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Guide Questions for Foucault reading


Week 4-8 Notes:

The following notes are highlights from the above chapter. They are neither intended to replace the lectures and text, nor to substitute for a reading of the text. Lectures will add to and supplement material given here. In order to do well in this class, it is recommended that you review these notes to identify main ideas after having attended class.

Reading philosophical essays is more challenging in that you often have to scan once, read once, and review once before you can adequately explain the author's position. In order to be sure that you are receiving maximum benefit from your time spent studying, try to answer the guide questions posed below. If you cannot answer them, it is time to read or review to be sure you understand the main arguments presented.

Who is Michel Foucault?

Beginning with a question that our subject of study might consider absurd, leads us directly to one of his most important claims: subjects are produced by discourses and their relations to them. There are no free subjects uninfluenced by popular discourse. One can either take up a position for, against, or alternate to, a popular discourse, but no single individual has the power to determine the course that discourse will follow. The notion of individual subjects is wholeheartedly rejected in Foucault's most popular works in favor of the notion that discourse is really a struggle for power; those with power control the debate, but not in an organized conspiratorial fashion. Rather, even powerful individuals are bound up in the struggle to create interpretations of events that will hold sway and determine how we discuss and think about certain concepts.


Latest Links

Intro to Post-modernism: Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Spivak

Derrida readings

Lacan - Kristeva readings

Post-structuralism and Post-Modern Theory

Russell's Philosophy for Laymen

Resource Links for this week's assignment:

Pages devoted to Foucault:

Guide Questions:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. Although I will not collect or check to see if you've completed them, the subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.


  1. How is real power exercised?(158)

  2. How are truth and popular culture linked?(158-159)

  3. Name three criteria that help establish normal discourse?(159)

  4. Is knowledge the product of individual subjects?(160)

  5. What is the connection between discourse and power?(160-161)

  6. Can discursive practices have universal validity?(164)

  7. Why are alternate views tolerated in the realm of discourse?(164-165)

  8. List the three types of subjects as described by Pcheaux?(166)

  9. Michael Bristol argues that a counterculture serves the dominant discourse. How does this happen?(167)

Prison Talk:

  1. What is Foucault's project?(37-38)

  2. Is it possible to make "all discourses visible" while rejecting the urge to mark the acts of particular individual's?(38)

  3. Describe the "mechanisms of power" that concern Foucault.(39)

  4. What was, from the beginning, the central project for prisons?(39-40) 

  5. What are two possible approaches to understanding why individuals commit crimes?(44-45)

  6. Describe the connection between crime, fear and surveillance.(47) From Foucault's perspective, why is crime tolerated?(47)

  7. If Foucault is correct and there has been a shift from vengeance in punishment to reform, then how do we explain the death penalty and 3-strikes laws?(48)

  8. What is Foucault's attitude toward viewing history as a constant stream of advancing "progress?"(49-50)

  9. What is the connection between power and knowledge?(51-52)

  10. What are Foucault's reflections on the connection between his project and that of Marx and Nietzsche?(53)

Body Power:

  1. What is body power?(56)

  2. Describe some instances in which the body becomes a site of conflict?(57)

  3. What is the connection between body, knowledge and power?(59)

  4. Briefly describe Foucault's method for studying madness and prisons?(61) What makes this history coherent?(61)

  5. What is the intellectual's role in "militant practice?"(62)


Truth & Power:

  1. Foucault proposes that we do history on multiple levels rather than describing everything on the level of the event. Why might this approach produce new insights?(114)

  2. How does Foucault treat the idea of the subject in his investigations?(117)

  3. Why is ideology a difficult concept?(118)

  4. What is the difficulty of "defining the effects of power as repression?"(119)

  5. Why should political philosophy distance itself from the problem of sovereignty?(122)

  6. The ways in which power is exercised change in the 17th and 18th centuries. Describe these shifts.(125) 

  7. How does the new "specific" intellectual combine theory and practice?(126)

  8. List some differences between universal (earlier) intellectuals and their specific (postmodern) counterparts.(127-130)

  9. List a few risks facing the specific intellectual.(130)

  10. How might the role of the specific intellectual change?(131)

  11. Summarize Foucault's definition of truth and list five traits that characterize it.(131-132)

  12. What are Foucault's final suggestions for investigating the idea of truth?(133)


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