The term 'discourse' gains significant importance in theoretical and academic circles through the ideas of Michel Foucault. He explains that discourse is shaped and guided by those in power, such as the ruling elite or the state, and through discourse, they exercise their power.
Discourse plays a crucial role in constructing the reality we perceive and believe to be real. It also maintains the power dynamics between the state and its people, as well as constructs and influences our consciousness, effectively enslaving it.
Discourse and Historical Change
Foucault is particularly interested in history to explore how discourse changes over time, a concept he refers to as "discursive change." In societies, certain thoughts or theories may not be accepted at a specific point in time because they challenge the dominant discourse. For instance, the theory that the Sun is the center of our solar system was not accepted during medieval times because it contradicted Christianity, which held power and constructed the dominant discourse at that time.
Foucault's Influence and Categorizations
While Foucault rejected being labeled as structuralist, poststructuralist, postmodernist, or new historicist, his works encompass aspects of various disciplines. However, considering him a poststructuralist is relevant because his theories contribute significantly to the field of poststructuralism.
Critiquing Universal Truth
Structuralism attempts to challenge the notion of universal truth but often ends up creating its own universal claims. In contrast, poststructuralist theorists like Foucault argue against such theories. He criticizes the idea of truth having universal authenticity.
Foucault contends that every truth is a product of discourse, which changes over time. Therefore, truth should not be understood from an essentialist viewpoint. The common notion is that knowledge is free, accessible to everyone, and belongs to individuals. However, Foucault critiques this notion by asserting that knowledge is also controlled by those in power, be it a country, institution, or discipline.
Knowledge is Power
Foucault famously stated, "Knowledge is Power," meaning that those who possess knowledge have power over those who do not. For example, during the medieval era, the reservation of biblical knowledge for the Church allowed Christianity to exert control over its followers.