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SOC30330 Currents In Contemporary Theory

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SOC30330 Currents In Contemporary Theory

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Course Code: SOC30330
University: Arizona State University

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Country: United States


1.Discuss the claim that madness as a concept and category of Western thought is designed to control and suppress inconvenient behaviour and undesirable peoples. Illustrate your answer with reference to the arguments, claims and evidence of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.
2.”Torture is a technique; it is not an extreme expression of lawless rage.” (Discipline and Punish, p. 33) What does Foucault mean by this claim, and why does he consider it necessary to analyse torture in order to better understand imprisonment?
3.Explain,withillustrations,whatFoucaultmeansbydeclaring”‘Discipline’ may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power” (Discipline and Punish, p. 215)


The essay aims to explain the statement made by Michael Foucault on subject and power. The essay will first introduce the statement provide a brief explanation. The explanation will include a breakdown of the statement and understanding of each part. Further, it will include examples from Foucault’s other related works and the works of other theorists to provide a deeper understanding of the statement. 
The statement
“It is not power, but the subject, which is the general theme of my research” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 2014).
In order to understand the meaning behind this statement, it is important to do an extensive research on the work by Foucault relating to subject and power. This statement could be found in a book authored by Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow titled Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. The book provided an edited version of some of Foucault’s major works that included The History of Madness and The Archaeology of Medicine amongst others apart from Afterword: The Subject and Power (Dreyfus and Rabinow 2014). The following section shall attempt to explain the statement in details including examples specific to the topic.
The idea of power has always fascinated Foucault and that is evident from the kinds of work he has published throughout his career. The main premise of most of his works revolves around the concept of power. To Foucault, power is omnipresent, possessed by everyone but realized only by a few. He believed that power is embodied and diffused in discourse and knowledge. According to him, power makes human beings who they are, functioning on a markedly “different level from other theories”. Further, Foucault maintains that the subjective facets of individuals are described through social and power relations. It is through these kinds of relations that humans are categorized as different kinds of subject. Foucault states that humans as subjects emerge at an intersection point of power relations bearing attributes, symbols and meanings that make them subjects. The fact that power is not concentrated or coercive challenges the very idea of power being concentrated or embodied in one individual or institution. He proposed the ideology that humans have been for long seen as objects of power on whom; it is applied but never the subjects of power who apply it. Foucault’s views on power also reveal that it is not something that someone can possess. Power is more like a strategy, a tactic that one can employ after proper analysis of the situation and then circulate it. “Individuals are the vehicles of power, not its points of application”, he states (Dreyfus and Rabinow 2014). Understanding power in this way brings out two key points; first, power is a scheme, a complex of relations encircling the entire society, second, humans are not merely the objects of power but the key position where the “power and the resistance to it are exerted” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 2014).
Foucault maintains that the main purpose of his studies throughout the twenty years of his career was not to analyze power phenomena but to “create a history of the different modes by which, human beings are made subjects” (Bergesen et al. 2013). One of the key assumptions made by Foucault in his work on subject and power is that power is not exercised through coercion but rather through the mechanization of individuals.  He notes that the term ‘subject’ possesses double meaning – one that refers to self-awareness and the other that refers to something being controlled or subjected. Both these meanings entwine in a way Foucault analyzes the relations between the subject and power. He talks about the three modes of objectification that he states, have changed human beings into subjects. The first is the mode of inquiry, second is the “dividing practices” and the third one is where humans turn themselves into subjects (Dreyfus and Rabinow 2014).
In the first mode of inquiry, human beings are given the status of science for instance, objectivizing them as speaking subjects in linguistics and grammar. In addition, human beings are objectivized as productive subjects while analyzing the topic of wealth and economics. Here, the human being is used as an object with which wealth and economic studies are performed. Further, objectification of the humans as subjects of biology and natural history is also a result of the first mode of inquiry (Parker and Rosamond 2013). The second mode is where humans are divided either from the inside or from others. In other words, the second mode attempts to define humans from the perspective of separation and distinction. Human being is considered a mad or a normal subject, a criminal or a good person and a sick or a healthy person. In all the cases, the human is a subject on whom; the various studies are performed to find out to which side of the spectrum it belongs. The third mode of inquiry states the way human beings turn themselves into subjects by associating them with different fields of study. An example of that, as given by Foucault is sexuality and the tendency of the humans to see themselves as subjects of sexuality.
The philosopher further states that the three modes of objectification are linked to precise structures of political rationality, a style of thinking that Max Weber proposed,  which associates means to ends. However, Weber described rationality as the markings of modernity but Foucault stressed more on the types and styles of rationality that developed in fields including psychiatry, sexuality and science.
While dwelling upon the issue of power and the subject, Foucault seemed to accept that his initial works had neglected the significance of the individual as he concentrated solely on the question of power. Gradually, he realized that apart from the placement of the human subject in the production and signification relations, they are also placed in the complex power relations. He further adds that the economic history, semiotics, and linguistics provided for relations to production and signification respectively, no tool was available to find the human subject’s place in terms of power relations. Due to this specific reason, Foucault states that he had to recourse to the ways of thinking about power in terms of legislation and institutionalism. He proceeds explaining human subjects as positioned in power relations by asking what gives power the legitimization. Further, he also asks the question as to what constitutes the state. Foucault mentions that it was important to increase the scope of an explanation of power if someone desired to used it in learning the “objectivizing of the subject” (Lemke 2015).
Foucault raises an intriguing question as to whether one needs a theory of power. He states that the question arises out of the doubt that theory also “assumes a prior objectification, it cannot be asserted as a basis for analytical work” (Bergesen et al. 2013). Analytical work, he further adds, requires conceptualization and conceptualization refers to critical thought.  A person has to check and recheck the analytical work and this involves checking the type of reality with which people are familiar. He provides example of a writer in a reputed French newspaper where the writer expresses surprise over the obsession with power. The writer questions whether power is such an indispensable topic that it cannot be neglected and is so independent that it needs no other factors to be discussed (Cheong and Miller 2000). Here, it can be clearly seen from the example that Foucault wanted the reader’s attention to the concept of the subject in relation to power. As discussed in the above sections, Foucault viewed power as discursive, omnipresent, and not just limited to one entity.
With a view to further explain his position, Foucault talks about Fascism and Stalinism and refers to these as the two “diseases of power” (Foucault 1982). He states that these two powers had nothing unique or original and that these were derived from the already available mechanisms of power from the earlier societies. He further asserts that despite the internal madness present in the two powers, their use of the ideas and devices of people’s rationality made them indispensable. In order to understand the reason behind the existence of such powers, the society needs a “new economy of power relations” (Foucault 1982). People do not need to wait for concentration camps and bureaucracy to understand the power relations and their existence in the modern world. it is evident from this discussion by Foucault that he questions the conventional norms by which power relations are examined and discussed. To him, reasoning is sterile in examining the new economy of power relations because it would only trap people into playing the random and boring section of the rationalist or the “irrationalist” (Foucault 1982). He suggests that one should investigate the interrelationship between rationalization and power. However, it would be a bad idea to investigate the rationalization of an entire society or a culture. Investigating fields that refer to the basic experiences like madness, crime, illness, death and sexuality would be a good way to understand the power and its rationalization.
He suggests an improved way to study the new economy of power relations and that is to take the forms of resistance in opposition to the various forms of power as the point of commencement. Instead of analyzing power from the internal rationality standpoint, it would be better to analyze from the opposition of strategies perspective (Nicoll et al. 2013). To cite an example, if one wants to find the meaning of sanity in the society, one must search or investigate the field of insanity or if one desires to understand legality, one should investigate illegality. In similar ways, one must investigate the forms of resistance and the efforts made to separate these relations to understand the new economy of power relations.
In Foucault’s other seminal works such as Madness and Civilization, he presents numerous examples of power being exercised from a single viewpoint (McHoul, McHoul and Grace 2015). He associated power with madness and asserted power was exercised in the confinement houses during the 20th century Europe. Foucault has published numerous other works that discuss about power and its relation to individuals, society, institutions and groups. Power, in his views, work as a concept that attempt to comprehend the way social practices function without “falling into traditional theory of history” (Caputo 2017).
The statement therefore, made by Foucault in his work on the subject and power explains his stand on the new economy of power relations and the need to study the subject and not just the power. Foucault provides various examples that help explain his statement (Daldal 2014). While discussing about truth in relation to power, Foucault criticizes the so-called masters of justice and truth who make claims about speaking truth to power and resist its assumed oppressive effect.
Foucault has always perceived power as an inseparable characteristic of social interactions. This view of power has always caused scholars having diverse views on power to indulge into debates regarding the political implications of Foucault’s views. However, these critics have delved into the works on power from those same perspectives that Foucault was trying to surmount. These traditional perspectives include reasoning and investigating the entire society and culture as discussed in the previous sections
Michel Foucault’s views on power and the subject shows that his declaration that his aim, to study the subject and not the power is established. With the help of examples showing the power relations and the new economy of power relations, Foucault has been able to stand his ground. According to him, power is a concept that cannot be discussed in isolation and other factors like the individuals and the society need to be considered. He holds that power is omnipresent; it is not coercive but discursive and pervasive. In the given essay, attempt has been made to understand the statement made by Foucault regarding the subject and power. In doing so, the essay provided an elaborate discussion on the objectification of the subject. Foucault maintained that humans have been made subjects upon which power is exerted from the ancient times until the contemporary era. He provided three modes of inquiry to explain his point of using the subject as the central theme of his research rather than the power. Further research on other works of Foucault is suggested to understand his approaches and ideologies regarding power.
Bergesen, A.J., Wuthnow, R., Hunter, J.D. and Kurzweil, E., 2013. Cultural Analysis: The Work of Peter L. Berger, Mary Douglas, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas. Routledge.
Caputo, J.D., 2017. On not knowing who we are: Madness, hermeneutics and the night of truth in Foucault. In Michel Foucault and Theology (pp. 129-152). Routledge.
Cheong, S.M. and Miller, M.L., 2000. Power and tourism: A Foucauldian observation. Annals of tourism research, 27(2), pp.371-390.
Daldal, A., 2014. Power and ideology in Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci: A comparative analysis. Review of History and Political Science, 2(2), pp.149-167.
Dreyfus, H.L. and Rabinow, P., 2014. Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. Routledge.
Foucault, M., 1982. The subject and power. Critical inquiry, 8(4), pp.777-795.
Lemke, T., 2015. New materialisms: Foucault and the ‘government of things’. Theory, Culture & Society, 32(4), pp.3-25.
McHoul, A., McHoul, A. and Grace, W., 2015. A Foucault primer: Discourse, power and the subject. Routledge.
Nicoll, K., Fejes, A., Olson, M., Dahlstedt, M. and Biesta, G., 2013. Opening discourses of citizenship education: A theorization with Foucault. Journal of education policy, 28(6), pp.828-846.
Parker, O. and Rosamond, B., 2013. ‘Normative power Europe’meets economic liberalism: Complicating cosmopolitanism inside/outside the EU. Cooperation and Conflict, 48(2), pp.229-246.

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