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Nick Hardy “Foucault, Genealogy, Emergence”

Hardy, Nick 2010. Foucault, Genealogy, Emergence: Re-Examining the Extra-Discursive. – Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 41:1, 68-91

This paper aims to refine Foucault’s position by pursuing two interlinked linesof inquiry. The first is to deepen Foucault’s conception of power by extending theuse of the extra-discursive as a part of his ontological grounding of power. Thismeans that power “relations” come to be understood as contingent and multi-vectored and power “effects” as multi-causal. The second is to show that these relations have a constitutive effect upon the subjects on which they exert influence. Seen in this way, subjects become examples of constitutive emergence —meaning they are neither mere discursive constructs (i.e. “defined”) nor ontologically distinct (i.e. physically/essentially unique). (68)

A discursive formation can be understood as the particular ordering of the four elements that constitute it: things (objects), things said (types of statement), ideas (concepts) and groupings (thematic choices). Each discursive formation is different because each one has particular rules of formation, dictating what can and cannotbe said, whom or what has the ability to speak, what is determined/identified toexist or not exist, and what can or cannot change within its boundaries […] (71)

[…] it appears that thediscursive formation would not be able to operate in the same form without thoseincorporated extra-discursive elements. (71)

Thus the pre-existing extra-discursive becomes co-opted into discursivities and, when a discourse becomes powerful enough, the extra-discursive then begins to be reformed by that discursivity. (72) – pre-existing?

Foucault is claiming that there is structure to discourse(s) and that it is through the various “rules” of discursive formations thatthe world is understood (and, to some extent, also shaped). The extra-discursive,then, forms not only key elements within discourses (objects, entities, etc.), but alsothe external structures that discourse applies itself through (e.g. the pre-existing social institutions that become “surfaces of emergence” for discursive objects) (Dupont and Pearce, 2001: 145; Pearce and Woodiwiss, 2001). (72)

The “discovery” of madness in the prison and hospital system (ibid.: 417–418) is explicitly linked, in Foucault’s work, to the extra-discursive reality of confinement. The isolation of the mad—i.e. their continued incarceration while other groups(beggars, vagabonds, petty criminals, etc.), with whom they were originally con-fined, were subsequently moved out or into other spaces such as workhouses—contributed to the alteration and construction of new discursive formations relating to madness. (74)

No discourse develops against a tabula rasa backdrop; alldiscourses form and develop in situ, influenced, structured and constrained by thecontext in which they exist. The confinement of the mad took place and was only possible because of the (contingent) pre-existence of the empty leper houses. (74)

But, importantly for the discussion inthis paper, the extra-discursive is not a passive, malleable object waiting to be“defined” by a particular discursive position: it continually “bites back”, as demonstrated by the multitude of uexpected events and outcomes that constantly occur. These unexpected outcomes mean that a dispositif  must be continually repaired and/or modified in order to maintain particular relations between knowledge(s) and forces. (75-76)

Dispositifs, in this account, play an importantrole in both creating, consolidating and aiding particular blocks as well as supportingthe particular “relations of force” that enable the reproduction of a particulardominant group at a particular time (CF: 203). A dispositif is as close as Foucault comes to articulating the form and presence of a “meta-structure” present insociety (1976a/1990: 93, 94). (76)

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