Truth is Experience Not Fact

In Foucault’s theory of discourse he is looking at discourse as the link between knowledge and the meanings attached to them, not the language associated to meanings.  Our experiences shape our discourse because meanings have a social construct.  Therefore, without knowledge of the topic or object we are unable to associate a meaning.  Foucault expresses that without discourse nothing has meaning (Hall 45).  He explains this by stating, “the concept of discourse is not about whether things exist but where meaning comes from” (Hall 45).

Time and space determine the meaning associated to an object.  There is no denying that objects are real but we only really understand their use or meaning once a specific discourse is implemented.  This idea is what the constructionist theory is portraying; the link between meaning and representation (Hall 45).  The truth about a word, topic, or object varies based on discourse.  The things in which we have or place meaning to seem very logical and common to a product of the culture.  For example, while watching the School House Rock clip everything seemed obvious.  It was portraying the basics of everything we learn about American history as elementary school students.  It was only until after we had a discussion with our peers that I realized not everyone had the same knowledge to interpret the video.  This is a good example of discourse and how different cultures place meaning differently.  The truth of a statement or object is based solely on the context of which it is being represented.

Our ideas and understandings are only present with the experiences gained and recourses available.  Science is a prime example or this.  New findings and the resources available allow each generation to apply, change, or interpret situations in a new discourse.

Foucault’s ideas express that there is not fixed truth.  He explains this through opposing Marxism and how power of class system is not economic based.  There are many other factors that influence ones class socially.  Foucault explains, “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time, power relations” (Foucault, 1977, 27).  Power relations are present in all different levels, not only between the oppressed and oppressors but even within those groups.  Different classes and groups of people share common knowledge that the other group my not understand.

To many, the law seems to be the truth; it is written out in books and displayed for all to understand.  But it is only when the law is interpreted and enforced that ‘truth’ becomes a broader spectrum (Hall 50).  People see the law as a common ground but our experiences especially those of law enforcement and lawyers influence the decisions associated to punishment.  Thus, showing that even when there are sets of rules that our society has agreed upon there is no cut and dry truth.  Discourse plays a huge role in every situation even though it seems like common sense to many.

The complexity of the constructionist theory allows a lot of diversity and an open-minded approach to knowledge and power.  Foucault’s argument makes sense and allows for all sorts of interpretations.  By being able to understand that there are many types of discourses it broadens acceptance of other ideas and opinions.  This also leaves many gray areas because truth cannot be explains which is the main flaw in his argument.


1. How does Foucault express the meaning of truth?  Is this a discourse in itself?

2. Give an example of how knowledge is power in three different groups an how it might help individuals in those groups succeed.

3. Do we only fully understand different discourses once we are exposed to other ideas and interpretations of similar situations?  How can/does this relate to crime and how the law is enforced?

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2 Responses to Truth is Experience Not Fact

  1. cdowens says:

    Dear Kendra,
    I really appreciate your choice of quote from Foucault–the one about the creation of “fields of knowledge” –because it is especially helpful for thinking about the knowledge/power connection. When a new field of knowledge is created or an already existing field of knowledge is altered or changed, this effects power relations. For example, let’s look at the development of “juvenile delinquency” as a field of knowledge. Before the 1800s, Euro-America didn’t even have a concept of “childhood” and it wasn’t until the middle of the 1800s that “adolescence” was theorized as a stage between childhood and adulthood. The creation of this new category was part of the development of a whole new field of knowledge about what a juvenile was and how they should be treated. People became experts in this field of knowledge, institutions were created (e.g. separate juvenile prisons in early 1900s), and regular people began to relate to the category as “common sense.” That’s why “knowledge is power” — because different fields of knowledge structure how we come to think and interact in the world.

    (There is an excellent short history of the idea of “juvenile justice” here:

    For this reason, I want to clarify this point for your second question: thinking about knowledge as something that helps people “succeed” in life individualizes “knowledge.” Foucault, on the other hand, is interested in knowledge as a social (more that one person) phenomenon (e.g. the field of psychology or the field of “juvenile delinquency”). Knowledge is powerful because it shapes how we come to understand and make sense of our worlds. I think your question about law can help people look at this kind of relationship in more detail–I hope it sparks some good discussions. (We’ll also be talking more about law and enforcement in our last week of class when we discuss prisons!)

  2. tayjern says:

    I chose to respond to the second question. I think one of the prime examples of this concept of knowledge is power would be our country, America. Although we may not be the largest country we are certainly one of the most powerful countries in the world because of our knowledge in technology. Because we are so advanced in war tactics, nuclear weapons, and soldier training, we are so powerful and have the chance to take over many countries and stand our own in any battle. This all comes from the knowledge of the people in our leadership in both the government and military.
    Another example could be Steve Jobs. Because he had so much knowledge of technology, computers, and apple products he also had much power not only within his company but also all around the world. His knowledge made him a billionaire, gave him much power in the technological world, and also gave him a legacy known by almost everyone in the world.
    It is stated in the Bible that “A wise man is strong, And a man of knowledge increases power” Proverbs 24:5. Because God is all knowing, He is also all power. He is omniscient which means infinitely wise or all knowing; therefore, He is omnipotent which means having unlimited power. This is stated many times throughout the Bible. God is the superior example of how knowledge is power.

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