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  • The Foucauldian Idea of “Relation”

    Posted on October 5th, 2014 hungyin No comments

    “…one cannot be a ‘Foucauldian’ in the way once can be a Marxist or a Freudian,” and that is undoubtedly true. (O’Brien, p.46)

    This is not my first time to read Foucault but every time I read, I always have the same thought like O’Brien’s above. There are many approaches to “use” Foucault in topics, such as applying the concept of panopticism to analyze visibility in daily life, especially CCTV, or taking his approach to uncover dominance in other cases of a researcher’s local military, prisons and hospitals. However, there are many Foucauldian studies, none of them replicates great influence as much as Foucault themselves. In this sense, Foucauldian approach just helps them to notice something that was hidden before- it is power relation.

    But from “What is Enlightenment?”, I think it is not only about power relation. It is to think all materials, all actors and all subjects in a relationship-oriented way. He takes Enlightenment as a set of relations by analyzing Kant’s article. He says “In any case, Enlightenment is defined by a modification of the preexisting relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason.” When he defines his concern, his concern is also about relation of struggle process of modernity and countermodernity; this is a kind of relation again: “I think it would be more useful to try to find out how the attitude of modernity, ever since its formation, has found itself struggling with attitudes of “countermodernity.”

    Foucault thinks of concepts in the way of relation as well by describing the relation between Enlightenment and humanism “From this standpoint I am inclined to see Enlightenment and humanism in a state of tension rather than identity.”

    Even he talks about Baudelaire, he puts attention on relation: “modernity for Baudelaire is not simply a form of relationship to the present; it is also a mode of relationship that has to be established with oneself.” There are many statements show his way of thinking things in relationship: “Now the relations between the growth of capabilities and the growth of autonomy are not as simple as the eighteenth century may have believed.” At the end of this article, he says, “…they have their theoretical coherence in the definition of the historically unique forms in which the generalities of our relations to things, to others, to ourselves, have been problematized.”

    In this sense, Foucault proposes his way of studying things in relationship against structuralism. Genealogy and archaeology are his methods, but more importantly, the presumption of these two methods is his approach of relation.


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