecture you would voice some criticisms and objections so that, insofar as possible and assuming my mind is not yet too rigid, I might gradually adapt to your questions and thus at the end of these five lectures we might have done some work together or possibly made some progress. (Foucault, 1973, p. 1)

This was how Foucault opened a series of lectures about truth and juridical forms at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in 1973. By using the term modesty, I refer to a postmodern-inspired idea about recognizing the limits of any epistemological stance. This is a modesty which recognizes that although we may develop a stance that is valid, it may not be possible to develop an epistemological position that is fully complete. This is, of course, not to say that “anything goes”; recognizing the validity of multiple positions does not necessitate declaring that all positions are equally valid. Rather, all positions must be appropriately justified and supported. However, maintaining a certain level of modesty in our claims is key in leaving ourselves open to the possibility of growth and learning.