Archaeological method: how power is constituted through knowledge and ‘truth’

The concept of ‘power/knowledge’ spans Foucault’s work in its entirety, from his ‘archaeological’ and ‘genealogical’ works to his ‘ethical’1 works (Feder, 2011, p. 55). Foucault uses the term ‘power/knowledge’ to signify that power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge and ‘truth’ (Gaventa, 2003, n.p.) rather than ‘imposed on the subject from the outside according to a necessary causality or structural determination’ (Foucault, 1984b, n.p.). As such it is important not to assume a prior objectification and constitution of subjects as an exercise of power relations but rather, to explore how the objectivising of subjects is conceptualised through discursive formation (Fairclough, 1992, p. 64; Foucault, 1972, p. 205; 1982a, p. 778). A discursive formation is formed by a ‘group of statements’ (Brown & Cousins, 1986, p. 33). To begin the analysis with ‘how’ is to suggest that linear power as such does not exist (Foucault, 1982a, p. 786).

The philosophical theory2 presented within this data-driven research hence does not assume a prior objectification of power. Furthermore, a framework that presupposes the existence of power undermines the complexity of relationships between language and social practice, as it requires the researcher to negotiate the process of interpretation within stipulated boundaries. Thus, the point of departure of this research’s analysis, the access to the phenomenon of identity, the passage through changing policy discourses must secure their own reflexive method if it is to have any prospect of examining the phenomenon and the conditions of possibility of inequality (cf. Heidegger, 2003a, pp. 66-67). It is thus not a matter of ‘examining “power” with regards to its origins, its principles, or itslegitimate limits but of studying the methods and techniques’ (Foucault, 1984b, n.p.) used in policy documents to modify subjects (Foucault, 1982a, p. 777).

Foucault calls the initial axis of his analyses ‘archaeology’ (Davidson, 1986). Of particular importance in Foucault’s archaeological method is the observation that ‘discursive formations produce the object about which they speak’ (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1983, p. 61). In exploring how policy discourse imputes forms of divisive identity to individuals, it is not institutional power but the objectification of the subject, as those who are shaped through discursive formations of ‘truth’ claims, which is the general theme of this research. This objectification, formed through discursive practices in policy documents, provides an opportunity to produce widely dispersed ‘new’ knowledge (Feder, 2011, pp. 60-62). Citing Foucault, Rouse (2005, p. 110) argues that this ‘new’ knowledge produces a new sense of far-reaching relationships of power; it produces new ‘understandings’, new ‘truths’, not only about particular learners, but about other learners who would be identified under the pervasive, albeit less conspicuous standards and conditions that structure, define, induce, and extend this new identity. As Foucault (1986, p. 74) argues:

‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A ‘regime’ of truth.

In relation to economic growth, this regime is not merely ideological; it is a condition of the formation and development of neo-liberalism that builds and sustains inequality (Foucault, 1986, p. 74). Further, Foucault (1991b, p. 57) terms these new evolving ‘truths’ as ‘mutations’ which ‘simultaneously affect several discursive formations’. These ‘new’ truths are elementary conditions of possibility - in the sense of their productive appropriation for both learner identities and the legitimation of streaming as an institutional practice. The premise being that these new ‘truths’, constructed within the workings of the marriage between power-knowledge-truth, demonstrate the legitimacy of streaming and how it has been made necessary.

The first stage of the analysis examines the relationship of ‘truth’ claims about particular learners and systematic inequality. By tracing the continuous reconstruction of ‘new’ but unequal forms of representation of different learners, it is possible to make visible how policy discourses justify, legitimise, and sustain unequal opportunities for knowledge access and differentiated treatments within a meritocratic system.To understand this relationship, the research draws on Foucault’s (1982a, p. 792) arguments on how the power-knowledge-truth nexus is the condition as well as the result of a ‘system of differentiation’. These concepts will be made explicit by employing CDA in the analysis of the 1979 policy report. Drawing on Foucault’s (1972) archaeological work, the examination of truth in the first stage of analysis requires the consideration of two domains: first, how truth is implicated in the identity construction of learners within the workings of the institutional processes, and second, the pervasiveness

of this construction within various iterations of the policy document. As an initial attempt to isolate the level of discursive practices and formulate the (historical) rules of production and transformation for ‘truth’ claims in relation to learner identities, this archaeological level is an indispensable and distinct primary level of analysis (Davidson, 1986, p. 227), providing a much more complex focus on the subject depicted. The focus is on developing the principles for the analysis taken up in later chapters.

The concept ‘ regime of truth’ in Foucault’s writings progressively evolves, with increasing emphasis, into the ''games of truth’ as mechanisms of power. While the initial analysis in Chapter 2 focuses on what the subject must be in order to become a legitimate subject of this or that txrpe of knowledge through the ‘regime’ of truth, subsequent philosophical deliberations and analyses in Chapters 3 to 7 examine the conditions under which the subject is formed, transformed, and constituted as an object in the ‘games’ of truth - alluding to the Truth of economic growth (Foucault, 1984b, n.p.). In his most mature writings, Foucault (1984b, n.p.) developed the power/knowledge concept to refer to ‘relations between the subject and truth ... the study of the modes according to which the subject was able to be inserted as an object in the games of truth’. As Foucault (1984a, p. 127) argues:

when I say ‘game’ I mean ensemble of rules for the production of truth ... it is an ensemble of procedures which lead to a certain result, which can be considered in function of its principles and its rules of procedures as valid or not, as winner or loser.

What Foucault offers is the basis for a discourse-analytic investigation of relations between systems of classification through a ‘streaming’ mechanism and privileges to knowledge access (Fairclough, 1992, pp. 47, 64). However, while Foucault provides an intensive insight and conceptual understanding of how certain types of identities are encoded in policy discourse through a classificatory grid, he does not present the means by which his perspectives can be empirically situated; and conceptualisations of such identities remain retrospective. Policies have deposited constructed truths through discourse that can be unearthed only by employing close textual analysis techniques such as CDA. In the discussion below, the focus is on identifying and consolidating CDA approaches that are compatible with the theoretical and epistemological tenets of archaeology. His perspectives constitute and are constituted by these various analytical approaches.

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