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View Full Version : Justice Vs. Power - Chomsky Vs. Foucault


Sohel
October 16, 2007, 03:15 AM
Part 1
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Part 2
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Really looking forward to comments from everyone who has the time to watch, listen and think about the stuff closely, especially: -

1. Shaad
2. Asaad
3. Hatebreed
4. Puck
5. P. Warner
6. Chinaman
7. Cricman
8. Alien
9. cricket_pagol
10. Mijan
11. Ammar
12. Arnab

Personally I am a Foucauldian all the way ... :)

Fazal
October 16, 2007, 04:14 PM
I watched, listened and thought about the stuff closely and about to express my opinion in this matter.... then I saw the list and couldn't find my name. Therefore I am withholding my opinion for now.

Sohel
October 17, 2007, 12:21 AM
I watched, listened and thought about the stuff closely and about to express my opinion in this matter.... then I saw the list and couldn't find my name. Therefore I am withholding my opinion for now.

Maybe am walking straight into something here, but for what it’s worth …

Apologies Fazal, it WAS presumptuous of me to think that you may not be interested in this kind of stuff.

Fire away … :)

nsd3
October 17, 2007, 05:53 AM
Ubhoy pokhhe man-obhiman cholche naki!!

Kana-Baba
October 17, 2007, 11:35 AM
khaise... doraisi... kothin topic... someone from Aziz Super Market might able to perticipate in this discussion.

shaad
October 20, 2007, 05:30 PM
Sohel,

Thanks for posting this. It's actually quite charming to see such a young Chomsky.

Just to make my biases clear, I'll mention at the outset that I am more inclined towards rationalist/Enlightenment thinking and have some issues with certain aspects of postmodernist analysis. That said, frankly, I think this was less a debate than two intellectuals talking at cross-purposes.

The impression I get from watching the two videos is that Foucault does not want to entertain concepts just as justice without the existing class/power structures being dismantled (largely, I presume, because he sees existing notions of "justice" as being used to maintain the hegemony of the ruling class), while Chomsky argues that such concepts are inherent in our human nature. I am inclined to agree with Chomsky on this issue, largely because a number of experiments in other primates suggest that some of these concepts (or the ability to perceive them) were "hard-wired" into our brain during evolution and probably predate our emergence as an individual species (capuchin monkeys, for example, have a concept of fairness: if capuchin monkeys are trained to "trade" small pieces of stones with their human handlers for rewards, e.g. cucumber slices, seeing one monkey receive an unfair, "better" reward, e.g. tastier grapes, will result in the other monkeys refusing to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, not eating the cucumbers they received, and in some cases, even hurling the food rewards at the human researchers).

Moreover, I would argue that we require a framework of justice prior to any attempt to dismantle existing class/power structures. History is replete with examples of wars and revolutions, fought for the "noblest" of reasons, which simply end up replacing one tyrant or ruling class with another. An idealistic, albeit imperfectly articulated, notion of justice can attempt to improve (and has often successfully improved) the quality of life of the masses (i.e. the class not just switching positions at the top) during such struggles. And seriously, if we didn't have a concept of justice, however imperfect, why would we care about class/power structures and attempt to change the status quo?

Nor do all of us have the time, desire, or energy to wait for the glorious revolution that will finally result in the classless society that Foucault seems to be waiting for (in fact, I would argue that as long as we remain an energy-limited society, we will continue being a culture where class structures and differential power dynamics persist). Does that mean that we should not hold on to our notions and practice of justice in the here and now? Imperfect and biased towards the ruling class though they might be, they are still better than not having any means towards addressing inequities.

Sohel
October 21, 2007, 01:15 PM
Dear Shaad,

First of all thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful response... :)

I always thought of Foucault, whom I've had the good fortune of meeting right before his death, as a passionate post-Nietzschean scholar who focused on the "forest" of Western political discourse and easy intellectual preconceptions by examining each "tree" in great detail.

His interest in various "technologies of power" and their "normalizing functions" came from a deep desire for justice and individual liberty, and he believed by closely examining and reforming those "technologies", human societies could indeed move forward towards a better socio-political future. His lifelong involvement as a prison reform activist among other such roles demonstrated his commitment to human liberty.

No on to more details.

...The impression I get from watching the two videos is that Foucault does not want to entertain concepts just as justice without the existing class/power structures being dismantled (largely, I presume, because he sees existing notions of "justice" as being used to maintain the hegemony of the ruling class), while Chomsky argues that such concepts are inherent in our human nature. I am inclined to agree with Chomsky on this issue, largely because a number of experiments in other primates suggest that some of these concepts (or the ability to perceive them) were "hard-wired" into our brain during evolution and probably predate our emergence as an individual species (capuchin monkeys, for example, have a concept of fairness: if capuchin monkeys are trained to "trade" small pieces of stones with their human handlers for rewards, e.g. cucumber slices, seeing one monkey receive an unfair, "better" reward, e.g. tastier grapes, will result in the other monkeys refusing to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, not eating the cucumbers they received, and in some cases, even hurling the food rewards at the human researchers).

Moreover, I would argue that we require a framework of justice prior to any attempt to dismantle existing class/power structures. History is replete with examples of wars and revolutions, fought for the "noblest" of reasons, which simply end up replacing one tyrant or ruling class with another. An idealistic, albeit imperfectly articulated, notion of justice can attempt to improve (and has often successfully improved) the quality of life of the masses (i.e. the class not just switching positions at the top) during such struggles. And seriously, if we didn't have a concept of justice, however imperfect, why would we care about class/power structures and attempt to change the status quo?

Nor do all of us have the time, desire, or energy to wait for the glorious revolution that will finally result in the classless society that Foucault seems to be waiting for (in fact, I would argue that as long as we remain an energy-limited society, we will continue being a culture where class structures and differential power dynamics persist). Does that mean that we should not hold on to our notions and practice of justice in the here and now? Imperfect and biased towards the ruling class though they might be, they are still better than not having any means towards addressing inequities.

Foucault in fact refused to get into particular arguments traditionally espoused by scholars such as Noam Chomsky. Instead he focused on the genealogies of such notions such as "justice", "class", and "human nature" within the Western context, and talked about how those notions have come to be and how they have been used in a wide variety "normalizing" endeavors by the modern state through its institutions in what he called the "pouvoir/savoir" or "power/knowledge" modalities. That said, calling him a "post modernist", "structuralist", or a "post structuralist" is not entirely fair, although that is done quite often.

In all of his major published works staring from Madness and Civilization Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, 1961 to The Care of the Self Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi, 1984, his erudite passion for "practical' justice comes right through.

Allow me to post the Wikipedia summery of those works. As a Foucauldian, I find them to be spot on and a good place to start. The :up: factor represents my fondness for that particular work.

Madness and Civilization (1961) ... :up::up::up::up::up:

The English edition of Madness and Civilization is an abridged version of Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, originally published in 1961. (A full translation titled The History of Madness has been published by Routledge : ISBN 0-415-27701-9) This was Foucault's first major book, written while he was the Director of the Maison de France in Sweden. It examines ideas, practices, institutions, art and literature relating to madness in Western history.

Foucault begins his history in the Middle Ages, noting the social and physical exclusion of lepers. He argues that with the gradual disappearance of leprosy, madness came to occupy this excluded position. The ship of fools in the 15th century is a literary version of one such exclusionary practice, namely that of sending mad people away in ships. In 17th-century Europe, in a movement which Foucault famously describes as the Great Confinement, "unreasonable" members of the population were locked away and institutionalised. In the eighteenth century, madness came to be seen as the reverse of Reason, and, finally, in the nineteenth century as mental illness.

Foucault also argues that madness was silenced by Reason, losing its power to signify the limits of social order and to point to the truth. He examines the rise of scientific and "humanitarian" treatments of the insane, notably at the hands of Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke. He claims that these new treatments were in fact no less controlling than previous methods. Tuke's country retreat for the mad consisted of punishing the madmen until they learned to act "reasonably". Similarly, Pinel's treatment of the mad amounted to an extended aversion therapy, including such treatments as freezing showers and use of a straitjacket. In Foucault's view, this treatment amounted to repeated brutality until the pattern of judgment and punishment was internalized by the patient.

The Birth of the Clinic ... :up::up::up:

Foucault's second major book, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical) was published in 1963 in France, and translated to English in 1973. Picking up from Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic traces the development of the medical profession, and specifically the institution of the clinique (translated as "clinic", but here largely referring to teaching hospitals). Its motif is the concept of the medical regard (a concept which has garnered a lot of attention from English-language readers, due to Alan Sheridan's unusual translation, "medical gaze").

The Order of Things ... :up::up::up::up::up:

Foucault's Les Mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines was published in 1966. It was translated into English and published by Pantheon Books in 1970 under the title The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Foucault had preferred L'Ordre des Choses for the original French title, but changed the title as there was already another book of this title).

The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sight-lines, hiddenness and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain underlying conditions of truth that constituted what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period's episteme to another.

Foucault's critique of Renaissance values in Les mots et les choses has been very influential to cultural history. The various consciousness shifts that he points out in the first chapters of the book have led several scholars to scrutinize the bases for knowledge in our present day as well as critiquing the projection of modern categories of knowledge onto subjects that remain intrinsically unintelligible, in spite of historical knowledge.

The Order of Things brought Foucault to prominence as an intellectual figure in France. A review by Jean-Paul Sartre attacked Foucault as 'the last rampart of the bourgeoisie'.

The Archaeology of Knowledge ... :up::up::up::up:

Published in 1969, this volume was Foucault's main excursion into methodology. He wrote it in order to deal with the reception of Les Mots et les choses. It makes references to Anglo-American analytical philosophy, particularly speech act theory.

Foucault directs his analysis toward the "statement", the basic unit of discourse that he believes has been ignored up to this point. "Statement" is the English translation from French énoncé (that which is enunciated or expressed), which has a peculiar meaning for Foucault. "Énoncé" for Foucault means that which makes propositions, utterances, or speech acts meaningful. In this understanding, statements themselves are not propositions, utterances, or speech acts. Rather, statements create a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and it is these rules that are the preconditions for propositions, utterances, or speech acts to have meaning. Statements are also 'events'. Depending on whether or not they comply with the rules of meaning, a grammatically correct sentence may still lack meaning and inversely, an incorrect sentence may still be meaningful. Statements depend on the conditions in which they emerge and exist within a field of discourse. It is huge collections of statements, called discursive formations, toward which Foucault aims his analysis. It is important to note that Foucault reiterates that the analysis he is outlining is only one possible tactic, and that he is not seeking to displace other ways of analysing discourse or render them as invalid.

According to Dreyfus & Rabinow, Foucault not only brackets out issues of truth (cf. Husserl) he also brackets out issues of meaning. Rather than looking for a deeper meaning underneath discourse or looking for the source of meaning in some transcendental subject, Foucault analyzes the discursive and practical conditions of the existence for truth and meaning. In order to show the principles of meaning and truth production in various discursive formations he details how truth claims emerge during various epochs on the basis of what was actually said and written during these periods of time. He particularly describes the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the 20th Century. He strives to avoid all interpretation and to depart from the goals of hermeneutics. This does not mean that Foucault denounces truth and meaning, but just that truth and meaning depend on the historical discursive and practical means of truth and meaning production. For instance, although they were radically different during Enlightenment as opposed to Modernity, there were indeed meaning, truth and correct treatment of madness during both epochs (Madness and Civilization). This posture allows Foucault to move away from an anthropological standpoint, denouncing a priori concepts of the nature of the human subject, and focus on the role of discursive practices in constituting subjectivity.

Dispensing with finding a deeper meaning behind discourse would appear to lead Foucault toward structuralism. However, whereas structuralists search for homogeneity in a discursive entity, Foucault focuses on differences. Instead of asking what constitutes the specificity of European thought he asks what differences develop within it over time. Therefore, he refuses to examine statements outside of their role in the discursive formation, and he never examines possible statements that could have emerged from such a formation. His identity as a historian emerges here, as he is only interested in analysing statements in their historical context. The whole of the system and its discursive rules determine the identity of the statement. But, a discursive formation continually generates new statements, and some of these usher in changes in the discursive formation that may or may not be realized. Therefore, to describe a discursive formation, Foucault also focuses on expelled and forgotten discourses that never happen to change the discursive formation. Their difference to the dominant discourse also describe it. In this way one can describe specific systems that determine which types of statements emerge.

Discipline and Punish ... :up::up::up::up::up:

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was translated to English in 1977, from the French Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, published in 1975.

The book opens with a graphic description of the brutal public execution in 1757 of Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to kill Louis XV. Against this it juxtaposes a colourless prison timetable from just over 80 years later. Foucault then inquires how such a change in French society's punishment of convicts could have developed in such a short time. These are snapshots of two contrasting types of Foucault's "Technologies of Punishment". The first type, "Monarchical Punishment", involves the repression of the populace through brutal public displays of executions and torture. The second, "Disciplinary Punishment," is what Foucault says is practiced in the modern era. Disciplinary punishment gives "professionals" (psychologists, programme facilitators, parole officers, etc.) power over the prisoner, most notably in that the prisoner's length of stay depends on the professionals' judgment.

Foucault also compares modern society with Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" design for prisons (which was unrealized in its original form, but nonetheless influential): in the Panopticon, a single guard can watch over many prisoners while the guard remains unseen. The dark dungeon of pre-modernity has been replaced with the bright modern prison, but Foucault cautions that "visibility is a trap". It is through this visibility, Foucault writes, that modern society exercises its controlling systems of power and knowledge (terms which Foucault believed to be so fundamentally connected that he often combined them in a single hyphenated concept, "power-knowledge"). Increasing visibility leads to power located on an increasingly individualized level, shown by the possibility for institutions to track individuals throughout their lives. Foucault suggests that a "carceral continuum" runs through modern society, from the maximum security prison, through secure accommodation, probation, social workers, police, and teachers, to our everyday working and domestic lives. All are connected by the (witting or unwitting) supervision (surveillance, application of norms of acceptable behaviour) of some humans by others.

The History of Sexuality ... :up::up::up::up:

Three volumes of The History of Sexuality were published before Foucault's death in 1984. The first and most referenced volume, The Will to Knowledge (previously known as An Introduction in English — Histoire de la sexualité, 1: la volonté de savoir in French) was published in France in 1976, and translated in 1977, focusing primarily on the last two centuries, and the functioning of sexuality as an analytics of power related to the emergence of a science of sexuality (scientia sexualis) and the emergence of biopower in the West. In this volume he attacks the "repressive hypothesis," the widespread belief that we have, particularly since the nineteenth century, "repressed" our natural sexual drives. He shows that what we think of as "repression" of sexuality actually constituted sexuality as a core feature of our identities, and produced a proliferation of discourse on the subject.

The second two volumes, The Use of Pleasure (Histoire de la sexualite, II: l'usage des plaisirs) and The Care of the Self (Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi) dealt with the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity. Both were published in 1984, the year of Foucault's death, with the second volume being translated in 1985, and the third in 1986. In his lecture series from 1979 to 1980 Foucault extended his analysis of government to its 'wider sense of techniques and procedures designed to direct the behaviour of men', which involved a new consideration of the 'examination of conscience' and confession in early Christian literature. These themes of early Christian literature seemed to dominate Foucault's work, alongside his study of Greek and Roman literature, until the end of his life. However, Foucault's death from AIDS-related causes left the work incomplete, and the planned fourth volume of his History of Sexuality on Christianity was never published. The fourth volume was to be entitled Confessions of the Flesh (Les aveux de la chair). The volume was almost complete before Foucault's death and a copy of it is privately held in the Foucault archive. It cannot be published under the restrictions of Foucault's estate.

Power/Knowledge ... :up::up::up::up::up:

Power/Knowledge is a work by Foucault that explains his theory of how power is created and transferred throughout an "economy" of discourse (or conversation). It shows how power is transferred along conduits of dialogue according to the knowledge one has. Barry Allen says that it is only to have a statement pass among others as "known or true". Therefore, knowledge does not necessarily have to be true, but it only needs to be passed on as true for the statement to have an effect on the speakers in the discourse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault

Peace, Sohel.