Michel Foucault on Ideology

Leong Yew, Research Fellow, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore


Foucault, noted French poststructural philosopher, takes the most radical departure from the above. Foucault's project has been to critique the production of "truth" and therefore refuses to link "ideology" with any rigid, settled notion of truth. Truth is produced and reproduced by the adherents of ideology. In fact, Foucault came eventually to drop the use of ideology for his preferred term, "discourse." While some remnants of the Marxian "ideology" can be observed in Foucauldian "discourse," particularly in the way power figures in its perpetuation, Foucault extends discourse into the way knowledge is produced.

...there exists a system of power which blocks, prohibits, and invalidates this discourse and this knowledge, a power not only found in the manifest authority of censorship, but one that profoundly and subtly penetrates an entire societal network. Intellectuals are themselves agents of this system of power -- the idea of their responsibility for "consciousness" and discourse forms part of the system. The intellectual's role is no longer to place himself "somewhat ahead and to the side" in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of "knowledge," "truth," "Consciousness," and "discourse." [Foucault, 1977: 205-206]

Each society has its regime of truth, its 'general politics' of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. [Foucault, 1980: 131]

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Last Modified: 22 April, 2002