You are on page 1of 9

HISTORY AS POWER / KNOWLEDGE AND THE FACE OF THE OTHER S.

Lourdunathan® “We are subjected to production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth” The very theme, „Historiography, Culture and Civilization‟ of the present Seminar opens up new frontiers to philosophical discussions that enables a serious sensibilities of „crossing the borders‟ of „Discipline and Punishment‟ of the human minds in straight dominant patterns of thinking and knowledge. I thank Prof. S. Panneerselvam, the Director of the Seminar to this venture. I am sure the discussions would enlarge new horizons and deepen our understanding of the social realties in meaningful ways. The aims of the paper is (i) to trace the Focultian sense of history as power/knowledge and (ii) to explore the way(s) through which the face of the Other namely the subjugated is systematically denied in the established dominant structures of knowledge. In addition to these tasks, a modest attempt is also made to situate Emmanuel Levinas in dialogue with Foucault as to evolve metaphysics of ethics based on the contributions of both from the vantage point of their critique of cultural realities. In so doing, the intentional invitation here is to apply these tools at Indian philosophical realms as to „see‟ whether Indian philosophical culture does conceive the idea of history of Indian philosophy as power/knowledge tactically veiling the face and the advocacy of the social Other. The task ahead I presume would be enormous however let me make a preliminary attempt in this paper. Power/Knowledge Intersection Foucault is credited for his creative and analytical method to bring together both the concepts of power and knowledge in interfacial intersection. In aligning or merging these two concepts Foucault intends to show (i) the role of power to produce knowledge and (ii) the role of knowledge to reproduce and power. Thus both according to Foucault are mutually inclusive functions to consolidate and perpetuate cultural power-relations. For Foucault, history is but a history of power relations; a history of specific ideology of power; it is a history of ideology; a history of ideological apparatus produced by power-camps in order to retain their culturally cum freely invested power relations. And accordingly the construction of history in a linear manner serves the purpose of fixing the individuals within the systems of power. The linear history is hence a dominant history. The dominant History is purposive to serve interests of the dominant humans. In such historicism, individuals or social groups are only prey, a cog in the wheel, of that of cultural power encircling. In his writings, through establishing nexus between power and knowledge, Foucault involves himself to show how the vulnerable Other, the despised ones, the mad, the prisoners, the children, the fragile women or men, the weaker sections, the patients, are subordinated into the very same system that alienates them as mad, mentally ill, abnormal etc.

Paper presented at the One Day UGC National Seminar on Historiography, Culture and Civilizations, org. by the Department of Philosophy, University of Madras, Chenni on March 11, 2011. ® Head, Department of Philosophy, Arul Anandar (Autonomous) College, Karumathur – Madurai. Email – nathanlourdu1960@gmail.com

1

In other words the Focultian sense of power/knowledge is historical in the sense that the production of knowledge by power centers has a history all throughout the human history; it is an evolutionary process of social Darwinism. Power; knowledge would then is the knowledge of how people are appropriated in the cultural scheme of power/knowledge involutions. This knowledge is based on techniques of social engineering (of course education is one of the long-standing techniques of social engineering). Thus there is a close interconnection amongst what is construed as Knowledge, Power and what is relegated as the Other. In this article I begin first, to establish the salient features of what Foucault understands by power/knowledge and the five methodological precautions one should be aware of in accepting what is Truth, Right and Reason. Then I proceed to establish how Foucault in his works historically and philosophically defends the face the Other, the despised subjects, and how disciplinary techniques of knowledge and power play in totalizing institutions to use persons as objects of power and knowledge, denying the face of the Other. Historiography of Domination through Power/knowledge & Production of Truth One of the major themes that Foucault addresses in his writings is regarding the notions of Truth, Right and Reason in society. Foucault holds that power centers or totalizing institutions produce what is Truth, Right and Reason by means of discourse. According to him it is power/knowledge of a particular epoch produces, the episteme in the given epoch conditions or imprisons the human persons as subjects of its institutional demands. The use of the term „discourse‟ by Foucault needs to be taken into account here. By discourse, Foucault refers to ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which „totalizing institutions‟ use to produce universal ideologies. These universal ideologies for instance is the ideology of Reason of modernity, the ideology of Truth in Medieval scholasticism, the ideology of morality and sexuality within the frame work of the tradition. In other words what is reasonable is the reason produced by a specific ideology or episteme which is intended to sustain the power of the dominance over or against the vulnerable ones. He says: „What rules of right are implemented by the relations of power in the productions of discourse of truth? Or alternatively, what type of power is susceptible of producing discourses of truth that in society such as ours are endowed with such potent effects? What I mean is this: in a society such as ours, but basically in any society, there are manifold relations of power which permeate, characterize and constitute the social body, and these relations of power cannot themselves be established, consolidated nor implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of discourse. There can be no possible exercise of power without a certain economy of discourse of truth, which operates through and on the basis of association. We are subjected to production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.... we are forced to produce the truth of power that our society demands, of which it has need, in order to function: we must speak the truth; we are constrained or condemned to confess or to discover

2

the truth. Power never ceases its interrogation, its inquisition, its registration of truth: it institutionalizes, professionalizes and rewards its pursuit. 1 Our discourses finds Foucault are clearly monitored discourses. They are discourses under perpetual surveillance. They are speech act situations felitious or infelitious with reference to the power/knowledge of the systems. In other words, our discourses or speech sites are controlled in such a manner that we utter what the authoritarian power wants/wishes to listen to; we discourse in the manner the dominant discourse intends us so. We are disciplined by power/knowledge relations. Through discipline/punishment the subject is conditioned to the subject situations of the given totalizing in ideology. There are two ways in which we /normally/ speak in a discourse situation. (i) we speak what the power/knowledge determines as exact; we just speak that which power wants to listen as if it is exactly befitting its fundamental position. (ii) we are normalized or conditioned to speak in such a way to legitimize what power/knowledge holds to be true or reasonable because power has the right to truth; rather what is true is what the power says to be true. I am reminded of certain philosophical positions regarding epistemic validity of truth, verbal testimony for instance). Thus a discourse within the paradigms of cultural power/knowledge, produces its products, namely production of appropriated subjects (civilized persons); the subjugation of the individual subjects as subjectivization of the subjects. We are thus, obliged to enchain or obey to power/knowledge lacking any social cum ethical criticisms. We are subsumed into the system as if we are the system. [Think of a caste-in-person within the cultural frame of casteism. Think of a Christian in Christianity; think of a politician in the politics of power; think of an educator within the politics of education for power domination and achievement]. Even if there are critical positions they are critical within the domains such power/knowledge structures. The consequence of such history of power/knowledge discourse is domination. Historical representations are but the reproductions of dominant discourses. Hence history is not only „the history of all hitherto to existing society is the history of class struggle (between) the oppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another (to be) ended either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending class’2 but a history of Power/knowledge dominating all societies throughout history. For Foucault, The relations of power domination are not so much as external or physical domination but the manifold forms of dominations that can be exercised within society by which we are subjugated. We are normalized to the extent that we do not even recognize the domination of power/knowledge. Hence according to Foucault (kindly pardon me for simplifying Foucault here), we as human subjects do have „responsibility of the Other‟ to re-look history as against the traditional methods, the polymorphous techniques of subjugation and restore the rightful claim to „gaze‟ at historical writings as a matter of discourse for truth with reference to/from the vantage point of the alternate or subjugated realities.

1

Michel Foucault, Lecture two: 14 January 1976. This lecture is published in Social and Political Philosophy: Classical Western Texts in the Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives, by James P Sterba. Thomson, 2003, 468-477.) 2 Kark Marx & Friedeirc Engles, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Selected works, PPM, 1970, p. 35.

3

The net result is that a vast majority of cultures and of their people is subsumed as the Other, mad, powerless and abnormal. Hence what is to be trespassed, eroded, suspended, put to an end in all seriousness is the dominant discourse of power/knowledge replacing with the knowledge/power of the oppressed people an alternate discourse conceived by Foucault. Methodological Precautions of Foucault Foucault offers us five important methodological precautions in this regard. 1. Power as/in local operation Foucault proposes that our analysis on power/knowledge should not concern itself with regulated and legitimate forms of power in their central locations, with the general mechanisms through which they operate. On the contrary, our analysis should be concerned with power at its extremities, in its ultimate destinations, with those points where it becomes regional and local forms of institutions. (How power operates locally) 2. Power as ongoing subjugation and disciplining of bodies In the second methodological precaution, Foucault urges us not to concern ourselves with power at the level of conscious intention or decision, in other words, we should not attempt to consider power from its internal point of view. For example, we need not worry about who has the power, what is his aim, etc. Rather, we need to study power in its external features, its relationship which we called in the past the object of power, its target, and its field of application. Therefore, it is not asking why certain people want to dominate, what they seek and what their strategy is. Let us ask instead, how things work at the level of ongoing subjugation, at the level of those continuous and uninterrupted processes, which subject our bodies, govern our gestures, dictate our behavior etc. 3. Power not as individual/group property but as a net-work social organization In the third methodological precaution, Foucault explains the fact that power is not to be taken to be a phenomenon of one individual‟s consolidated and homogeneous domination over others or that of one group or class over others. He asks us to keep in mind that power does not make difference between those who exclusively possess and retain it, and those who do not have it and submit to it. Power must be analyzed as something, which circulates just like a chain. Power is never localised here and there, never in anybody‟s hand, never appropriated as a commodity or piece of wealth. For Foucault, power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization. Individuals are only vehicles of power, not its point of application. 4. Power as ascending ‘technological’ trajectory In the fourth methodological precaution, Foucault reminds that we must conduct ascending analysis of power, starting, that is, from its minute mechanisms, which each have their own history, their own trajectory, their own techniques and tactics, and then see how these mechanisms of power have been – and continue to be – invested, colonized, utilized, involuted, transformed, displaced, extended, etc., by ever more general mechanisms and by
4

forms of global domination. In this process we should be careful not to attempt some kind of deduction of power starting from its centre and aimed at the discovery of the extent to which it reproduces itself down to and including the most molecular elements of society. Rather, we need to analyze the manner in which the phenomena, the techniques and the procedures of power enter into play at the most basic levels, that the way which these procedures are displaced, extended and altered are clearly demonstrated, but above all what must be shown is the manner in which phenomena and the subtle fashion in which more general powers or economic interests are able to engage with these technologies that are at once both relatively autonomous of power and act as its infinitesimal elements. 5. Power as ideological apparatus and reproduction In the fifth methodological precaution, Foucault alerts us that it is quite possible that the major mechanism of power have been accompanied by ideological productions such as an ideology or philosophy of that of education, parliamentary democracy, etc. But, what is more important is the production of effective instruments for the formation and accumulation of knowledge – methods of observation, techniques of registration, procedures for investigation and research, apparatuses of control. All this means that power, when it is exercised through these subtle mechanisms, cannot but evolve, organize and put into circulation a knowledge, or rather apparatuses of knowledge, which are not ideological constructs. To sum up, Foucault wants that we direct our researches on the nature of power and not towards the juridical edifice of sovereignty, the State apparatuses and the ideologies which accompany them, but towards domination and the material operators of power, towards forms of subjection and the infections and utilization in their localised systems of operation, and towards strategic apparatuses. Power/Knowledge and Discourse After having set his area of analysis and research, Foucault states that power is situated in the disharmony of social practices and situations. The discourse within these social formations is manifested in the economy of discourse. This fact makes Foucault to conclude that power is directly tied to the economy of discourse itself. The discourse identified within social structures brings power to existence in social relations and gives credibility to the ideology that the exercise of power is created by these means.3 At the same time, Foucault points out the hindrance and difficulties discourses bring in to those who „have‟ power. He says, Discourses are not once and for all subservient to power or raised up against it, any more than silences are. We must make allowance for the concept‟s complex and unstable process whereby discourse can be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy. Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it

3

Raymie E McKerrow, “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis,” in Contemporary Rhetorical Theory, ed., by John Lucaites, Celeste Michelle Condit, and Sally Caudill. New York: The Guilford Press, 1999, 448.

5

fragile and makes it possible to thwart it.4 Therefore, discourse becomes a tactical dimension of how power relations work between institutions, groups, and individuals. By power/knowledge, Foucault believes that those who are in power have specialist knowledge. In cases such as these, “the production of knowledge and the exercise of administrative power intertwine, and each begins to enhance the other.”5 Cultural, social and political Power produces specific episteme or knowledge structures which in turn reproduce and perpetuate the dominant culture. Thus exhibits the reciprocal relation between power and knowledge. Foucault firmly believes that all our knowledge has a history of evolution. It has a history of cultural reproduction of domination by means of which cultural authoritarianism is perpetuated by specific modes of power relations as to disembark the vulnerable sections of society. In so doing the face of the other, the vulnerable people is robbed into the structures of power/knowledge as to reduce them faceless, homeless, mad, prisoners, sick and deprived. Therefore the question is how to redeem the face of the Other, becomes vital in subaltern attempts in terms of empowerment. This means that empowerment as a concept is not purely social but deep down it is question of defacing or disempowering the power/knowledge structures that established themselves as „normative truth‟ through different epoch. As an illustration, Foucault, in his work Mental Illness and Psychology, he undertakes to prove that mental „illness‟ is related to organic illness and not „unreason‟ as power/knowledge defines it. From his study he comes to the conclusion that it is a mistake to give the same meaning to illness, symptoms, and in mental pathology as in organic pathology.6 He proposes to abandon the „abstract meta-psychology‟ that assumes organic disturbances and personality changes in the same type of structure. In this process he also proposes to analyze the specificity of mental illness and seeks concrete forms a mental illness can take in the psychological life of an individual. As a result, he begins to analyze the phenomenon of mental illness and its character and origin without reference to organic analogies. The modern understanding of the mad also has its history and evolution in society. He begins to tackle the problem of the mistaken notion of madness propagated and perpetuated by power/knowledge and the consequent mistreatment of the mad in society. Power/Knowledge and the Mad or ‘Unreason’7 Foucault was against any institutionalized forms of power that dominated the „other‟ in society. Beginning his career in the hospital, Foucault finds that it is his ethical responsibility to work for the face of the deprived Other as exposing the dirty face of dominance.

4

Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977, ed., Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. 5 Barry Allen, “Power/Knowledge,” in Critical Essays on Michel Foucault, ed., by Karlis Racevskis. New York: G.K. Hall & CO, 1999, 70. 6 Michel Foucault, Mental Illness and Psychology, trans. of Maladie mentale et psychologie (1962) by A.M. Sheridan-Smith, foreword by Hubert Dreyfus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987, 2. This work was originally published as Maladie mentale et personnalité. Paris: PUF, 1954. 7 „Unreason‟ is special term Foucault uses to categorize knowledge and social behaviours that are not acceptable to „Reason.‟ Reason is a dominant discourse coming from totalizing institut ions.

6

His experience with the patients, the atmosphere in the hospital and the relationship between doctors and patients make him reflect deeply on society and the interaction of different groups of people within society. He finds that institutional power/knowledge plays a vital role in determining who and why a person is mad. In the preface to Madness and Civilization he says, “We must try to return, in history, to that zero point in the course of madness at which madness is an undifferentiated experience, a not yet divided experience of division itself.”8 Foucault argues that at that zero point in history, in the natural quality of human life in society, madness is not differentiated. On this foundation he maintains that the modern understanding of madness is fundamentally misguided. The primary reason for this opinion is that modern psychiatric practice has profoundly alienating effects in its negative understanding of madness as mental illness. The second reason he points out is that different pathological behaviours are artificially united into a single category. On these grounds, Foucault argues that it is erroneous to link the mental and organic pathologies into a single concept: „psychosomatic totality‟.9 Both pathologies require different methods of analysis. These fundamental mistakes on the modern understanding of madness influenced by power/knowledge make Foucault look back to classical medicine where these pathologies are given autonomous, independent status and are treated individually.10 With this background, Foucault shifts the focus of his study to the understanding of the sick person‟s consciousness in the pathological world. According to Foucault, it is a common erroneous notion that mad people are unaware of themselves and their illness. They do indeed know their anomalous condition. Therefore, he deems it necessary to examine their consciousness: the ways in which such individuals may accept, reject, and interpret aspects of their illness. As this morbid consciousness is deployed within a „double reference‟ – normal and pathological – this split consciousness needs to be analyzed through the individual‟s understanding and experience of time, space, body and inter-subjective relations. Foucault suggests a cluster of approaches to contextualize individual experiences of mental illness with respect to a broader cultural understanding of madness. For example, the notion of madness in modern society as deviant (cultural illusion) excludes mad persons from the mainstream of society and locks them up, while in olden society they occupied a central position in religious and social activities. He highlights that madness has no pre-social essence requiring social exclusion in modern society.11 Madness acquires its density of being in relation to the needs and demands of a given culture. Foucault concludes that in a given culture, the theoretical organization of mental illness is bound up with a diverse system of institutional and social practices governed by power/knowledge. This necessarily demands that the treatment of a mentally ill person take into consideration the cultural context of that individual. But, the paradox of mental illness is
8

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason , trans. of abridged version of Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961) by Richard Howard. New York: Vintage Books, 1988, ix. 9 In this concept organic and mental illness are linked together as one unity. In this unity an individual and his or her pathological reactions to the surrounding environment are viewed together as a single action. 10 For further reference: Gary Gutting, Michel Foucault‟s Archaeology of Scientific Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1989, 56f; Lois McNay, Foucault: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press, reprint, 1996, 15. 11 McNay, Foucault, 16.

7

that the contradictions and constraints of the actual social conditions indicate the reasons for morbid consciousness. “The contemporary world makes schizophrenia possible…because our culture reads the world in such a way that man himself cannot recognize himself in it. Only the real conflict of the conditions of existence may serve as a structural model for the paradoxes of the schizophrenic world.”12 Mentally ill persons are considered as alien to reason and as the „other‟ in society. The central argument he puts forward is that madness is not a self-evident behavioural or biological fact but is the product of various socio-cultural practices produced by power/knowledge. It has no pre-social essence but acquires a status of being in relation to the needs and demands of a given culture.13 In this way, Foucault explains how power/knowledge promotes both the (i) appropriation of the individuals as power bodies and (ii) declinations of the „Other‟ to be excluded from the sight or regime of power/knowledge structures. Power/Knowledge and Disciplinary Techniques in Totalizing Institutions To prove, that power/knowledge for its benefit confined people in prison; Foucault begins his study with the classical experience of the “Great Confinement,” an event in 1656 that confined over one percent of the population of Paris.14 The proximate cause of the confinement was an economic crisis. This confinement was maintained even after economic crisis. For instance, in the event of political crisis, confinement was used to prevent violence by the unemployed; in time of prosperity confined people were used as cheap labourers. By the seventeenth century, enormous houses of confinement are created in Paris. The lettres de cachet gave absolute power to governors to confine all possible idlers that include not only the mad, but also the poor, the sick, the promiscuous, blasphemers, rebellious children, irresponsible parents, and so on. Persons in charge of the prison were bourgeois. These bourgeois became governors officially representing royal power. They exercised all types of power in prison over those who came under their jurisdiction. Prison for Foucault was a power centre of repression under monarchy and bourgeois. The bourgeois use these confinements to protect themselves from social uprising and agitations. In this context Foucault calls confinement a „police‟ matter.15 The prisoners are the outsiders or the Other to be disciplined and punished. The experience in houses of confinement effects a new type of „ethical consciousness‟ regarding the moral worth of labour. Laziness assumes or treated as a form of rebellion. Thus, the idlers in confinement are forced to work without any utility or profit. Madness is no longer considered to be „innocence.‟ It is understood as failure to assimilate into the bourgeois order and its ethics of work.16 The mad are bound to the rule of reason and are judged according to the bourgeois morality. They who are considered alien to bourgeois
12 For further reference: Gary Gutting, Michel Foucault‟s Archaeology of Scientific Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1989, 56f; Lois McNay, Foucault: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press, reprint, 1996, 15. 13 McNay, Foucault, 18. 14 Foucault, Madness and Civilization, 46-7. 15 In Foucault‟s term, the job of the police is the articulation and administration of techniques of power so as to increase the state‟s control over its inhabitants. See: Foucault, Madness and Civilization, 46. 16 Foucault, Madness and Civilization, 58.

8

morality and rationality are incorporated as the „other‟ and treated as deviants to the „normal‟ society. This moral authority gives the wardens in confinement an absolute power over the prisoners to put them to silence in dungeons. For Foucault, schools, hospitals and barracks are also like that of prison „totalizing power centres‟ where power/knowledge in the form of „discipline‟ deprives its inmates' basic rights and freedom. Foucault says, “Discipline „makes‟ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise.”17 Disciplinary power makes and uses the docile bodies through meticulous training and distribution in space. This is done through hierarchical observation and normalizing judgments. The Panopticon18 model of observation and surveillance is an integral part of the production and control of docile bodies. In this Panopticon, the way of watching and being watched serves as means by which individuals are linked together in a disciplinary space. Through surveillance control and spatial order individual bodies are made docile to produce the results expected by institutions or society. Instead of cultivating integral individuals the Panopticon model of society began to „manufacture‟ individuals. Disciplinary power only aims at making individuals as objects to be used for its purpose. The inmates of the Panopticon are made objects in several ways. First, they are reduced to a mute body with which communication is only one-way. No dignity or identity of the person is taken into consideration. The person is reduced to a mere number. Second, persons are reduced to docile bodies. They are made so as not to resist punishment internally and externally. Third, they are subjected to merciless scrutiny as objects of knowledge.19 People are being used as objects of control and knowledge even in this twenty-first century. Panopticon and disciplinary power, which Foucault discusses in Discipline and Punish, has gained technological advancement in the form of electronic surveillance through video cameras and the Internet. The logic behind the use of this surveillance is that every individual in society is a potential danger for social security. Panoptic disciplinary mechanism aims at making deviants into docile bodies of self-disciplined individuals who, through surveillance, internalize the constraints imposed by the confirming authority and become useful citizens. As Foucault says, this type of “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.”20 Knowledge is collected for dividing and categorizing people. This is nothing but the invisible sovereign power that Foucault speaks about in Discipline and Punish. Thus, privacy, and civil liberty are denied.21 -------------

17

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. of Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975) by A.M. Sheridan-Smith (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 170. 18 The Panopticon was proposed as model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform. The Panopticon (“all -seeing”) functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the „inspector‟ who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled – mental uncertainty that in itself would prove to be crucial instrument of discipline. Foucault describes the implication of this „Panopticism‟ in his work Discipline and Punish. 19 Peter Lucas, “Mind-Forged Manacles and Habits of the Soul: Foucault‟s Debt to Heidegger,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32/3 (2002): 318. 20 Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in The Foucault Reader, trans. Catherine Porter, ed., Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, 88. 21 Gareth Palmer, “Big Brother: An Experiment in Governance,” Television & News Media 3/3 (2002): 298.

9