The role of discourse; Foucault

“To return sex and the discourses of truth that have taken charge of it, the question that we must address, then, is not: Given a specific state of structure, how and why is it that power needs to establish a knowledge of sex? […] It is rather: In a specific type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing historically and in specific places (around the child’s body, apropos of women’s sex, in connection with the practices restricting births, and so on), what were the most immediate, the most local power relations at work? How did they make possible these kinds of discourses, and conversely, how were these discourses used to support power relations?” (1630)

Here Foucault states that discourse has “taken charge” of sex, or more specifically, knowledge and norms of sex, therefore demonstrating the role of texts in presenting collective standards for cognition and behavior. Further, Foucault portrays how power dynamics are embedded into discourse, as power relations allow certain types of discourse and in turn, the discourse reaffirms the status of power relations. Discourse, of course, is a very general term that can encompass any type of communication, but in inserting the example of texts into Foucault’s observations, one can see the role of written discourse in presenting and perpetuating societal ideas. The presence of power dynamics in discourse seems particularly prevalent in written format – perhaps especially¬†in the economics of power in publishing. Foucault also connects “truth” to discourse, which of course in relation to power dynamics is socially relative. This is another important assertion, as commonplace conceptions of truth, derived from discourse (written or otherwise), are dependent on the power relations that enable and disable types of discourse. Foucault later discusses further the historical evolution of power dynamics, which therefore leads to manipulations in discourse and collective notions of “truth”. In a nutshell, Foucault demonstrates the interplay of time, power, and language in constructing an everyday reality that shapes the individual’s cognition and behavior. Language, or more largely, discourse, is thus shown as a key player in shaping and informing an individual’s concept of everyday life. Deviation then, implies not only movement from accepted ideas, but also from discourse. In thinking specifically about written discourse, this relationship seems somehow more covert, compared to verbal/everyday discourse that seems to have a more obvious effect on individual cognition and behavior.