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The genius of Foucault

Few 20th century thinkers have provided as much food for thought on the humanities and the social sciences (that is, the “human sciences”) as Michel Foucault. And the way he does it rescues the human sciences from those uninformed people who contrast them with the so-called “hard (natural) sciences”, the object-field of which – as even the father of sociology and of “positivism”, Auguste Comte, knew – is not nearly as complex as that of the human sciences. For Comte sociology was the human science that had to confront the human social condition in all its complexity, and Foucault’s work regarding the epistemic status of the human sciences confirms the unmitigated complexity of their field of subjects and “objects”.

To mention but one thing, when modern (as opposed to Aristotelian-Ptolemaic) natural scientists investigated the phenomenon of the relation between energy (E), velocity (v) and mass (m), they used to end up expressing it mathematically, as a constant, universally valid relation – before Einstein this assumed the form of E = mv(squared). Einstein’s genius was to replace velocity (v) with light (c, for celeritas), so that it read E = mc (squared), but the claim to universal validity was exactly the same as before, in other words, it is assumed to be true regardless of time and place.

One of the things that Foucault achieved, in contrast to a host of thinkers who tried to bring the human sciences closer to the natural sciences by emulating their methods (implicitly accepting a physicalistic methodology), was to show that the human sciences face a much more difficult task. They have to come up with knowledge of human beings (in all their complex relations with one another as well as with the natural world) which is valid, and yet respects the fact that human beings are not as utterly predictable as natural phenomena (like mass, velocity, etc).

Putting it slightly differently, Foucault faced the daunting task of showing that human-scientific knowledge negotiated universality and particularity in such a manner that such knowledge has a “quasi-universalistic” epistemic status – with “universal” and “particular” validity limiting each other. How is this possible?

A little historical detour is called for here. In the 18th century Immanuel Kant effected his “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy by shifting the epistemic gravitas from the (“external”) world – regarded by the 17th century empiricists as the sole source of all knowledge; a view that leads unavoidably to scepticism – to the human subject itself (but not the way the rationalists did, by making the subject out to be the one-sided source of all knowledge).

Kant deftly steered a course between the Scylla and the Charybdis of empiricism and rationalism by arguing that the human subject (or reason, in his terms) provides the rational structures for knowledge (of things in the world), while the “manifold of experience” supplies the content, which is structured by the faculties of reason (space and time, and the categories of the understanding, such as causality and substance). In other words, reason, for Kant, is the “condition of the possibility” of knowledge; in fact, of there being an intelligible world at all. And, most importantly, what made such knowledge universally valid (for example Newton’s mechanics), is that this structure is supplied by human reason itself.

Today we know better than to assume that all knowledge is universally valid, thanks to what is known as the “linguistic turn”, starting at the end of the 19th century, because – to put it simply – instead of the categories of reason being “purely” accessible to human beings (and especially “between” human beings), they are “refracted” through the prism of language, and the “colours” into which reason’s categories are refracted (eg causality) in different languages, differ from language to language, for the simple reason that a culture’s values and (sometimes unconscious) beliefs are embedded in language. Hence Foucault’s genius in accounting for differences as well as similarities – differences from epoch to distinctive epoch, and similarities within the “same” epoch.

In the course of the so-called methodologically “archaeological” phase of his thinking Foucault tweaked Kant’s “transcendental” thought (reason is the “a priori” condition of the possibility of knowledge) in the direction of what one may call “quasi-universalistic” thinking: not human reason, but the “epistemé” (implicit rules for thinking) underpinning all the knowledge of an age, constitutes the “historical a priori” (an eloquent oxymoron) enabling the distinctive knowledge of a certain age. And different eras or epochs are characterised by different underlying epistemés, on which the knowledge of that era is dependent.

In his archaeologies Foucault followed the clues provided in the writings and art of a certain epoch to reconstruct a specific epistemé – because an epistemé is, as the term archaeology suggests, that which underlies or underpins, and importantly, which constrains knowledge of the “surface” phenomena of the time. One might say that it is what makes certain things “thinkable” during this time, and rules out other things as “unthinkable”.

For example, the contemporary idea of “mental illness”, as opposed to “madness”, would have been unthinkable in the middle ages, simply because “mental illness” is only conceivable within and on the basis of the modern epistemé of disciplinary techniques and bio-power (through medical and psychiatric discourses, among others), which reduce individuals to “docile bodies”. During the middle ages “madness” (far from being seen as an illness of sorts) was regarded as something endowed with a certain power of its own, and moreover, the mad were allowed to wander freely in villages and towns. It was as if, Foucault suggests in his book on the history of madness, ordinary, “rational” people experienced in mad people the “unreason” which they needed as a measure of their own rationality. (And the greatest madness, he further intimates, may be to deny that in every person there is a smidgen of madness — something most people today would probably find unthinkable.) In fact, as recently as the 17th and 18th century, people like Descartes – the “father” of modern thought – thought of lunacy in terms that are irreconcilable with the idea of mental illness.

Foucault’s archaeological method and methodology therefore do not seek timelessly universal knowledge in the human sciences; implicitly he accepts the human condition as being through and through historical, and therefore posits the task of the human sciences as that of formulating knowledge that is (quasi-universally) valid for a specific time and place. This is not relativism, but what one might dub “historical relationalism”. Knowledge of human affairs, individual and collective, is only possible in historically-related terms, but no less valid within these constraints than any scientific knowledge of humanity is capable of.

The implications of Foucault’s “philosophical histories” (among others his books on madness, on the clinic, on the human sciences, on modes of punishment, and on sexuality) for the practice of the human sciences today are far-reaching (too encompassing a task to even adumbrate here). Suffice it to say that today, too, the human sciences face a historically informed task, which they neglect at their peril.

In the broadest of terms this task has two aspects. The first is to retrieve the idea of what it means to be human from its being virtually smothered by a pervasive technophilia, of which people’s infatuation with technical devices, at the cost of human relationships, is symptomatic (see Sherry Turkle’s, as well as Paul Virilio’s work in this regard; isn’t it uncannily accurate that one talks of “cell” phones – many people are imprisoned by them). The second is to address the psychological, anthropological and sociological grounds of what John Fowles (in The Aristos) called the current “obsession with money”, or with consumerist wealth (as if that is what true “wealth” means in human terms!), at the cost of valuing the inalienable being of fellow humans and of the natural environment.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


  1. Doubt Maningi Doubt Maningi 12 September 2012

    Eish professor! I would like to know what your expected outcomes were when you sat down to write this article. One can accuse you of a deliberate attempt to obfuscate & confuse and get away with it. Einstein’s genius was to replace v with c. Really? That statement would suggest that Einstein’s theory of relativity had already been postulated mathematically save for a ‘c’. I put forward to you (& I believe so would every other physicist) that Einstein’s genius was to show the relationship between mass m and energy E. The constant in this relationship is c squared where c is the speed of light hence E=mc squared.

    As for the rest of the article you lost me. I know you love Foucault because I have read your blog and Foucault is repeatedly mentioned. What happened prof? Rushed to publishing date deadline?

  2. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 12 September 2012

    @Doubt Maningi:
    The good prof seems to conflate complexity with profundity. Unlike Einstein, who famously once said: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience”. More succinctly, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    This is the fundamental difference between hard science and humanities. Nobody is denying that the humanities are infinitely more complex, only that dealing with complexity frequently leads one to battle windmills.

    The story of the most famous equation in the world is well-documented, this Einstein book does a good job of rectifying the misconceptions above.

    But back on topic, a few questions which would no doubt be met with handwaving and scorn once again:

    As someone not too fond of pomo, I was under the impression that structuralism emphasised the relationship between elements of a culture and its larger zeitgeist. Foucoult is frequently mentioned as a poststructuralist, which seems paradoxical to me?

    In the ‘hard sciences’, the epistemes were established a few thousand years ago. These epistemes have been more or less consistent and have survived many ages, while the epistemes of humanities are always in flux. Why is this?

  3. Maria Maria 12 September 2012

    Doubt, Bert has obviously read the excellent biography of Einstein’s formula, E = mc (squared) by Bodanis. You don’t seem to know the history of physics, but like so many natural scientists, only the current theory. Bodanis details the precursor formulae of Einstein’s, showing exactly what Bert said here, namely that E = mv (squared) preceded Einstein’s own formulation (where v stands for velocity).

  4. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 13 September 2012

    You don’t seem to know physics, but like so many soft scientists, that doesn’t stop you from presenting yourself as an expert on the topic.

  5. johnbpatson johnbpatson 13 September 2012

    Outside universities the constantly shifting historical relationism used to give academic credence to human sciences has strange effects.
    My favorite is the sudden use of amortization in accounting, it is the A in the EBITA line of company reports which replaced simple operating profit.
    As such it provides a wonderful creative outlet for accountants, which they can justify in any manner of ways — Enron was a past master of this — all justified by historical reltionism and the like.

  6. Bleet Bleet 13 September 2012

    There’s actually nothing wrong with that paragraph… if you were writing an article on relativity, then obviously you’d provide more detail on Einstein’s famous equation – but this is an article on Foucault, from a social sciences perspective. An Einstein’s equation can also be viewed as a nifty slogan on a t-shirt, for all the influence it has had outside of physics.

  7. beachcomber beachcomber 13 September 2012

    “… instead of the categories of reason being “purely” accessible to human beings (and especially “between” human beings), they are “refracted” through the prism of language, and the “colours” into which reason’s categories are refracted (eg causality) in different languages, differ from language to language, for the simple reason that a culture’s values and (sometimes unconscious) beliefs are embedded in language. Hence Foucault’s genius in accounting for differences as well as similarities – differences from epoch to distinctive epoch, and similarities within the “same” epoch.”

    It might be interesting to ask one of your honours students to expand on this in the African and especially South African context. Are current values and social expectations being unconsciously refracted though the structure of African language?

    Could Foucault be construed as a racist?

  8. beachcomber beachcomber 13 September 2012

    … and how far would one have to wander in this specific hall of mirrors before accepting that although sociological issues are inextricably linked to culture and race, there are inherent human values which need to be universally respected, and that your political/cultural/religious/traditional practices may be in conflict with evolved, rational, human behavior?

    And understand that because yours are different, they are not necessarily superior?

  9. Bert Bert 13 September 2012

    Thanks for pointing that out, Maria – you seem to know me uncannily well!

    Doubt, as Maria accurately remarks (yes, I did have David Bodanis’s ‘biography’ of Einstein’s famous formula from his special theory of relativity in mind), historians of science (not only Bodanis) have pointed out the all-too-conspicuous formal resemblance between the classical physics formula, E = mv squared (which is a condensation of the more ‘correct’ formula, Ek = 1⁄2mv²) and Einstein’s more encompassing formula, which replaces the ‘v’ for velocity with ‘c’ for light. The physicist who is usually credited with having formulated it in its classical form is Emilie du Chatelet (Voltaire’s lover) in the 18th century, but Leibniz and Bernoulli are also given credit for arriving at this understanding, in physics, of kinetic energy. The Dutch physicist, Gravesande, provided experimental evidence of its accuracy.
    And by the way, Doubt, these blogs are just my way of sharing philosophy with a broader public than university colleagues and students; I don’t see them as ‘major publications’. It usually takes me an hour to 2 hours to write a blog for TL, and I do it off the top of my head, usually – except where I have to supply page numbers from texts that I quote from. So it’s really no big deal. People like Garg are obsessed with ‘catching me out’, as it were on everything I write. That’s no big deal either. Like any other person, I can (and do) make mistakes; we are all fallible.

  10. Bert Bert 13 September 2012

    Beachcomber, I doubt whether asking that question in terms of racism is relevant. Not only Foucault, but structuralists and poststructuralists alike agree that the world that humans inhabit is linguistically structured, and it is cultural values that are embedded in language, not race as such, except of course if you use ‘race’ synonymously with ‘culture’, which is not accurate. A person of whatever race growing up in a certain culture is likely to internalize the values of that culture through language, although it need not imprison such a person. Through language we can question previously assimilated values and adopt others.

  11. HD HD 13 September 2012

    Just quickly from the top of my head I can think of two earlier figures that are relevant to some of these ideas, but from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Gramsci and his idea of hegemony as embedded in historical epochs – which contains the “common sense” of that period. Granted, it is more about politics/power/hegemony of ideas, but equally applicable…

    Hayek, which argued that rationality cannot be divorced from cultural and sociological evolution – that in a similar vain what we consider to be rational is very much influenced by our rules, institutions and society. (Doing an injustice here to Hayek’s linking of complexity theory, spontaneous ordering, social evolution and neural networks – for more see Gaus “Hayek and the Evolution of Society and Mind” or Gaus’s latest book). This is more along the lines of your philosophical argument.

    Foucault of course urged his students to pay attention to Hayekian classic liberalism (Scottish tradition of Hume, Smith, Ferguson blended with Austrians like Weber, Menger and later some elements from Popper) and his own ideas on power echo some of Hayek’s ideas on spontaneous order.

    Any way for me Foucault is overrated and more a passing fad. He has good ideas on power…


    You might perhaps find this relevant with regard to your last question:

  12. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 13 September 2012

    Actually, you’d note that I merely mentioned that any misconceptions regarding the history of Einstein’s formula would be ruled out in the popular science book, while duly noting that it’s not relevant to the general topic of Foucault.

    As a pop culture phenomenon, Einstein’s formula is largely thanks to Einstein’s own efforts to popularise science during his time. One could argue that he established popular science as a genre, which in that sense it is relevant to Foucault, but Foucault really does not have much to say on ‘universal knowledge’ and allegedly actively avoids it (perhaps too dull for him?).

    My intentions are not to ‘catch you out’, it would be futile to do so on a topic you or I have not studied, like physics. Merely, I am trying to learn something about the continental philosophy that you seem to hold in high regard, and to me is just cargo cult science.

  13. HD HD 13 September 2012

    Just quickly from the top of my head I can think of two earlier figures that are relevant to some of these ideas, but from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Gramsci and his idea of hegemony as embedded in historical epochs – which contains the “common sense” of that period. Granted, it is more about politics/power/hegemony of ideas, but equally applicable…

    Hayek, which argued that rationality cannot be divorced from cultural and sociological evolution – that in a similar vain what we consider to be rational is very much influenced by our rules, institutions and society. (Doing an injustice here to Hayek’s linking of complexity theory, spontaneous ordering, social evolution and neural networks – for more see Gaus “Hayek and the Evolution of Society and Mind” or Gaus’s latest book). This is more along the lines of your philosophical argument.

    Foucault of course urged his students to pay attention to Hayekian classic liberalism (Scottish tradition of Hume, Smith, Ferguson blended with Austrians like Weber, Menger and later some elements from Popper) and his own ideas on power echo some of Hayek’s ideas on spontaneous order.

    Any way for me Foucault is overrated and more a passing fad. He has good ideas on power…

  14. Doubt Manhingi Doubt Manhingi 14 September 2012

    Thanks Prof for your efforts to share philosophy with the broader public. I welcome that and I too have been a beneficiary of your attempts to enlighten.
    However I still question your assertion regarding v or c in Einstein’s equation. By quoting the Ek=½mv² highlights a common misconception. Ek is the kinetic energy of a mass m moving at velocity v. Should this mass m be at rest ie v=0 then our mass has no energy at all. Back to E=mc² and its abundantly clear that the energy being referred to here is irrespective of whether the mass is at rest or in constant motion. E=mc² provides a simple ratio between energy and mass and it is the constant c² (speed of light squared).
    I am in agreement with you that other scientists (Newton included) had speculated on the interchangeability of mass & energy long before Einstein. I am unfortunately not aware of Bodanis’ work but I hazard a guess that he did not suggest that all Einstein did was replace v with c. I think we both agree there was a bit more to it than that.

  15. Bert Bert 14 September 2012

    Doubt, of course there’s more to it than simply replacing ‘v’ with ‘c’. You would have noticed that I referred to Einstein’s formula as ‘more encompassing’ (because I had in mind the difference between kinetic energy and energy as such). But I’m willing to bet that Einstein would have been aware of the previous formula, and in imagining what it would be like to sit astride a light beam, travelling through the universe (as he described his imaginative thought experiment later), he may well have toyed with the idea of also ‘experimenting’ with an exchange of ‘v’ and ‘c’. At any rate, the formal similarity is there, which is probably why historians of science have speculated about the connection.

  16. Doubt Manhingi Doubt Manhingi 14 September 2012

    I think you misunderstood me. First of all let me point out the beauty of science which is that all scientific theory builds on from the work of others before it. A point I suspect Bodanis was at pains to make.
    Secondly I still have reservations on any assertion that v and c are interchangeable as you suggest in E=mc². For a start v in classical mechanics depends on the observer. Consider this, say we are seated on a bus moving at speed v, then to any observer standing on the side of the road, our speed will also be v and greater than zero. However to an observer in the same frame of reference as ourselves ie on the bus, our speed is zero. In Einstein’s equation c is a constant whatever speed the observer is travelling at or from whatever ‘frame of reference’ you observe it from. Although v & c might be dimensionally equivalent, the two are not so readily interchangeable.
    Finally, I am aware of the history of E=mc² perhaps not from Bodanis’ viewpoint. Others had to develop the maths and science that helped Einstein use as a stepping stone to formulate this relationship between matter and energy that he so made famous in E=mc².

  17. Henry Henry 15 September 2012

    Foucault is regarded as a very important influence in the development of postmodernism, where the cornerstone concept is that there is no metanarrative.In other words, there is no all encompassing explanation for everything.

    After plowing throught the depths of thinkers like Foucault and Heidegger, I can’t help thinking that the main issue is to what extent objective science is modified by subjective bias? How does a middle aged German academic’s idea of what constitute reality differ from that of a Johannesburg street child?

    Also, if Einstein was right and time, space and matter are interdependent and came into existence simultaneously, where does that leave the Big Bang theory?

  18. Maria Maria 15 September 2012

    Henry, the paper that supplies the answer to your question about “objective science” is Heidegger’s seminal “Die Zeit des Weltbildes”, which I think has been translated with titles like “The age of the world picture”. There he constructs a genealogy of the very idea of “objectivity” as something that first became conceivable in the modern epoch. Moreover, “object” and “subject” are correlates; in the middle ages there was no conception of a “subject” or an “object”. And even a street child’s rudimentary conception of reality is derived from this, as Heidegger shows, because street children are also aware of things like television, and therefore of “the world as representation”.

  19. Deirdre Kohler Deirdre Kohler 17 September 2012

    Hate to bring this up but I would find it incredibly interesting if this could be related to the “history” of apartheid with the policies of BEE. ie are we simply replacing v with c?

  20. Barry Thord-Gray Barry Thord-Gray 21 September 2012

    I think E=R (everything is relative) – Just a theory

    After reading this, I believe Einstein’s primary genius was to not delve too deeply into the so-called “human sciences.

    I find it interesting that when most people hear the term “mental illness”, they immediately think of some form of “madness” even if it’s a subconscious thought.

    I also find it interesting that so called genius’ are generally perceived as being a bit mad.

    What really struck me though, is that this article does not mention the brain, mind, soul or spirit.

    Thanks for the article though. I kind of understand where you’re coming from.

  21. Mikelle Mikelle 24 September 2012

    To be honest, I have no idea what to write about on this article. My take, after reading it multiple times, is that science is a universal understanding, while the social sciences vary across cultures. Which I think is true. Being a social science student in the USA, then coming to South Africa to finish my degree has been a challenge. The theories that I have been taught for years are not seen the same here and professors have told me to not apply the theories I have learned in the States, because they do not apply. I think this is crazy, because people will ultimately react the same in situations where primal animalistic instinct comes into play. (Flight or fight) However, I have found through observation, that the people here, the States, Asia, and Europe exhibit the same nonverbal communication. One must contextualize the background of the country, but once that has been achieved people act the same. So, I would argue that sciences like sociology are universal. The reasons people do things could, if traced properly, boil down to the same reasons in the end. Now, my comment could be complete off the mark here, but I felt this writing went completely over my head and had not much to do with what we discussed in class and the first 3 chapters we have read. I may be out of line here, but in class, you frequently as us what we thought of the readings, and I always tell you my honest opinion.

  22. Goweditswe Kome Goweditswe Kome 24 September 2012

    Albert Camus in his book ‘The Myth of Sisyphus and other stories’ writes; “Now the main thing is done, I hold certain facts from which I can not separate, i.e. ‘What I know, What is certain, What I cannot deny and What I can not reject. He also holds the Idea that he can negate everything of that part of ‘me’ that lives vague nostalgias this desire for unity, this longing to solve and this need for clarity and cohesion. Foucault’s ‘quasi-universalistic’ thinking was just a fundermental fantasy he enjoyed from the meaningful world as he sees it. He expressed views from inside and views from the outside. to me he viewdthe world as universally shared with phenomenal reality. But to me the world is meaningless.

  23. Ra-eesah Ra-eesah 25 September 2012

    The notion that knowledge can be seen as a whole truth is challenged by Foucault. Unlike the hard(natural) sciences that deals with measurable items Foucault does not deal with the same in social sciences. This is said as knowledge is culturally and historically specific. Its through social interaction that the “truth” of knowledge is relayed.. The “truths” of the time form power because through this knowledge comes action. Discourses are created through and passed on through language which is transferred through social interactions thus discourses change over time. Therefore human sciences contain info of the time rather than universal info that stays constant like Einteins thoeries. As this article is based on Foucault I don’t see the need to go too deeply into the theory of Einstein. I think the point of mentioning Einsteins theory was to show the difference between universal info that stays constant like the theory of Einsteins compared to the human sciences that is based on info that exists at the time.

  24. Nkululeko Nkululeko 26 September 2012

    My take is that the natural sciences deal primarily with finite plausable questions that may only be asked within the structured limitations of what is known and what has been standardized and categorized as fact. It is not unlikely for odd phenomena to be dated and disected for the advancement of a structural knowledge system. The human sciences inhabit the realm of uncertainty (about the specifics of each social problem as and when it occurs) and thus tend to ask strongly temporal questions, by referring to history as well as experience. there is a stigma attached to being in the social sciences, and that may be understandable when you consider that society has been constantly bombarded by ‘innovations’ that entrap humanity in a constant cycle of ‘A-Z, us and them: there are no such absolutes in the social sciences and that, I believe, is because no two people are the same. Our free will, or at least our various attempts at finding some semblence of freedom is always thwarted by laws and norms imposed on us by structures that seek to limit and control our experiences, because it is precicely those experiences that allow us to choose who we become and what our part is to be in society. You cannot negotiate with atoms and elements, only manipulate them, and when you put those same “hard-scientist” at the top of the pyramid, you open a channel for experiments in control. I feel that through constant negotiation and criticism of structures we can have a conscious…

  25. Mikelle Mikelle 14 October 2012

    I feel the quasi-universal sociological aspect is very true. Even when speaking to an older person, such as my grandparents, it is even apparent in small generational gaps such as that. Taking the example of my grandparents, their way of thinking, speaking, and overall demeanor is completely different than my generation. The language of new technology today, the idea that homosexuals can be open in all aspects of their lives, etc. They spoke of things that children of today would have no idea what they are talking about like records, rotary phones and the like. How did our social lives change in such a short amount of time. What steps would be taken to cause this. I guess a genealogy could be done, like Foucault has spoken about. It can be compared about how people treat and think of madness, one day it was nothing and the next, they need to be completely separate from us. However when speaking about homosexuals, it is backward. There was a time long ago where it was alright to exhibit homosexual behaviors, then it all changed and it was considered bad. Now, another shift has started where it is being accepted once again. What causes these shifts? Small things cause shifts. Intolerance, tolerance, it all comes with new generations.

  26. raeesah raeesah 15 October 2012

    I have already commented on the notion of knowledge as a construction which is both historically and culturally specific. This explores knowledge as not being derived from the natural world but rather as being constructed through the culture and history from which it comes from. The history and culture construct knowledge from a bias space. I would now like to comment on the importance of language in the process of constructing this knowledge. Language forms the base through which discourses are created and normalised in the society of the time. It is through social interaction that these discourses are distributed through the society of the time. Language forms the foundation of social interaction and is therefore the root of construction of historically and culturally specific knowledge.

  27. Katrin Ramos Katrin Ramos 16 October 2012

    One of the realities of the world is that cultural beliefs and values are embedded in language. In other words, we use context, our background knowledge, our knowledge of the situation and our own culture to interpret it. “Knowledge” may or can become invalid to a person without being given the correct context of which the certain “knowledge” branched out from. A personal example would be on how I was brought up, as a Filipino we were taught to be very conservative in what we wear, what we say and even our very actions. This may differ to how a South African child, for example, may have been brought up. Because of the lack of context they have of the Filipino culture, they will reject or be unfamiliar of our culture.

    Time is also a factor that bring about these “micro-changes” in the way people think. Today this may not be the case (just 5 years later), Filipino teenagers has succumbed to wearing inappropriate clothing and even to the point where rude comments are overlooked. I think that this is the result of people, along the lines, challenging and questioning the “knowledge” of their era. All these small/ micro-practices lead up to revolutionising or creating a new age of “thinking”.

    It seems to me that the generation gap that would have taken many years to achieve in older generations time now manifests itself much more quickly. I like to think of it as each little ‘micro-generation’ leading up to our current generation…

  28. Katrin Ramos Katrin Ramos 16 October 2012


    The challenged posed in today’s society is trying to fill in the gaps of “knowledge” and, instead of conforming, ask questions and challenge to improve it – making it unique yet rationally acceptable in society. Just as Foucault points out we have to find the lasting in the “fleeting”.

  29. Edison Edison 18 October 2012

    As i understand it knowledge is not some thing that is constructed and not natural.It is built over the years depending naturals sciences and finding over time and understanding of human behaviour. By my understanding it comes with generations as we live and as humankind tries to understand themselves in terms of functionality and origion of behaviour, how the mind works. It is hard to understand a human mind as it is but people aften label things and come up with formulas and solutions to how to explain things and get to the bottom of natural science but it is still hard to conclude any of their findings. this is because they can only understand as far as the human mind can understand geographically. A comedian with English audience made racial jokes about Arabs, Chinese, Africans, Indians, and the audince had a good laugh and he switched to religion, commenting on how it is not worth being a christian, but more than half the audiance weren’t amused anymore. but they laughed at other race jokes. How christian is one who laughes at other things but not the ones that affect them. His question was then “Isn’t it that moment when we ask if you are not racist”. My point is, norms and social constructs imposed on us by structures that seek to limit and control our experiences, we become who we are within the society, in geographical terms and follow what is fed to us because of history. And that is what i believe structures do to humanity over generations, guide their…

  30. Edison Edison 18 October 2012

    Correction.. As i understand it knowledge IS something that is constructed and not natural.

  31. Goweditswe kome (210140852) Goweditswe kome (210140852) 23 October 2012

    Going through Michel Foucault’s literature one may tend to agree that he left a legacy behind. One of his important points of view is that the idea instrument of power produces various type knowledge which organise information on peoples activities and their existence. On the other hand, he explains that the knowledge collected in this manner in addition emphasize someone’s ability to apply power.
    According to my understanding, he negate the impression that he makes the claim ‘knowledge is power’ by contemplating that he is interested in studying the complex relations between power and knowledge while not necessarily saying they are the same thing.
    While Foucault argues that modern state consists of the convergence of a very particular set of techniques, rationalities and practices designed to govern or guide people’s conduct and organise them as a political and civil collective in the same way as a mother who care for her baby until he grows, Plato seem to view it differently.
    According to Plato, there are fixed roles and people are born in certain classes to fill the roles. I contend that we are all born as leaders thus having power and the capacity but it is only that some people get exposed to leadership and power skills before others and then they dominate them while others are still submissive, dormant and still struggling to make their footing.
    For Foucault, power is not the property of state and not localised in government and the state but exercised…

  32. Nkululeko Nkululeko 24 October 2012

    Quasi-universally speaking: I find the whole notion of power in Foucault’s works very interesting. What interests me about his ideas on power is that he does not see it as something intrinsically tied to a person as much as it is part and parcel of one’s position. As the various historical episteme’s reveal, it is often the collaborative efforts, firstly of those in positions of power, and subsequently the rest of the society that legitimize the structures that hold power. Having said that; it is not difficult then to imagine the schizophrenia embedded in the human psyche when you consider all the various mechanisms that vie for our attention on a daily basis. Silence has become abominable in this technological age, and the very foundations of rationality often come into conflict with the images and messages from the family hypnotist, the TV set. The power hidden behind such innovations might seem too vast to counteract but if we can learn to switch off our mentally compartmentalized TV programming and tune in to our own rhythms perhaps we can unravel the mystery behind power structures. One of the key points at which I feel we’re being manipulated into investing our personal will to abstract power structures is our fear and our lust for the unknown. Both of which are being constantly fed simultaneously by logic on the one hand and lies on the other. Is it any wonder then that the world’s richest regions are in constant conflict over who wields the power? of which are…

  33. Ziphindiwe Sogoni (209060048) Ziphindiwe Sogoni (209060048) 29 October 2012

    Foucault believes in the idea that human behaviour in society is often a result of following rules of conventions. He also believes that one should strive to be whatever it is that they want to be and there there is no God who directs one’s path.Basically rules and regulations have been established by society to control ones life and they should not be put in place. My thoughts on this theory are that laws are put in place for control yes but without laws there would be total havoc in the world.

  34. John John 15 March 2013

    I haven’t yet read the piece but have been attracted here by its title (I promise that I WILL read this, as I like to challenge my own beliefs & determine whether or not they’re worth holding on to. However, I can say something about Foucault–his real genius, IMHO, is that he has been able to cement himself as a brilliant 20th C. philosopher to which so many lend credence, thereby furthering his supposed genius & legendary status. I am NOT a fan of post-structuralism in any form, & as a writer, I take tremendous offense to the idea, originated & championed by Foucault, that “the ‘author’ is dead” & has instead been replaced by the “author function.” To Foucault, like so many that came after him & are already anachronistic in terms if literary criticism, the nature of writers like Shakespeare is that they are very often more celebrated–& more famous & commonly known–than the work they produced. Perhaps this is true to some extent, but it does not lead to his conclusion that in this post-Freudian society the receiver & interpreter of the literary beaux-arts are truly the ones who give life & meaning to the text. The “author function” is now a social role, not an individual one. However, writers like Cummings, WCW, Calvino, & certainly Kundera, challenge this notion at every turn (ironically, I include Albert Camus in my list of authors whose work discredits the “author function” theory). I also dont like Foucault for adopting Russell’s idea of language, another…

  35. John John 15 March 2013

    By the way, limiting the characters allowed to be used in comments certainly can be useful, but never in philosophy. Philosophy is, by its nature, a practice that requires specific language & often lengthy definitions & descriptions of what that language means & how it is specifically used so that confusion, obfuscation, & plain misunderstanding of a person’s terms aren’t a part of the deal. In other words, philosophy is often jargon-laden! In the case of Foucault, Kant, Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Mill, Camus, & thousands more dating back to the pre-Socratic Greeks & the Eastern philosophers who, because of the way the ancient world was organized, never took part in ancient Western discussions, making them a particularly necessary case for the prolific & prodigious use of language necessary to facilitate any real, meaningful discussion of their work & ideas. My earlier point about Foucault’s notion of language, particularly his NOT using Kripke’s “rigid designator” idea about naming conventions in favor of anachronistic ideas about names being exactly equal to nothing more than a set of specific descriptions, makes his idea of the “author function” highly contentious & very much open to criticism. As a grad student in literature, it took me over 30 pages just to formulate my argument to the point where I sufficiently proved my thesis about Foucault’s “author function.” Kripke was instrumental in that paper, but I was only assigned 15pp. Point? Discussion led me…

  36. John John 15 March 2013

    Again, being character limited prevented me from pointing out that the lengthy discussion, & thereby the proliferation of my original work from a mere 15pp to some 35pp, was necessary for me to find conclusion, or my teleological end, as it were. Socrates would most definitely find this limitation disconcerting & nerve-wracking. How ever would Plato have produced three important allegories–the Sun, the Line, & the Cave–with which I should hope you are at least familiar, in a single work were he limited in the language he were allowed to use to make his point clear? In any event, when I do read this piece, I’ll keep the character limitation in mind as I craft my response, if the work is worthy of discussion beyond what has already been said. I could likely find & email you my 30+ pp of work (with three or four actual citations appended, so the thought on Foucault is largely my own synthesis), & you would easily see why I take issue with the idea that Foucault is anything other than a philosophical fraud, certainly in the area of literary criticism & likely in the larger opus of his work in general, decidedly proving this title that claims his genius to be entirely incorrect. Maybe then I wouldn’t need to discuss this piece at all, then. Character limitation of any response certainly argues that it’s likely not worth my time to read, much less respond, to something of which I begin as a skeptic.

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