Michel Foucault: Truth and Power
119 North 11th street, 3C
Brooklyn, NY 11249
The French philosopher Michel Foucault claimed that “truth isn’t outside power,” the “reward of free spirits,” nor, as Immanuel Kant imagined two centuries earlier, “the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves.” Rather, truth is produced by power—a generalized condition outside of which no one stands—and shaped by different “knowledge regimes” in which societies accept certain things to be true. Instead of a world in which the courageous “speak truth to power,” Foucault proposes the unsettling suggestion that there is no truth without power. How, according to Foucault, is a discourse created, and in what ways does it regulate truth, meaning, and the very boundaries of the thinkable?
In this class, we will take up this central question and track its elaboration through a number of Foucault’s seminal works, including from The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality. Focusing our attention on these works, we will ask: What is the “archeological” or “genealogical” approach to human history? Does the genealogical method of inquiry necessarily undermine the idea of objective truths that are stable across place and time? What are the implications of arguing, as Foucault does, that human history is characterized by ruptures and discontinuities in what we hold to be true? What is a discourse, and how does it render certain ideas credible and others beyond the pale? What are the means through which “regimes of truth” have historically operated, and to what effect? Is it still possible to speak of facts outside of their social construction? And to what extent is the debunking of objectivity associated with Foucault and his followers implicated in our own world of alternative facts? Readings will also include select lectures and interviews alongside the work of scholars, like Edward Said and Bruno Latour, who have applied Foucauldian frameworks.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 10 — May 01, 2019