Monday, 3 September 2012

Discourses



Discourse: "ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and relations between them. Discourses are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They constitute the 'nature' of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern" - Weedon, 1987: 108

Foucault first introduced his idea of discourse in his early work, in particular Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). He uses the idea of discourse to show the important relationship between disciples and disciplinary practices.

There are three fundamental components of discourse:

The Archive
As defined by Foucault, a discourse is a set of rules by which a society is defined at any point in history. Society can be defined through:

1. The limits and forms of expressibility i.e. what is possible to express
2. The limits and forms of conversations i.e. what cannot be conversed
3. The limits and forms of memory i.e. what we are encouraged to forget
4. The limits and forms of reactivation 

The archive is fluid, changeable and in process, thus differing from the traditional view of the archive being a collection of detailed documents.

The Statement
Foucault's statement is different to a simple speech act. Rather, the statement is a functional and dynamic part of communication and can be understood as a technique which assists the formation of human subjects and social institutions. Foucault describes the statement as being changed and determined by the archive. The statement is contextual, thus is affected by what the archive is defined at during a point in history. Thus the archive is necessary to understand the statement itself. 

The Episteme
Foucault's episteme can be understood as a period of history which is organised around and defined through discourses, norms and expectations. What Foucalt makes clear is that a number of epistemes may be present at any one point in time, thus understanding the historical and sociological context that the epistemes are present in is crucial. Due to the fact that epistemes are based on world-views at any given time, they are characterised by institutions, knowledges, disciplines and activities present in that sociological context. An important point to note is that an episteme does not link different discourses together, but rather they represent the space they inhabit; a space of dispersion or an open field of relationships whereby change is always possible.



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