Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
To ask to what extent humans are agents is a direct reflection of a humanism in our times. It obscures another question: how human beings are made subject in the first place.
In many domains of humanities and social sciences, we have witnessed a flood of “discourse analysis” and “constructivism” in the name of Foucault, frequently accompanied by some misunderstandings/abuse of Foucault. More specifically, certain discourse analysis has forged some non-productively internal chains of cause and effects, and used them to explain how things work, as if discourses can somewhat magically produce or influence the practice.
However, this is not what Foucault is all about. Foucault never assumes that a predominant discourse, procedures and technologies would simply steer real course of action, let alone causing actions. Neither does he proposes that discourses would guide practices and therefore get materialized in this world. On the contrary, the discourse and the practice are both effect of power. Discourses are influenced by the power constellations they are produced from, in their form, content and efficiency. Discourses are themselves some sort of practical intervention and representation of a certain predominant style of power. They accompany the observable behaviors and correspond to action designated by power, but they do not cause social action.
Even when he is speaking of bio-power, of the techniques of disciplining the body and governementality, there is no pretension to describe and explain social history. Instead, a history of knowledge and particular manners of “knowing”—a construction of rationality and subject, is at stake.
It is true that according to Foucault, human social action need explicit discourses, procedures and technologies to operate mind and body. Their operation, however, are made intuitively, not logically. Nevertheless, what Foucault aims to tackle is not so much a “demystification of power” than a depiction of style of acting and knowing, out of a decentered power instead of a deeply “sinister” conspiracy steering misrecognition (either as it is envisaged by Althusser through ISA or Bourdieu via habitus).
From the study of clinic, madness, prison and other disciplinary institutions, it is fair to say that Foucault has never dealt with ‘social reality’ or human behaviors of past centuries. Instead, his interest is to present modes of the ‘problematization’ that were made possible out of a previous absence. In this sense, historiography or social history is not his focus, as he insists that he is not a sociologist or a historian. Rather, Foucault always and largely only studies what can be reached with the tools of philosophy—an inquiry of predominant, entrenched “logic” (modes of thoughts, instead of “ideas” themselves) of order of things. As a consequence, to single out some lower-level “discourses” such as state ideology or fanatic believes as a sort of “Foucaultian” power is mistaken. Foucault’s power is already a meta-discourse behind all the “lower-level” discourses and practices.
“ I told you very briefly that what I intended to analyse in most of my work was neither past people’s behaviour (which is something that belongs to the field of social history), nor ideas in their representative values. What I tried to do from the beginning was to analyse the process of “ problematization “ – which means : how and why certain things ( behaviour,phenomena, processes ) became a problem …it is not a way of denying the reality of such phenomena…madness, crime or sexuality …it was precisely some real existent in the world which was the target of social regulation… How and why were very different things in the world gathered together …as for example “ mental illness “..The problematization is an “answer“ to a concrete situation which is real [but did not exist to problematize the newly created problems]
That is to say, Foucault does not treat the analysis of a problematization as the effect of certain behaviors or their cause, but just the way of “problematizaing” and thus “inventing” a problem where there was no problem before by specific manners of knowing and differentiating.
The problem of Foucault is a lack of social structure or a clear generative circuit of power and knowledge. There is no clue that where do they come from and why they could change as to bring about different “order of things” in different historical periods. The only thing that is certain is that they do change, and that is also why the notions of “human” “subject” or “science” would seem so absurd along the lines of Foucault’s works. One can criticize that Foucault’s model of power assumes a too homogeneous effect upon individuals. Power is so encompassing that even resistance is inevitably enabled by and as the outcome of power. But such a critique should recognize that neither of these questions was at the heart of Foucault’s thesis.