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Today’s readings explore a model of discursive analysis, exploring how a field of knowledge molds behaviors and social power within the poststructuralist approach following Foucault.  What do you think of this method of analysis for exploring cultural practices?  Where are the weaknesses or limitations of this approach?  Do you see other ways to explore these cultural issues, or other applications for this methodology?  [Note – just because one of the articles is written by Professor Mittell, don’t feel the need to temper your criticism or offer excessive praise…]

8 Responses to “Discussion question for 4/21”

  1. Alana Wall says:

    Foucault’s approach is effective in analyzing texts in which the “truth” is constructed by a dominant group. Foucault argues that power uses discourses as a means to create “truths” which serve as reality. Even though these “rituals of truth” or “regimes of truth” may not actually be true, they are able to serve as “truths” because they are believed to be true (Storey 102). Because they are seen as “truths,” they create “ways of sharing the ‘common sense’ of a discourse” (Storey 102). Foucault’s approach can be used to understand Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, which demonstrates how power-relations are involved in the way the West views the East. Orientalism shows how the West sees the East as exotic and backwards, placing the East in direct opposition with the West to prove the West’s strength and dominance. Through his concept of Orientalism, Said demonstrates that “truths” in discourse have been created by and for Westerners, and have only been viewed as “true” as a result of their acceptance by Westerners. These “truths” about the Orient actually say more about the West than the East, for only Westerners are involved in the creation and reception of these discourses.

    Foucault’s concept that knowledge and power are within discourses can also be seen in how Native Americans have been and are represented in American culture. Throughout history, Americans have had and continue to occupy varying and often contradictory views of Native Americans in order to assert and reassert white dominance. Representations of Native Americans in American culture (including sports mascots, literature, and Hollywood films) are similar to the concept of Orientalism in the sense that both actually say more about white Westerners than they do about the subject of the discourses who are subordinated by being depicted as “exotic others.” Unfortunately, many Americans have or continue to believe in these discourses about the Orient or Native Americans which only help to perpetuate their ability to be seen as “true.”

    I don’t see Foucault’s approach as being effective, however, in analyzing discourses created by minority groups as a form of resistance in response to the “truths” constructed by the dominant groups. Even if these discourses by, for example, Native Americans, about their position in American society are accurate, would Foucault say they can’t be considered “truths” because they are not believed to be so by American society?

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  2. Melissa Marshall says:

    I’m not going to lie, I found the Foucault readings one of the hardest to tackle (Dear Foucault: Please use less qualifying clauses. Your befuddled student, Melissa).
    I agree with Alana that examining “truth” as defined by the dominant group is useful in establishing the subjective nature of truth: Professor’s Mittell article was a great (and much more accessible) example of this phenomenon. However, reducing Foucault to this generalization seems to group him into the Marxist camp. Instead, I found his most useful point in his definition of power as “not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one hold on to or allows to slip away; power is exercised from innumerable points, in an interplay of nonegalitarian and mobile relations.”
    Here a subjective truth cannot be solely pinned on the superstructure—it is something propagated by the base as well.
    This hegemony acts as both a strength and a weakness. On one level, it gives power back to individuals, but from the analytical perspective, it becomes much more difficult to decipher the exact locus of power.

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  3. James Schonzeit says:

    While similar to Melissa I also found Foucault’s discussion of power relationships difficult to fully grasp, I found poststructuralism’s argument that ‘meaning is always in process’ to be helpful in the analysis of Mittell’s article as well as Bamboozled. Mittell specifically speaks about how television is negatively perceived as a drug. While from personal experiences of using television as a source of pacification make me agree somewhat with the metaphor, I agree with Mittell’s argument that “only through the explicit articulation of television to the drug crisis of the 1980’s that the anti-television movement has been able to have an impact in contemporary America”. This is linked to the poststructuralist idea that meaning is always evolving and is thus tied to its temporal context. While the article was published in 2000, nearly a decade later television maintains a number of the same connotations it did then. However, there may be less of a stigma as its become even more ubiquitous and other media sources may have taken its place (facebook, the internet, world of warcraft, etc.) as what is currently destroying our society and the minds of our children.

    In regards to Bamboozled which focuses on the portrayal of African-Americans in popular culture, I was disturbed and tickled by the use of black face. Inextricably linked to racism, black face is an extreme caricaturization of blacks as created by whites. Foucault would approach this as one group imposing a meaning on the other–in the case of Bamboozled, through television. This dehumanizing portrayal of blacks through the use of black face was also interesting as it was pitched as the approach to race of the ‘new millennium’, inferring that the signification of black face has evolved to the point that it is acceptable to use black face on television. On a side note, I think it would be incredibly interesting to see a performance done in full black face (but not necessarily in the minstrel manner) today as a satirical commentary as it is a very powerful symbol for those who understand its history.

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  4. Ralph Acevedo says:

    I thought that the idea of subjectivity talked about by Weedon was useful in terms of its opposition to the oft taken for granted liberal humanist conception of the self. This conception seems to not take into account that no person is an island unto himself. As social beings, we are significantly influenced by the society and culture within which we live; these influences shape our identities, subjectivities, and our behavior. In terms of analyzing cultural practices, situating a practice or a text in a spatial and historical context would help to better understand it and its reception.

    I like that poststructuralism breaks with Saussure in his assumption of the signified as being a fixed universal reality to which signifiers refer. Language can construct how we see the world; Weedon points out the conflicting characterizations of miners and police during the miner’s strike in Britain. Also, I think the application of the ideas of Foucald and Said to Orientalism and the U.S.’s media representation of the war in Vietnam are effective in illustrating how, through language, realities are constructed. This can be applied to the minstrel imagery found in Bamboozled. These images of blacks are created by whites and serve to perpetuate a view or reality of blacks; this in turn tells us more about those who created this imagery than about African-Americans. The same can be said of much of mainstream pornography which promotes a “form of femininity in which women direct themselves totally to the satisfaction of the male gaze.” This shifting of focus from the subject of a text to its producer promotes a new level of self awareness and criticism in reading.

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    Ralph Acevedo Reply:

    I also thought it was interesting that, in Bamboozled, De La Croix tries initially to use minstrels and racist imagery to mark it out as racist and negative. However, his attempt to parody and satirize this racist construction of reality backfires and he is unsuccessful. In this way, Bamboozled speaks to a text’s inevitable and inextricable link to its historical origin.

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  5. Toren Hardee says:

    Stuart Hall is clearly getting at what he thinks the problem with Foucault’s model is on pages 135 and 136 of his interview. I like what he has to say about how overly-convenient Foucault’s idea of resistance is (“nobody knows where [resistance] comes from…fortunately, it goes on being there…in so far as there is power, there is resistance”). What I don’t quite get is the distinction he is making between Foucault’s power-knowledge/regimes of truth and the time-tested theory of dominance in ideology, other than the use or non-use of the word “ideology” itself. Anybody have any clarifications on this?

    Still, I thought the Stuart Hall interview was quite fantastic…he is one smart cookie. In the first half, he seems to act as a sort of moderator between the varyingly-extreme and scattershot strains of “postmodern theory”, which was quite useful.

    And Bamboozled! I could talk about that film for hours, not only from the perspective of cultural studies but film studies as well. It reminded me of that Bill Lawrence pilot “Nobody’s Watching” that we watched in TV & American Culture; shot in a ridiculously bizarre manner, ambitious and provocative but, in the end, too messy and too often tripping over itself to really shine. I certainly hope we get a chance to delve into it a bit, though.

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  6. Tahirah Foy says:

    I really like how Jacque Derrida highlighted the interdependency of meaning the binary and how each term shapes the other terms meaning. I believe Foucault echoes this notion of interdependency in his regimes of truth. I like how Foucault breaks down the notion of ‘common sense’. I especially like the quote “Truth of discourse depends less on what is said and instead on who is saying it when and where”. I felt this aspect of Foucault’s argument was illustrated in Bamboozled. I feel that Bamboozled attempts to challenge the idea that our ‘common sense’/ ideas and feeling about race have drastically changed in the new millennium (compare to days of slavery and Jim crow). Spike Lee highlights that the ‘power-knowledge’ relations of race in America. The imposed “power- knowledge” relations about African American created categories for behavior (better known as stereotypes). I believe stereotypes are what Foucault calls rituals of truth. I think the film highlights that the ritual of truth/ stereotype has nothing to do with truth and more do with who is saying it when and where. Specifically an educated African American man in the twenty first century. In the film these qualifiers serve to legitimize dehumanizing stereotypes in the twenty first century. And these stereotype reinforce the interdependent meanings of white and black. In the film this is best illustrated through the juxtaposition of Pierre Delacroix and Thomas Dunwitty.

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  7. Dustin Schwartz says:

    I agree with Tahirah on her last point, concerning Bamboozled. I think what is also an important example of this is through Mos Def’s character and his rapper/gang group of friends. There is definitely a connection with ritual of truth concerning who is saying it concerning the Pierre Delacroix and Thomas Dunwitty characters, but Mos Def appears to be preaching in some sense about being the person not wanting to be a slave to stereotypes and at the same time acts as one through his gang related activities and hip-hop commitment.

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