Foucault’s View of Discourse, Power, and Knowledge…

In “The Work of Representation” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Stuart Hall, the author takes a closer look at Michel Foucault’s perspective of discourse and power. He starts by giving the reader an understanding of the difference between language and discourse. He stresses how Foucault put a new meaning on the term “discourse”. Hall shows this by stating, “By discourse, Foucault meant a group of statements which provide a language for talking about”. As a college student I found it hard to see that point of view and tough to recognize that there even is a difference. At first sight I thought they were the same thing. Discourse however is the act of actually doing or practicing your language. The phrase walk the walk and talk the talk comes to mind because one could say they might act a certain way or do a certain thing, but until that task is actually performed, their actions will always speak louder then their words. Through this article I have learned that every group of people, type of event, and almost anything around us has a different type of discourse. For example a typical UC Davis athlete is expected to have different discourse because of the things they wear, the way they talk, and the things they do. This concept is closely related to stereotype; however, there is a difference because discourse is the type of language or actions that a certain group performs. Stereotype on the other hand is strictly an outsider’s view on a certain group of people.

Foucault also exclaims “Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language”. From here the article shifts into the discussion about knowledge and power. Of course everyone has heard of the phrase “knowledge is power.” But Foucault continues by breaking down this quote. He shows the connection by showing how knowledge has the power to show the truth, or make something true. He gives an example by relating this concept to criminals. This had had effects for both the criminal and the punisher and has been used historically in the prison system. Power is always seen as a one directional, chain-like form. Foucault, however, shows how power is more of a net-like organization. Power does not come from one place, but from many different levels. I agree with this statement because power is something that is not made by one person, but rather given by others. One can be a leader in a certain position but if they lack followers then they have lost their power. One may not even have a position of leadership yet they still acquire power because of what others give them. For example, the popular group in high school does not have any type of position, yet they hold all of the power in the social world and others fear them. Another example could be in a business; although power may be seen in a linear form because of the different levels of management, each employee hold some type of power and can either choose to single handily benefit or corrupt the business, which demonstrates their form of power.

One criticism that I have of this piece is that I would’ve liked to see more of Hall’s perspective. I felt as though Hall was reiterating what Foucault had already thought and come up with. If I wanted to see all of Foucault’s ideas and perspective, I could have easily just read one of his books or journals. It would have been nice to get a new perspective of the actual author in addition to Foucault’s view.

1)    Since Foucault made his own meaning for discourse, as a college student, what does the word “discourse” mean to you?

2)    From your life experiences, do you believe that knowledge and power do relate? Or do you see this simply as a phrase that is thrown around without meaning? Use real life examples of how knowledge and power do or don’t relate.

Is knowledge really power? Just a little humor for you all to enjoy! :)

Is knowledge really power? Just a little humor for you all to enjoy! 🙂

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About tayjern

Hello my name is Taylor Jern and I am a sophomore majoring in Managerial Economics. I am from Corona, CA which is in Southern California. My hobbies include all sports especially soccer, which I play on the Women's Soccer Team here at Davis. I would love to get to know you! :)
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2 Responses to Foucault’s View of Discourse, Power, and Knowledge…

  1. cdowens says:

    Hi Taylor,
    I really like how you focus on discourse as “the type of language or actions that a certain group performs.” (The idea of performance will come up again in our discussions next week.) We are all immersed in a network of discourses, a network, that is specific to our historical period and place. And because we come to understand the world through those discourses, we do begin to “perform” them. I would point out that people or groups don’t actually “have discourses”–instead, people exist within and come to understand ourselves within discourses. Discourse is powerful because of how it structures our way of thinking about ourselves and other people (so stereotypes can be discourses too). See my comment on Kendra’s response for more discussion about power. I hope some people respond to your excellent second question too!

  2. First, I think knowledge is not only those from book and teachers, this kind of knowledge only form the basic framework for us to know and control everything. The other kinds of knowledge is from the real life and from the society, such as the positive attitude towards life, the appropriate way to communicate with others, thorough values and even the understanding of language arts. And the key of power is controlling, the highest level of power is to conquer without a single fight.

    The business negotiation is a good example here, by the effective impact of skillful language and the psychological judgment, it is easy to control the negotiation move towards our own target. Another example of how knowledge related to power is that Yonghao Luo, who first worked for an English education institution in China and now the founder of a cell phone system, created a surprising system with his team where there were only eight people, the system is not perfect but in some details it is really humanized. I think this is also a kind of power, the ability to make others follow him, and the reason for this kind of power is knowledge which I mentioned at the beginning, not the things you learned from books, but something you realized as you grow up.

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