Back to: Literary Theory in English Literature
The word ‘discourse’ becomes a significant part of the theoretical and academic discourse with Michel Foucault. Foucault explains how discourse is guided by the people in power: ruling elite or state and that through discourse the power is exercised by them.
It is a discourse that constructs the reality, that we see or believe to be real, maintains the slave-owner relationship between state and people, and constructs and enslaves our consciousness.
Generally, it so happens in society that various thought or theories are not accepted in the society at a particular point of time for their being, let’s say, anti-dominant discourse; for instance, the theory that the Sun is the center of our solar system couldn’t be accepted in medieval times for it being against Christianity which held power and constructed discourse during those time.
It is in this sense that Foucault is interested in history to explore how discourse changes throughout the history which he calls discursive change.
Though Foucault always rejected the labels which have been associated with him, he is often considered structuralist, poststructuralist, postmodernist, new historicist, etc.
Associating him to any one of the above school of thoughts would be a mistake as his works revolve around almost all existing, not school of thoughts, but discipline. Our concern, however, is to see him as a poststructuralist because, as matter of fact, his theories contribute to the field of poststructuralism.
Structuralism tries to break the idea of having universal truth but ends up creating its own universal claims. Poststructuralist theorist, like Foucault, argues against those theories. Truth, in its fundamental sense, is criticized by Foucault to not have any universal authenticity.
He argues that every truth is the construction of discourse, that changes from time to time and, hence, the truth must not be understood from the view of essentialism. It is generally understood that knowledge is free and is beyond anybody’s control.
Also, that knowledge is accessible to everyone and that knowledge belongs to individuals’ domain. Foucault critiques it saying that knowledge is also control by the one that reigns over the country, institution or discipline.
Hence, knowledge has its own political dimensions; therefore, Foucault states: “Knowledge is Power,’ meaning that the one that possesses knowledge has power over the ones who don’t have it; for example, reservation of the biblical knowledge for the Church in medieval era helped Christianity to control over its followers.
Here is an article describing the summary of What is an Author written by Michel Foucault.