Michel Foucault on Rhetoric
Ron Turner on Foucault
Ed's lecture notes
Foucault works against the "will to truth," the
idea to deny to discourse its own reality and to think of it as
only the window dressing or conveyer) . For Foucault, discourse
Similar to zeitgeists and paradigms The structure governing knowledge
in a culture that is established by particular discursive practices.
There is only one present at a time; there is little overlap or
transition between formations.
- Rules which govern discursive formations
- a. Rules that control the fact that something can be talked
about. These are necessary. for the appearance of objects of discourse.
- i. Prohibitions about speaking of certain things (don't talk
about sex' it's dirty)
- ii. rules which establish
institutional bodies as the proper authority and spokespeople for the creation
of an, object of discourse
(a disease was the " yuppie flu'' until institutionalized;
now it is a form of "immune deficiency disorder.")
- b. Rules concerning who is allowed to speak/write
- i. We listen to, some (the mature, reject others (children
and seniors who have been abused)
- ii. Credibility is given based on having accomplished certain
conditions (passed the bar)
- iii. Certain ways of producing discourse enable listening
(ways to write academic/scientific discourse)
- iv. Rules for the ritual of production (vestments, and/or
other nonverbal factors.
- v. Rules for particularly acceptable sites for discourse.
- c. Rules for proper forms that concepts and theories must
assume to be accepted as knowledge.
- i. Rules as to the proper arrangement of statement (for instance
scientists always report hypothesis before findings (even though
they are often generated during or after)
- ii. Stylistic rules (objectified language; nonlinear speech
is generally taken as less than functional--thinkof the problems
of native Americans due to their non-western speaking).
- iii. Only certain people may participate in generating certain
types of rules. (Lay people cannot make laws for the C:atholic
(2) Humans as a product of discourse.
The human Being has not
always been the unifying element at the center for the organization of knowledge.
The current discursive
formation, Modernity, locates human beings as the foundation and
origin of knowledge through their supremacy over the use of language.
Language has been made into an objects which man controls. We
have "invented man as a distinct self. Foucault argues that
this self- turn upon itself and once again return man to the background
of knowledge. To some degree, this would undermine the linguistic/rhetorical
(3) His methods: From archaeology to genealogy
Means for analyzing the production of discourse in terms of the
possibilities that allow it to appear and that govern its knowledge
and order: examine the interior to determine the rules and relations.
- a. Uncover the regularities in discursive practices.
- b. Investigate contradictions
to see how they illustrate differing formations and/or to see how the current
formation tries to make
- c. comparative descriptions of discursive practices in different
- d. change as a succession made possible by events rather
than as mere chronology.
From 1972: archaeology became genealogy: added the
aspect of power relations--how do the rules governing discursive
practices operate along with the network of power relations of
which rules are a part. Also adds a dimension of relatedness between
separate discursive formatiors
- a. Remove the subject: it matters not who said what (or their
motives etc.)---matters only how the discourse worked in light
of the discursive formations.
- b. Describe the discourse: produce a pure description of the
- c. Studies common documents to listen to the voices submergecd
(5) Relates Power with knowledge with discourse.
- a. As a creative force
- b. As a disciplinary force.
(Student produced study guide taken from Foss, Foss, and Trapp
1. To understand Foucault's interest in the construction of
2. To comprehend Foucault's study of power and its effects.
3. To develop an understanding of Foucault's elements of ethics
and its role in identity.
4. To be able to list the three elements of Foucault's study of
5. To list and understand the four aspects that divide the realm
6. To understand why archeology and genealogy are synonymous with
knowledge and order.
7. To have a working knowledge of Foucault's discursive formation
and its meaning in the realm of knowledge.
8. To understand Foucault's governing rules for various aspects
of the discursive formation.
Armstrong, T.J. trans. Michel Foucault: In the History
of Philosophy. Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., New York
1992. Rhetoricians, mostly French, critique many of Foucault's
rhetorical devices, from his theory of Power to his "liberal
view of the individual." He is, also, compared and contrasted
to such philosophers as Heidegger and Nietzsche.
Blair, Carole, and Cooper, Martha. "The Humanist Turn in
Foucault's Rhetoric of Inquiry". Quarterly Journal of
Speech. Vol. 73. May 1987. pp. 151-171. This article discusses
how Foucault's rhetoric is a constructive instrument that enhances
humanism's goal of freedom by opening a space for inquiry into
who the human is. He has demonstrated a means of critique from
which we can derive possible valued historical deconstruction
of sorts without destructive consequences. Foucault is shown to
have a legacy of critique of the human nature that is rhetorical,
humanistic and productive.
Dreyfus, Hubert L, and Rabinow, Paul. Michel Foucault: Beyond
Structuralism and Hermeneutics. University of Chicago Press,
Chicago 1982. This book has both an afterward and an interview
with Foucault, where he discusses his Genealogy of Ethics. The
rest is dedicated to covering Foucault's live work with emphasis
on his Existentialist and Post Structuralist point of view.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.
Vintage Books, New York 1979. This brilliant study by one of the
most influential philosophers sweeps aside centuries of sterile
debate about prison reform, and hands over a highly provocative
account of how penal institutions and the power to punish has
become part of our lives. Foucault gives a detailed account of
the alleged failures of the modern prison by showing how the very
concern with rehabilitation encourages and refines criminal activity.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and
Other Writings 1972-1977. Pantheon Books, New York 1980. One
of the major reasons for this book is to bring into clear focus
the political and intellectual environment in which this work
has been carried out. This volume should assist to undo some of
the confusing elements commonly produced by the use of such vague
labels as "structuralism" and "post-Marxism" and make possible
a more informed estimate of its significance
within contemporary thought.
LaFountain, Marc J. "Foucault and Dr. Ruth". Critical
Studies in Mass Communication. Vol. 6. 1989 pp. 123-137. This
essay is an expansion of Foucault's genealogy of the modern subject
and morals, particularly as found in The History of Sexuality.
It focuses on the contemporary sex therapist, Dr. Ruth. The popularity
of Dr. Ruth is located within the matrix of power/knowledge and
the political technology of the body, especially sexually. Special
attention is given to the technology of confession, the self and
the ways in which the medium of television extends the purpose
Key Terms and Definitions
1. Episteme (216)-
A grouping of statements that suggests a consistent pattern
in how they function as constituents of a system of knowledge.
An episteme may be a cultural code, characteristic system, structure,
network, or ground of thought that governs the language, perception,
values, and practices of an age.
2. Discursive formation (217)-
Foucault replaced the
term "episteme" with this
when he wrote The Archeology of Knowledge. Because he was not
a structuralist, Foucault decided to abandon "episteme",
and use a term that fit within his philosophy. This has the same
meaning of "episteme".
3. Statement (217)-
The basis unit of discursive
formation, this is a set of signs or symbols to which a status of knowledge
can be ascribed. Discourse
is the plural of "statement". The statement is not a
sentence due to the sentence being governed by grammatical rules
and the statement is governed by logic rules.
4. Resemblance (similitude) (221)-
Episteme of the sixteenth century was based on the thought
that everything resembles something else and in that sense stood
for it. Words and things were not thought of as being separate.
5. Power (224)-
"A more-or-less organized, hierarchical, co-ordinated
cluster of relations." Power is a characteristic of all relationships
and, in fact, constitutes those relationships. All individuals
exercise power, and are all subjected to it.
6. Bio-power (225)-
Power over life. It "exerts
a positive influence of life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and
multiply it, subjecting
it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations."
7. Resistance (226)-
In Foucault's system, this can be characterized by discourse
that both creates and constrains.
8. Specific intellectual (227)-
Ordinary people who have knowledge of their circumstances
and are able to express themselves independently of the universal
9. Universal intellectual (227)-
A defender of natural rights and an advocate of humanity.
A bearer of universal moral, theoretical and political values
who is at the forefront of progress and revolution.
10. Critique (227)-
A major tool of resistance that points out what kinds of assumptions,
what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought
are accepted as self-evident that will no longer be accepted as
such. Attacking the existing order of things.
11. Ethics (227)-
One part of the study of morals that illustrates how individuals
constitute themselves as moral subjects.
12. Moral Code (228)-
Rules that determine which acts are permitted or forbidden
and the code which determines the positive or negative values
of possible behaviors.
13. Ethical substance (228)-
Aspect of the self that is seen as the appropriate domain
for moral conduct.
14. Mode of subjection (228)-
The authority or rationale
for moral obligations, "the
way in which people are invited or incited to recognize their
15. Asceticism (228)-
The practical means by which individuals become ethical subjects.
16. Telos (229)-
What is considered to
be the state of perfection or completion according to the moral code. The
discovery of "one's true
17. Archeology (229)-
A means for analyzing the production of discourse in terms
of the conditions of possibility that allow it to appear, and
that govern the system of knowledge and order.
18. Genealogy (229)-
A compliment to archeology designed to describe Foucault's
method of investigation. Genealogy looks for the rules governing
19. Methodology of inquiry (230)-
Characterized by the data Foucault chose to study, as he did
not study renowned documents, but generally unknown ones.
20. Interpretation (commentary) (230)-
A technique of power in that it selects what is to be suppressed
and allows only specifically qualified individuals to do the interpreting.
I. Knowledge (216)
A. Episteme/Discursive Formation
1. Episteme is Foucault's term for the set of thoughts which determine
the character of a culture.
a. Only one episteme can exist at a time due to the structure
governing it is unique.
b. The uniqueness of each episteme also suggests that no simularities
or relationships can be found with different epistemes.
2. Foucault later replaced episteme with the term Discursive Formation.
a. Foucault uses "discourse" as the plural of "statement",
where statement is a set of symbols or signs to which the status
of knowledge can be ascribed.
b. It is a type of articulation that, because it follows a particular
set of rules, is understood to be true in a culture.
3. Epistemes may also prevent rhetoric, as some epistemes negate
controversy by promoting a universal, irrefutable position.
B. Governing Rules
1. Foucault suggest a number of rules that govern various aspects
of the discursive formation.
a. One category includes rules that control what can and what
cannot be shared or what is or is not a viable form of discourse.
b. The second category of rules concerns not what is talked about
but who is allowed, or qualified, to speak or write.
c. The third category of rules sets particular laws that the form
of concepts and theories must assume to be accepted as knowledge
2. Foucault's view of discursive formation governed by rules is
a particular view of truth.
a. Truth is always dependent in a particular discursive formation;
there is no underlying meaning within or imposed on the things
of our world.
b. The truth or knowledge one possess about something rests within
the relations of statements inside a discursive formation.
C. Role of Human Being
1. Foucault states that in the present episteme, the human being
has become the unifying element and the center for the organization
a. In the sixteenth century, the episteme was based on the idea
of resemblances or similitude.
b. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, language was used
to define what was reality, severing the line between words and
c. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw history as a way
to define and trace language in terms of growth and development.
2. Foucault believes a new episteme is pending and the role of
the human being will be diminished significantly.
a. He noted that modern linguistic analysis had taken focus away
from the speaker and placed focus on the system of language.
b. The next episteme has to move away from humans as a center,
because, according to Foucault, of the human being's nature of
3. As a result of his study of the episteme/discursive formation,
their governing rules and the diminishing role of the human being,
Foucault came to an understanding of Knowledge and it's counterpart,
II. Power (224)
A. Basic Tenets
1. The operation of power cannot be separated from the treatment
of knowledge and discourse.
2. Forms of domination are built into the very understanding of
the common activity or goods sought or whatever forms of the substance
of a relationship.
3. All individuals exercise, and are subjected to power through
a net-like organization.
4. Power requires the abandonment of the legal view that defines
power as the enforcement of the law.
B. Power is enacted in a variety of ways.
1. The effectiveness of power increases as the visibility decreases.
2. Humans are unaware of the extent to which power affects lives.
a. Bio-power, a power over life, exerts a positive influence on
life that drives to control it.
b. Power is productive and creative, not only repressive or prohibitive.
c. Power operates as a creative force that facilitates, produces
and increases qualities and conditions.
3. Opposition to existing order occurs through the specific intellectual
rather than the universal intellectual.
a. Specific intellectuals are ordinary people who have knowledge
of their circumstances and are able to express themselves independently
of the universal theorizing intellectual.
b. Universal intellectuals is a defender of natural rights, an
advocate of humanity.
4. Resistance is discourse that both creates and constrains.
a. Critique is a major tool of resistance by saying things are
not "right" as they are.
b. Only through resistance can reform be found in places where
a particular battle needs to be fought and won.
III. Ethics (227)
A. The premise of self
1. Our identity is not fixed by nature or rooted in prior knowledge
of who we are.
a. Being the subject of one's own experience is not a given.
b. Ethics is an area in which the process can be shown how one
can be the subject of one's own experience.
c. Ethics illustrates how individuals constitute themselves as
2. There are three elements of the study of morals.
a. The moral code are the rules that determine which acts are
permitted or forbidden.
b. The activity or behavior in which individuals engage in relation
to the moral code.
c. The determination of how the individual views the self as a
3. Foucault divides the realm of ethics into four aspects.
a. Ethical substance is the particular aspect of the self that
is seen as the appropriate domain for moral conduct.
b. Mode of subjection is the authority or rationale for moral
c. Asceticism (or self-discipline) is the means by which individuals
become ethical subjects.
d. Telos is the state of perfection or completion according to
the moral code.
IV. Archaeology and Genealogy (229)
1. Archaeology is a way of analyzing systems of thought through
a description of what may be spoken of in discourse, which terms
are recognized as valid and what individuals, or groups, have
access to particular kinds of discourse.
2. The aim of archaeology is to enter the interior of discourse
in order to determine the rules that govern it and to describe
the various relations among statements in a discursive formation.
1. Genealogy looks for the rules governing discursive practices
having to do with power relations.
2. Genealogy takes an analytical approach with a wider scope than
C. Methodological Principles for investigating bodies of discourse
1. Methodology of inquiry is characterized by the nature of data
Foucault has chosen to study.
2. Methodology of the descriptive or transcriptive rests on the
belief that the analysis of discourse should not be interpretive,
rather, it should be available and understandable.
3. Methodology provides the means for an ascending analysis of
D. Foucault rejects the practice of relating a piece of discourse,
or rhetorical act, to its specific author.
E. Foucault finds importance in the discovery of the role the
individual plays and the rules that govern the nature of that
V. Responses to Foucault (231)
1. Foucault's style of writing has been described as "reckless,
irritating and frequently unfathomable...and obscure."
2. Foucault uses deceptively ordinary words in ways that are highly
3. Foucault fails to take into account relevant bits of evidence
to support the existence of a particular episteme or discursive
4. Foucault ignores evidence that contradicts his thesis by overlooking
the pre-nineteenth century writings of Aristotle, Locke and Vico.
5. Foucault's works has been criticized as being inconsistent.
1. In his later writings, Foucault took on a more direct, down-to-
2. Foucault has been acclaimed for his writing's breadth and originality.
3. In his body of work, Foucault contributed greatly to rhetorical
theory with his study of the speech act, discursive formation.
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