Michel Foucault rejects the concept of ideology because;
1-) It is always in opposition with another truth claim
2-) It refers to something of the order of a subject
3-) It is based on determinist infrastructure (base) – superstructure model (criticism of economic determinism).
With the emergence of post-structuralism, we see a shift from ideology to discourse in social theory. There are 2 tendencies in post-structuralist researches: textual and discursive analyses.
Textuality: A movement within literary, cultural theory and in philosophy emphasizing the revaluation and revalorization of text as text. Textual researches focus on language as a producer of meaning rather than a pale reflection of some prior reality (Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva etc). Jacques Derrida even rejects such things as summary and translation and thinks that there are only other texts. In accordance with textuality wave, historical legal and medical records are analyzed as producers of their own right rather than a pale reflection of some prior reality.
Discursivity: Discourse analyses’ area of research is much broader than textual analyses. Foucault’s discourse contains all traditions, norms, rules, texts, symbols, words and expressions where hierarchical power relations could be found. Discursivity unlike textuality, not only deals with the “text”, but also with the “context”. Discursive researches focus on the question of “how” rather than “why”. They do not look for causal explanations but instead, they try to understand the working of an incredibly complex mechanism that creates subordinations and produces hierarchical power relations. Edward Said explains Foucauldian discourse analysis as follows: “Foucault specified rules for those rules, and even more impressively, he showed how over long periods of time the rules became epistemological enforcers of what people thought, lived and spoke” (page 126-127). Foucault analyzes different institutions (prison, clinic, hospital, bordello etc) and other discursive unities (book, oeuvre, traditions, genre or discipline) to detect power relations. He says; “Whenever one can describe, between a number of statements, such a system of dispersion, whenever, between objects, types of statement, concepts, or thematic choices, one can define a regularity (an order, correlations, positions and fuctionings, transformations), we will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation” (page 128).
Foucault and the Problem of Determination
Foucault makes a crisp differentiation between three aspects of the play of dependencies:
- intradiscursive (between the objects, operations, concepts within one discursive formation)
- interdiscursive (between different discursive formations)
- extradiscursive (between discursive and non-discursive transformations)
Foucault rejected the objective truth and so called “scientific” truth claims made by Marxism which is based on economic determinism. He mentioned tat Marxist insistance on economics, shadowed systematically other considerations of power. Foucault borrowed the term “genealogy” from Nietzsche and together with the term “archaeology of knowledge”, he used it to refer to the need in deconstructionist social science researches to go back to the origins of discourses by solving different layers of the discourse and find the origin where power relations began. He claimed that the whole history was constituted around a set of linked ad mistaken assumptions. Unlike Marx, Foucault saw power as something that is exercised rather than possessed. In other words, power is not attached to agents and interests, it is incorporated in numerous practices.
In “Panopticism” article, Foucault talks about three types of power. In his view, the relation between a master and a slave is not a relation of power. The first type of power is based on classical discipline and punish principle. The second type of power which Foucault calls as “panopticism” takes its name from Jeremy Bentham’s famous prison design: Panopticon. In Panopticon, prisoners are closed in dark cells and all cells are arranged in a way to see a long tower at the center of the prison. The tower’s inside is invisible but people in the tower can observe the behaviors of the prisoners. According to Foucault, this fear of being observed is strongly felt by the prisoners and after a period of time it becomes a habit for the prisoners. Thus, people act very carefully with the fear of being observed in the social life. Foucault asserts that liberal society does not need chains to force people to do something. Rather, Panopticism fulfills this duty. “So, it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of the regulations. Bentham was surprised that panoptic institutions could be so light: there were no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks; all that was needed was that the separations should be clear and the openings well arranged” (Foucault, “Panopticism”, pg 202). Foucault believes that Panopticism is one of the most important aspects of modern societies and it “automatizes and disindividualizes the power” (Foucault, pg 202). Panoptic power works with the internalization of the fear of surveillance. The third type of power is called as “plague power” and it is based on record keeping and the controlling of individuals by their records.
Foucault also criticized Marxism because of its reductionist look towards human beings as productive units (homo economicus). Although Foucault, while creating his theory of discourse, was affected by his Marxist teacher Louis Althusser’s thesis on the “ideological apparatuses of the state”, he rejected ideology-science distinction of Marxists and the notion of the subject both as an individual agent and as a class member. We can say that he worked outside of the Marxist problematic of determinism rather than seeking to retrieve a polymorphous model of causality within it (response to Gramscian understanding). Foucault said: “Marxism exist in the 19th century thought like a fish in water; that is, it is unable to breathe anywhere else. But, Marxist thought is irredeemably confined by an episteme that is coming to an end” (page 139).
Foucault and the Problems of Epistemology
Epistemology means “the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity”. Since Foucault rejects the objectivity of truth claims and even sciences, he is an extreme position to select here as he is so far from the epistemological security that the original debates within Marxism rested on. Foucault looks for power relations rather than the episteme. Foucault analyzes different science branches and their terminologies, to find hierarchical power relations. For him, medicine is a good opportunity to see how hierarchical relations are formed and some people are subjected to power by labeling as “sick” or “mad”. Likewise, in his “What Is An Author?” article, Foucault questions the validity of written works as objective source of knowledge and asserts that they are the products of discursive relations. While reducing the role of author into a reflector of discourse, Foucault also talks about some creators of discourses like Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.
Foucault and the Problem of Subject
The problem of subject, which constitutes a central place in Foucauldian research, does not exist in Marxist theory. Foucault believed that the subject is constituted rather than given. Foucault’s interest in the practices constituting thhe subject (discursive, social and so on) is much broader than any other modern theorists. Foucault’s interest in the subjectization is not based on social class but it constitutes all discourses. That is why Foucaldian method is used for defending the rights of all disadvantaged social groups (homosexuals, the East like Edward Said did in Orientalism, women like feminist theories did), all subject groups. Foucault’s special interest in the body especially attracted the attentions of feminists.