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apparatus (dispositif)

Foucault generally uses this term to indicate the various institutional, physical and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures, which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body. The original French term dispositif is rendered variously as 'dispositif', 'apparatus' and 'deployment' in English translations of Foucault's work

discursive practice

This term refers to a historically and culturally specific set of rules for organizing and producing different forms of knowledge. It is not a matter of external determinations being imposed on people's thought, rather it is a matter of rules which, a bit like the grammar of a language, allow certain statements to be made.


This term, which Foucault introduces in his book The Order of Things, refers to the orderly 'unconscious' structures underlying the production of scientific knowledge in a particular time and place. It is the 'epistemological field' which forms the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place. It has often been compared to T.S Kuhn's notion of paradigm.

exclusion (of individuals and groups)

The examination of the situation of people existing on the margins of society is one of the mainstays of Foucault's work. His analysis focuses on the 'negative structures' of society or excluded groups, as opposed to more traditional approaches which focus on the mainstream.

normal and the pathological, normalization

Foucault argues that contemporary society is a society based on medical notions of the norm, rather than on legal notions of conformity to codes and the law. Hence criminals need to be 'cured' of a disease not punished for an infraction of the law. There is a insoluble tension between a system based on law and a system based on medical norms in our legal and medical institutions.


One of the most important features of Foucault's view is that mechanisms of power produce different types of knowledge which collate information on people's activities and existence. The knowledge gathered in this way further reinforces exercises of power. Foucault refutes the idea that he makes the claim 'knowledge is power' and says that he is interested in studying the complex relations between power and knowledge without saying they are the same thing.

problematizations/ the history of problems

Foucault explains that he is more interested in writing a history of problems rather than a history of solutions or in writing the comprehensive history of a period or an institution. He describes the history of thought as 'the analysis of the way an unproblematic field of experience or set of practices which were accepted without question... becomes a problem, raises discussion and debate, incites new reactions, and induces a crisis in the previously silent behaviour, habits, practices and, institutions'.


Truth is a major theme in Foucault's work, in particular in the context of its relations with power, knowledge and the subject. He argues that truth is an event which takes place in history. It is something that 'happens', and is produced by various techniques (the 'technology' of truth) rather than something that already exists and is simply waiting to be discovered. Foucault argues that 'the effect of truth' he wants to produce consists in 'showing that the real is polemical'. Foucault further notes that he is not interested in 'telling the truth', in his writing; rather, he is interested in inviting people to have a particular experience for themselves.

michel-foucault.com/ concepts

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