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José Medina “Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance”

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Medina, José 2011. Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance: Counter-Memory, Epistemic Friction and Guerrilla Pluralism. Foucault Studies No. 12: 9-35

How do we fight against power on this view? – Kas see on Foucault’d lugedes üldse asjakohane küsimus; võimu vastu võitlemine oleks justkui millegi muu vastukaaluks asetamine, kuid absoluutselt igasugune teadmine kujuneb võimuväljal, erinevate süsteemide-struktuuride-formatsioonide kokkupuutel. Igasugune teadmine on võimuefekt, mis võib kaasa tuua järgnevaid efekte sellel väljal. Seega ei ole tegemist võimu vastu võitlemisega, vaid võimusuhete vastastikususega.

In the first place, by establishing itself in opposition to an official history, a counter-history  eflects and produces disunity. A counter-history blocks the unifying function of the official history by bringing to the fore the opposi-tions and divisions in the political body. This is what Foucault calls the principle of heterogeneity […] (14)

In the second place, by undoing established historical continuities, a counter-history reflects and produces discontinuous moments in a people’s past, gaps that are passed over in silence, interstices in the socio-historical fabric of a community that have received no attention. This is what we can call, by symmetry with the pre-vious point, the principle of discontinuity. (15)

Those are constitutive si-lences, for the discursive practice proceeds in the way it does and acquires its distinc-tive normative structure by virtue of the exclusions that it produces, by virtue of those silenced voices and occluded meanings that let the official voices and mea-nings dominate the discursive space. Omissions and silences are foundational, a constitutive part of ‚the origin‛ or ‚the initiation‛ of a discursive practice. (16)

Becoming sensitive to discursive exclusions and training ourselves to listen to silences is what makes possible the insurrection of subjugated knowledge: it enables us to tap into the critical potential of demeaned and obstructed forms of po-wer/knowledge by paying attention to the lives, experiences and discursive practices of those peoples who have lived their life ‚in darkness and silence.‛ (17)

Insurrections of (de-)subjugated knowledges and their critical resistance can be co-opted for the production of new forms of subjugation and exclusion (new hege-monies) or for the reinforcement of old ones. The only way to resist this danger is by guaranteeing the constant epistemic friction of knowledges from below, which—as I have argued elsewhere43—means guaranteeing that eccentric voices and perspec-tives are heard and can interact with mainstream ones, that the experiences and concerns of those who live in darkness and silence do not remain lost and un-attended, but are allowed to exert friction. (21)

[…] epistemic friction consists in the mutual contestation of differently normatively structured knowledges which interrogates epistemic exclusions, disqualifications, and hegemonies. (21)

1)      converging pluralism (Peirce, Mead) – the diversity and heterogeneity of conflicting perspectives are merely con-tingent and in-principle transitory features of our epistemic practices that we should aspire to eliminate or at least minimize. (22)

2)      melioristic pluralism (William James) – diversity and heterogeneity are una-voidable features of our epistemic lives that can be only hidden with violence and exclusions, but that can never be fully erased. But in Jamesian pluralism, though more radical, the possibilities for epistemic friction and resistance are qualified and constrained for the sake, not of consensus and unification, but of coordination and cooperation. (23)

3)      guerrilla pluralism (Foucault) – It is not a pluralism that tries to resolve conflicts and overcome struggles, but instead tries to provoke them and to re-energize them. It is a pluralism that aims not at the melioration of the cognitive and ethical lives of all, but rather, at the (epistemic and socio-political) resistance of some against the oppression of others. This is a pluralism that focuses on the gaps, discontinuities, tensions and clashes among perspectives and discursive practices. (24) – more of an undoing of power/knowldge than cooperation towards some truths.

But notice that the exclusive focus of Jamesian genealogies is on continuities and convergences in alethic trajectories within our practices. A Jamesian genealogy tries to uncover what our truths have done so far and what they can still do for us. A Foucaultian genealogy goes much further and its attention to epistemic diffe-rences is more radical. A Foucaultian genealogy tries to uncover what our truths have never done for (some of) us and never will; and it tries to connect the truths generated within a given practice with the un-truths that are also generated along-side them, digging up all sorts of epistemic frictions and struggles that reveal the competing and alternative truths that may lie in the interstices of a discursive practice or in counter-discourses. (26)

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