For Foucault Discourse is a group of statements which provides a language

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For Foucault: Discourse is a group of statements which provides a language of talking about – a way of representing the knowledge about – a particular topic at a particular historical moment… Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language. But… since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do – our conduct – all practices have a discursive aspect”. (Stuart Hall 1992: p. 291) Hall, S. (1992). The West and the Rest in Hall, S., & Gieben, B. (Eds.). Formations of modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.Discourses are everywhere and everything, and its trough discourses that we give the world meaning and its true that we come to understand the world and our social practices are the use of these discourses, these meanings to understand the world, they shape andinfluence it but they constitute it aswell. And their ways of representing knowledge. At a particular historical moment, so any particular time that discourses were used would be different from those experiences at another historical moment. So you can see that the notion of discourse is pretty central to Foucaults approach. Essentially hes saying that all social practices should be understood by discursive constructions, by the use of constructs in discourse we actually construct the object or event itself, we actually give rise to it and we do it so to speak. Our discourse then allows and limits the possibilities of understanding the objects that it refers to. The objects that it creates is this sense. And it both allows and that’s the important point, and it limits those possibilities. Facilitates and limits, enables and constrains what can be said, by whom where and when. So its essentially saying what can be said by whom where and when and what has meaning and what can be said by whom where and when. Example: The idea of the homosexualIn the late 19th century homosexual came into being as a concept, of course homosexual actiosn and behaviour had always been part of human society, but the concept of the homosexual itself ecame to exist at a particular historical period and remained with us for almost 200 years. It brings with it a particular understanding, a construction of the subject, in this case the subject is the homosexual person and it does that by a range of medical, moral and legal discourses. In foucaults sense then , that notion of the homosexual has defined the subject itself and we as people can only then occupy certain positions in society dictated by those subjects, people therefore positioned as in this case homosexual, having been positioned in that way were then seen as sick, illegal, worthy of punishment and so on, depending on what aspects of the medical, moral and legal discourses is referring to. Now this is a very strong way in which discourses defines in this case the homosexual person, and it allows and limits what can be done and what can be said, and how people can behave that is how they can occupy those positions. Of course that is changing now and that concept that 10th century concept of the homosexual is now something that is rapidly changing, particularly in British society, so homosexuals are not seen in the same way anymore as needing moral control or some kind of punishment. This extends in Foucaults sense, into the notion of the subjective sense as well. It is not just that we accept the practices and the discourses and all the ideas that go with them which we are presented with as we come into contact with society, but as I said, we position ourselves within those, we come to understand ourselves in that kinf of way using that conceptual map. SO in one sense we take on the roles defined by those concepts we think of ourselves in those kinds of terms, we describe ourselves in that way and we act in the way that are expected of those subject positions. So we adopt those subject positions, it creates our subjectivity, our sense of ourselves, our own identity to do that. That has a very strong sense for Foucault in which these discourses are actually creating the very subjective experiences of ourselves. Another example of this can be taken from the work by Ed Lee , a British discourse analyst, and some years ago now, he interviewd a range of 17 to 18 year olds about the notion of the subject positions of masculinity, what kinds of discourses about masculinity could they use, would they use, and by analysing a number of those interviews, he discovered there were three mayor subject positions which they were bringing forwards, positions about being masculine or identifying masculinity. The first of those may be familiar to you from films, referred to as the holiwood hero, and the subject position is the james bond, the rocky, the Rambo type person, the individual the malr who is seeking out and enjoying the challenge of risky situations, having courage and facing ones enemies and acting in a cool manner. So that was one way in which these young men portrayed themselves and identified these subject positions which they could occupy. But not all of the did that, some had different positions. Another every common one is what Ed Lee refers to as the Mister Average or the idle of the road suject positions, here the respondents claimed that they were different from the holliwood type media images, they weren’t like that at all. They rejected that kind of hero subject positions and constructed themselves in some sense as the negative of it, the opposite of that. Im not at all like that they would say, without necessarily specifying what they were like, but they rejected that position of the holliwood movie model if you like, Hollywood media image. And then there was a third position, a third form of subject position about masculinity that the men adopted. This also was a contrast with the macho man image. And what Ed Lee refers to as the multifaceted personality, in this case the young men described themselves as being comfortable with doing things that were more conventially seen as associated with women, such as expressing emotions and so on. So these kinds of things were seen as perhaps normally associated with non masculinity but for them it was part of being masculine, that those things were acceptable and to be done. So again a rejection of the macho image but another way of formulating that image in a much more positive sense than the second subject position. So that’s Ed Lee then, three subject positions, which his analysis of discourse enabled him to describe and identify. Now to ggo back to foucaults approach to discrouse, and absolutely essential part of his approach is that these discourses are tied up with power. Power and authority in society, knowledge he said is put to work via discursive practices to regulate peoples conduct. So the adoption or the adaptation of subject positions the taking on of those discourses by people is a way in which they are controlled and regulated. For example discoursive construcitons of sexuality in medical terms result in medical control, and something in legal terms in legal control. SO the very notion of sexuality is something which in a sense describes these things and at the same time enables some kinf of control or authority over people. In this case by medical practices and for Foucault there is a combination here of both the kind of power that comes with that and the knowledge that’s bound up in it. So the medical knowledge about sexuality itself comes with those powers that discourse of the medical notions of sexuality brings with it all kinds of ways in which peoples conduct and behaviour can be regulated, controlled and so on. And it limits socieal practices as well to certain kidns of things. Only certain sorts of things are available for us to do. No in this foucualt is erjecting a central idea that been around for many hundreds of years in European thought, about the notion of power which is that power in some sense is the way in which you constrain others, the notion of power as being something that you can do to control other people, to make them do things they wouldn’t normally want to do or they might not hitnk of dong. That kind of notion that power is control, is preventing, is repressing, is sensoring and concealing and so on. Now, in rejecting that Foucault is not saying that he wants to reject all those ideas, but rather he wants to say that in addition to those ideas, the notion of discursive power also produced reality!! It does positive things to. So the whole realm of psychiatric knowledge, of medical knowledge, of notion of sexuality and so on, all of these things develop in scientirifc ways and in other kinds of fashions to develop our knowledge, and they produce ways that restrict our behaviour but also they enable our behaviour, they produce new objects, new domains, new rituals of truth as he puts it through which we can do things. So the notion of power here is both enabling and contraingin at the same time. Now, one particular way in which that constraint or that enabling happens is through what Foucault refers to as dominant discourses, the are certain discursive complexes if you like, certain subject positions that go with that which tend to be privileged. And they privileged versions of socieal reality and the existing power relations that lie behind them and so on. In fact some of these discourses are so entrenched, that its difficult to see how they could be challenged. They become if ou like common sense, and this is what he refers to as dominant discourses, there so obvious, there so taken for granted, that we cant see any other way of doing thigs, but he wants to argue, alternatives are always possible. There is a sense of history here, tht things have changed, they haven’t always been that ways in the way determined by these discourses, there not eternal, they do come and go and so they have a histporiy or how he puts it a genealogy: a way in which they can change over time or maybe even disappear over time or appear and then disappear over time. So aternatives are possible, evem though at any one particular period the discourses tend to dominate and determine the kidns of ways we can thik and behave and so on. Now those dominat discourses are also connected with another important aspect of foucaults approach which is the institutions in which there embedded. Its not just that they exist in some kind of ephemeral way in the language you use and so on, but rather theyre embedded in actual institutions and the various kinds of behaviours and the various kinds of individuals and regulations that go along with those institutions. So discourses are not just ways of speaking and writing, there bound up with instuitutional practices, ways of organizing, regulating, and administering social life that come with perhaps the medical profession, perhaps the scientific proefssiopon, perhaps the legal profession, that come with politics, that come with the media and so on, all these different areas and institutions of our experience. So for example is a medical sense, being positioned as the patient in a medical discourse means that ones body becomes an object of legitimate interest to doctors and nurses and maybe exposes touched, invaded in the process of treatment as part of the practice of medicine. Now we don’t see this as threatening necessarily, because we see it as part of the discourse. Were part of this institutional practice that medicine has, whereby its doing us good in the main by its various ways In which it exposes us and invades us and opened us up and puts drugs inside us and operated on us and so on and so forth but nebertheles for foucualt, this is an institutional practice with a set of discourses and the set of subject positions that go with that, subject positions as doctor or nurse or patient or victim or whatever. How to undertake a discursive analysis following foucautls approach. How might you bring in these ideas of the discourse the subject positions the dominat discourses and the institutional practise, when important things to bare in mind here are in contrst with perhaps discursive psychology, the focus here is very mich on discourses and explicitly on the power and the politics behind those discoursrs. In fact, usually theorists take a specific stance towards those as a way of undermining what they see as oppressive discourses or oppressive practices. So its often a critical kind of approach that’s taken in foucualdian discourse analysis. Secondly, almost anything is a discourse. Discourse is everywhere, it defines the meaning of life for us, and whats more for Foucauldian apprioaches the discourse doesn’t have to be just words, it can be anything that has meaning or can give things meaning. So it includes a whole range of visual things, pictures, and video and so on that can be included. As well as other kinds of visual phenomena like icons, or adverts and so and so forth that we might come across. All of these things embed discourses, create discourses and in that way come to structure our experience of the world. And you might tell from that the focus of Foucauldian discourse analysis is very much more at a macro level and kind of analysis rather than a micro, minute analysis of how individual words and phrases are used and how the turn taking in talk happens that is associated with discursive psychology. In contrast, foucaultdian approached tend to look at the macro level of discourses, they look at large scale objects which might be public speeches or published books, or whole tv programs and so on. Quote large scale things. Now, various people have tried to identified stages of analysis here, different authors have come up with different numbers, some four or five or six, the most probably from Ian Parker, whos been very keen on foucualdian approaches who comes up with 20 stages. Parker, I. (1992). Discourse Dynamics: Critical Analysis for Social and Individual Psychology, London: Routledge.Essentially most of the 20 stages can be captured by the following points, focuses: