Re: Discourse and Non-DIscursive ______

...a concise definition of the term discourse as used in Foucault's work
...and the term non-discursive as well? Thanks, Chad

oops, my attempt at Foucault's discourse: "for the inquisitive person,
discourse is that set of rules which can, when made transparent, explain
the emergence, existence and disappearance of social understandings and
practices; that somewhat invisible complex of formulae - rules, notions,
theories etc. - which accounts for and explains an equally complex mesh of
tangible social relations."

be careful of the broad use of "work" - these Continental writers tend to
deliver works in progress/development so finding a solution to an earlier
query in a later work can be problematic; consequently their broader "work"
may be steeped in contradictions which could be considered their character
rather than their downfall.

For discourse, I'd stay with the early work: "The Archaeology of
Knowledge"; and yes a definition does not bounce out of the pages. I've
been working through it for the last couple of months and I'm getting close
to a definition.

As for non-discursive formations, this is an interesting area more for what
is not said than actually said. Page 45 of "The Archaeology of Knowledge"
mentions primary (real), secondary (reflexive) and discursive relations.
This appears to be the key to the puzzle and I've not found any other
"Archaeology" references to this formula. I take these primary relations
that "may be described between institutions, techniques, social forms" to
refer to such traditional notions as ideology and hegemony - mechanisms of
social control and regulation etc. - as in the Ideological State
Apparatuses (ISA) of Altthuser. And it is these primary (and secondary?)
relations that Foucault labels non-discursive.

The main distinction appears to be that discursive relations are "more so"
carved out, lived, in real time, as practices that articulate, engage,
react, or exchange with other discursive practices in a dynamic, creative
and original way. This is in contrast to concrete, ordained, or
pre-scripted relations that adhere to historical precedents and follow
temporal trajectories (presumably the non-discursive or primary relations).
I highlighted "more so" because the discursive relations are characterised
by ruptures, breaks, and exclusions which can be described or captured by
finding their "rules" of emergence/exclusion. Hence a bit of a
contradiction for discursive relations are comprehended by finding the
"rules" which (by default) then foreshadow their existence. And with his
notions of "archive", "history" and "a priori" Foucault is aware that these
"rules" have a temporal dimension. So the "carved out in real time as a
practice" must be (heavily) qualified.

Foucault obviously locates in this site of discursively lived practices the
counter-point for resistance/political action. And yet, in reading
Foucault's "Archaeology", one is left with the impression that this
resistance encounters endless sites of articulation, unknown and
unreachable locations of meaning, a complexity of social relations almost
beyond comprehension, and a mesh of polymorphous relations ever susceptible
to mutation. I agree with what political resistance might encounter, but I
do not share Foucault's faith that human agency can meaningfully engage
this monster called discourse. There is the distict possibility that if one
wades into this vortex waving a sword one is likely to get swallowed.

Tony Ralph, PhD research student, School of Health and Nursing,
University of Western Sydney Nepean, PO Box 10, Kingwood, NSW 2747.
phone: 02 4736 0794; internal: 2794; Fax: 02 4736 0658
Lot 11 O'Connell St, Werrington, NSW 2747. ph: 02 9833 7868

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