There’s one strand of CDS or CDA, whatever label you wish to use, or an approach to it that I particularly like. Sigfried Jäger and Florentine Maier present what they refer to as the analysis of discourses and dispositives in ‘Analysing Discourse and Dispositives: A Foucauldian Approach to Theory and Methodology’, as included as a book chapter in the third edition of ‘Methods of Critical Discourse Studies’ published in 2016, as edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer.
In short, I like what Jäger and Maier present because they take issues seriously rather than simply looking at serious issues, to explain this in how Alastair Pennycook (132) puts it in his 1994 article ‘Incommensurable Discourses’ published in the journal ‘Applied Linguistics’. That said, I think it’s worth acknowledging that what Jäger and Maier cover in this book chapter is going to be only an introduction to this, because there’s only so much you can include in a book chapter, as they (120) go on to point out midway through the chapter. I try to expand on what they cover, but I do it in a way that suits me, so if you want their take, consult the books they recommend.
Jäger and Maier (110) summarize what differentiates their approach from other CDS or CDA approaches to discourse by noting that instead of looking at what’s true or false in order to get to the truth, one needs to take a step back and assess what’s considered truth here and now and/or at another time and/or in another place, how does it get and/or did it get to be so, what kinds of effects it has and/or has had on people and the society. So, in other words, while the questions that pertain to what is are interesting, the how, why and who type of questions are far more interesting. Now, as a spoiler alert, one, of course, has to work with one has at his or her disposal, what is, in order to work one’s way back, to look at those other types of questions, to address what Michel Foucault (28) calls the conditions of existence in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ (1972 translation by Alan Sheridan).
What’s central to Jäger and Maier is what Foucault calls knowledge, which they (110) define as:
“By knowledge we understand all elements of thinking and feeling in human minds, or in other words, all contents that make up human consciousness.”
They (110) add to this (I altered the emphasis from bold to italics and I’ll keep doing this where applicable) that knowledge is derived by people from their discursive surroundings, whatever circumstances that people find themselves in. It’s worth emphasizing here that, as they (110) point out, people are born into their discursive surroundings, that is to say that they don’t get to have a choice in this to begin with. Okay, people may wish to change their surroundings and many people do, but that doesn’t mean that they escape anything, except the certain conditions of existence which are then substituted for some other conditions of existence, to explain this in strictly Foucauldian parlance. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari keep stating in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), you can’t escape milieu as you are, quite literally, always in the middle of things.
Jäger and Maier (110) add that, in terms of analysis, the task is to “identify the knowledges contained in discourse and dispositives, and how these knowledges are connected to power relations in power/knowledge complexes.” This can be any kind of knowledge, ranging from “common knowledge transmitted through everyday communication, scientific knowledge, knowledge transmitted by the media, by schools etc.”, as they (110) point out. In other words, as I’d put it, discourse analysis knows no bounds.
To be rigorous, they (111) continue providing concise definitions, this time referring to Jürgen Link’s definition of discourse:
“By discourse we understand an ‘institutionalized way of talking [and, we may add: non-linguistically performed acting] that regulates and reinforces action and thereby exerts power’.”
Now, I think this matches Foucault’s definition quite well, considering that discourse is understood as a matter of practice, which is not just about acting or performing, the act or the performance of this and/or that, but about saying or doing something systematically, regardless of the semiotic mode involved in the process. I think it’s highly important to point this out, that discourse is not whimsical. It’s systematic because, as they (111) put it, it’s institutionalized. You don’t really get to just act this or that way, the way you feel like. It’s rather that your choice is always regulated, that is to say constricted, by the prevailing systematic practices. In fact, we can go as far as to say that, as a subject, you are an effect of knowledge/power complexes, not just a subject of, but also a subject to, as they (114) go on to summarize this later on. Highly importantly, this also means that:
“Thereby [people] learn the conventions of assigned meanings, which helps them to interpret reality in the way it has previously been interpreted by others.”
I could not agree more with Jäger and Maier (114) on this. When we encounter something, whatever it may be, we don’t find the meaning contained in it, inherent to it, waiting for us to discover it, nor do we simply get to choose what we make of it. It’s certainly tempting to think that this and/or that have/has some objective meaning. Wouldn’t that just be nice? Well, no, because then everything would be fixed. There’d be no room for creativity. You wouldn’t be able to invent anything. Right, so if that’s not the case, then what is? I’d say that it’s also tempting to think that it’s all subjective then, but, well, I’m going to say no to this as well. Firstly, if everything was just subjective, we would not be able to make sense of one another. You’d still have to sneak in something a priori through the backdoor, something that comes before the subject so that all the subjective meanings could be relayed to others so that this or that unique view makes sense to them. Secondly, you’d be flattering yourself quite a bit by claiming that your views are uniquely your views. Deleuze (15) explains this particularly well in his explication of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’, ‘Proust and Signs: The Complete Text’ (2000 translation by Richard Howard):
“Who is in search of truth? And what does the man who says ‘I want the truth’ mean? Proust does not believe that man, nor even a supposedly pure mind, has by nature a desire for truth, a will-to-truth. We search for truth only when we are determined to do so in terms of a concrete situation, when we undergo a kind of violence that impels us to such a search.”
To make sense of this, we always will or desire (to use the Schopenhauerian/Nietzschean or Deleuzo-Guattarian terms) something, for example truth, what it is that this is or what it means, not because we have chosen to do so, but because there is something other beyond us that forces us to do so. Anyway, Deleuze (15) adds that:
“There is always the violence of a sign that forces us into the search, that robs us of peace.”
“[T]ruth is never the product of a prior disposition but the result of a violence in thought. The explicit and conventional significations are never profound; the only profound meaning is the one that is enveloped, implicated in an external sign.”
Simply put (16):
“Truth depends on an encounter with something that forces us to think and seek the truth. … [I]t is the sign that constitutes the object of an encounter and works this violence upon us. It is the accident of the encounter that guarantees the necessity of what is thought.”
Therefore, for Deleuze (17):
“To seek the truth is to interpret, decipher, explicate.”
He (17) adds to this that what is sought, truth, is never fixed, but always tied to the encounter:
“[T]he Search is always temporal, and the truth always a truth of time.”
This is because, for him (4):
“Signs are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge. To learn is first of all to consider a substance, an object, a being as if it emitted signs to be deciphered, interpreted.”
He (4) exemplifies this everyday ‘Egyptology’ with how carpenters learn how to read the wood in order to work it or how physicians learn how to read different signs of disease, that is to say symptoms, in order to provide treatment. To be clear, as he (5) points out, without signs all of it just nonsensical:
“The worlds are unified by their formation of sign systems emitted by persons, objects, substances; we discover no truth, we learn nothing except by deciphering and interpreting.”
Now, to get back on track here, to address the objective and the subjective, he (26-27) states that deciphering, interpreting or explicating has its perils. There is a general tendency, a habit, among people to attribute meaning as inherent to the object, as he (27) clearly points out:
“The first of these is to attribute to the object the signs it bears.”
So, for example, when we deal with other people, we are tempted to think that we get to the bottom of things, to seek meaning in the person him- or herself, as if that was possessed or contained in the person we deal with, as he (27-28) goes on to point out. To use his (28) words, this results in a avowal, an “homage to the object”. For (29) him, this tendency or a habit has to do with intelligence, how we’ve come to think of the world as consisting of discrete entities, that is to say objects, and how, instead recalling signs, we recall things when we rely on our voluntary memory:
“The intelligence dreams of objective content, of explicit objective significations that it is able, of its own accord, to discover or to receive or to communicate. The intelligence is thus objectivist, as much as perception. It is at the same moment that perception assigns itself the task of apprehending the sensuous object, and intelligence the task of apprehending objective significations. For perception supposes that reality is to be seen, observed; but intelligence supposes that truth is to be spoken, formulated.”
Simply put, there is this facile dream of an intelligible world that can be seen and then discussed with others, as he (29-30) goes on to clarify. The problem with this is that it’s based on a presupposition that makes this possible, as he (30) points out. It fails to explain how it is that we come to see what we see, the way we see it. It also fails to explain how it is that we come think of whatever it is that we think of and the way we think of it. The aforementioned force that impels us to do all that is not addressed at all.
Now, once you get it, that meaning is not tied to the object, it’s only likely that you’ll feel a bit queasy. You may feel tempted to reject what’s been just pointed out. He (32) acknowledges this:
“How difficult it is … to renounce this belief in an external reality. The … signs lay a trap for us and invite us to seek their meaning in the object that bears or emits them, so that the possibility of failure, the abandonment of interpretation, is like the worm in the fruit.”
He (32) adds to this that once you do get beyond this objectivist illusion, there’s still this temptation to seek meaning in whatever it is that we are dealing with. I guess it’s because it seems to offer an easy way out. Be as it may, it’s also rather disappointing, which leads him (34) to address what tends to take place when one manages to dispel the objectivist illusion is subjective compensation for the objective disappointment. In his (36) words:
“We proceed from one to the other; we leap from one to the other; we overcome the disappointment of the object by a compensation of the subject.”
Simply put, because we can not, no longer, find meaning in the object, whatever it is that we are dealing with, we seek to find it in the subject, that is to say in us as individuals. As I already pointed out, to make this work, you need to do some serious mental gymnastics when, to use his (36) words, “objective, intelligible values” are substituted for “a subjective association of ideas” because, for this to be associated with that, whatever one and the other are, there has to be something that nonetheless makes it intelligible to others. To use his (36) example, if a gesture reminds us of another gesture, like it only likely does, how do we make sense of the gesture it reminds us of? Now, to be clear, the problem is not association or reminiscence, but rather how it is used. We come think that way all the time, which, I guess, is why it ends up being used as the subjective compensation for the objective disappointment. It’s fascinating how that happens, as he (36-37) also points out, but it doesn’t explain why it happens and, more importantly, it doesn’t give us any actual answers, just an infinite regress of resemblance.
There’s more to Deleuze’s book on Proust and I highly recommend it, but I think I’ve said enough about objectivity and subjectivity to let Jäger and Maier explain the rest, what the solution to this is. The terminology may differ, but, oddly enough, you’ll end up in the same place by reading Deleuze or Jäger and Maier.
Right, what differentiates Jäger and Maier’s (111) take on discourse from many others, let’s go as far as to say the vast majority of takes on discourse, is their extension of the discussion of the discursive to the non-discursive. This is why they keep mentioning dispositive, which I’ll get to shortly. They (111) explain the rationale for extending the discussion of discursive to include the non-discursive:
“Unlike disciplines such as the natural sciences that view material reality as an objective given, discourse and dispositive analysis examine how reality is brought into being by human beings assigning meanings. Only by being assigned a meaning does reality come into existence for actors.”
Indeed, as strange as that may seem, material reality, that is to say the non-discursive, appears to be there, no doubt about it, yet, oddly enough, you can’t really talk about it, make sense of it, without recourse to the discursive. So, in other words, “[d]iscourses thus do not merely reflect reality”, as opposed to shaping and enabling it to appear to us the way it does, this and/or that way, as they (112) go on to specify. I fully agree with Jäger and Maier, but I think they (112) could have explained the following bit a bit better, how “[d]iscourses are fully valid material realities among others”, considering that, perhaps, equally strangely, you cannot have the discursive without the non-discursive as discourse requires it. To say or do anything, you do need the material reality, the vibrations of air when we speak etc. Then again, to speak of this and/or that, of the material reality, of the non-discursive, is just not enough. Simply put, the discursive and the non-discursive are in reciprocal presupposition.
Anyway, what they (112) want to emphasize is that there is only one reality and discourse is part and parcel of it. This is a highly important point, not only for them but also for me, because, as they (112) put it, “discourse cannot be reduced to a notion of ‘false consciousness’ or ‘distorted view of reality’, as in some orthodox Marxist approaches to ‘ideology critique’.” They (112) want to be very clear about this, considering that they state that:
“Contrary to a common misconception, probably based on the fact that discourse analysis deals with language, discourse theory is not an idealist theory. In other words, discourse theory deals with material realities, not with ‘mere’ ideas. Discourses may be conceptualized as societal means of production. Discourses are not ‘mere ideology’; they produce subjects and reality.”
Well put. I don’t think you could put that more simply or bluntly. This is pretty much how I see this as well, how the discursive and the non-discursive are in a reciprocal presupposition. They (112) move on to address what they mean by subjects:
“By subjects we mean social constructions of individuals or collectives (e.g. organizations, nations) that feel, think and act in certain ways. An overlapping concept is the one of actors.”
I think I would define subject in this way, but then again, I see what they are doing here, extending it from humans to non-humans or, at least to collectives of humans, which shifts things quite a bit, nonetheless. I’m fine with this definition. I can dig it. They (112) further specify their understanding of subject which happens to match mine: one is not only a subject of, but also a subject to, both at the same time. They (112) also further specify what they mean by actor, adding that, in contrast to subject, it emphasizes agency. So, for them (112), actor puts more emphasis on activity, being active, having the capacity to act, whereas subject puts more emphasis on passivity. They (112) also point out that actor leaves more room for non-human actors than subject, hence their reference to Bruno Latour’s work. The third concept here, perhaps better than actor would be actant, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is the relevant concept that extends agency from human actors to non-human actants.
Be as it may, regardless of what concept you use to define agency, be it subject, actor, actant or something else, what’s important is that while discourses do determine reality, that is to say bring it forth in a certain creative way, and the people, being subject to discourses, people, nonetheless, have agency, in the sense that they are also subjects of discourses, “co-producers and co-agents of discourses”, as they (112) go on to point out. I think they explain this particularly well when they (112) state that while it may appear to us that people are mere products or effects of discourse, you know, like what people call objects, and, in a certain way they most certainly are, they are, nonetheless, able to take part in the production of discourses because “they are entangled into discourse and therefore have knowledge at their disposal.” The Tardean sociologist in me can only approve this message. Anyway, this also means that while discourse analysis always looks back at the conditions of existence, it is never merely about looking back, a “retrospective analysis of allocations of meaning”, but also doing it here and now, which is also here and now in the future, whenever that is, in the future of/from now, an “analysis of the on-going production of reality through discourse, conveyed by active subjects”, as they (112) go on to add.
Moving on, they (113) finally provide a definition for dispositive:
“By dispositive …, we mean a constantly evolving synthesis of knowledge that is built into linguistically performed practices (i.e. thinking, speaking, writing), non-linguistically performed practices (vulgo ‘doing things’) and materializations (i.e. natural and produced things).”
I think it’s only apt to point out here that in addition to speaking and writing, they also consider thinking as a linguistically performed practice. I agree. I won’t get go on a tangent on that point, considering that I covered this in the previous essay. I recommend taking a closer look at Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik) if this interests you. I reckon he does a better job at explaining this than I do.
Anyway, so, their (113) definition of dispositive seeks to take into account the discursive and the non-discursive, words and things, not only statically, but also dynamically, as a matter of doing things, be it linguistically or in some other semiotic mode. I think it’s worth pointing out that while they (113-114) do refer to linguistically and non-linguistically performed practices, they are not asserting that non-linguistically performed practices or, more simply put, non-linguistic practices, are somehow simply non-discursive. I think this is a tricky point, but I think they are right when they (114) state that Foucault usually wasn’t very clear on this, how he delineates between the discursive and the non-discursive, and how he, quite ironically, couldn’t see how something non-linguistic could be discursive. I do have to point out, however, that this aspect is covered in ‘The Confession of the Flesh’, a transcribed interview between Foucault and a number of psychoanalysts, as included in‘Power/Knowledge: Select Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977’ edited by Colin Gordon (1980 translations Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham and Kate Soper). That said, perhaps, he is still a bit too keen on language, inadvertently giving it centrality, despite clearly stating in that interview that he (198) isn’t interested in linguistic problems. Anyway, I’ll let him explain his position regarding this.
In this interview one of his interlocuters, Alain Grosrichard (196), asks him to clarify how dispositive differs from episteme, whether he is just giving the same thing a new name or replacing one for the other. Foucault (196-197) answers him, first going on a tangent about dispositive, followed by pointing out that, for him, at this time, in 1977, he considers dispositive to be more general than episteme and, to be more specific about the definitions, episteme to be a specifically discursive dispositive. Foucault’s (197) wording is not super clear here, but I reckon he is saying that episteme is a markedly discursive dispositive as opposed to saying that it has nothing non-discursive about it, considering that he uses the word specifically, which, to my understanding doesn’t rule out other factors. For example, if I say that I’m specifically interested in this or that thing, it doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in other things as well. It just means that my interest in whatever is at stake is heightened. Of course it could be that the heightened interest is at the expense of interest in other things, but it doesn’t rule out the other interests. Sure, it could be taken as mutually exclusive, but, strictly speaking, it isn’t. He (197) also says that dispositive is much more heterogeneous than episteme, not that dispositive is heterogeneous and episteme is not, nor that episteme is, conversely, homogeneous.
Anyway, the way I grasp this is that episteme is indeed a specific type of dispositive, apt when discussing knowledge and discursive formations, as he does in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, as acknowledge by his interlocutor, Alain Grosrichard (298), but not very apt when going beyond that, as Foucault (196-197) points out in reference to that book and another book, ‘The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences’ (unspecified 1970 translation), which flirt with non-discursive but skirt around it. Episteme is therefore tied to what one might call his archaeological method, whereas dispositive is tied to his subsequent works that employ what one might call his genealogical method. It’s not simply a change of terms, as Alain Grosrichard (196) suggests as one of the options, but rather addressing the limitations of his earlier works that don’t take into account power relations and what else come with them, as Foucault (196) does point out before comparing the two concepts as requested by Grosrichard.
To get to the point about how Foucault stumbles, or, well appears to stumble, with his own conceptions, another interlocutor of his, Jacques-Alain Miller (198), objects to him when he (198) defines institution as any behavior, conduct or performance that is learned and functions as a constraint of a certain degree. I guess one would these days call this internalized or embodied, in the sense that we might say a person is, in him- or herself, an institution, the embodiment of this and/or that, just like the education system or the military are institutions. Dictionary definitions (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.) confirm his statement:
“The action of instituting or establishing; setting on foot or in operation; foundation; ordainment; the fact of being instituted.”
This, of course, is derived from the verb ‘institute’ (OED, s.v. “institute”, v.):
“To set up, establish, found, ordain; to introduce, bring into use or practice.”
Other definitions of institution also include (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.):
“The giving of form or order to a thing; orderly arrangement; regulation.”
And (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.):
“The established order by which anything is regulated; system; constitution.”
As well as (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.):
“An established law, custom, usage, practice, organization, or other element in the political or social life of a people; a regulative principle or convention subservient to the needs of an organized community or the general ends of civilization.”
Plus (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.):
“Something having the fixity or importance of a social institution; a well-established or familiar practice or object.”
And (OED, s.v. “institution”, n.), like I pointed out in reference to systems of education and military:
“An establishment, organization, or association, instituted for the promotion of some object, esp. one of public or general utility, religious, charitable, educational, etc., e.g. a church, school, college, hospital, asylum, reformatory, mission, or the like; as a literary and philosophical institution, a deaf and dumb institution, the Royal National Life-boat Institution, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (instituted 1798), the Railway Benevolent Institution, etc. The name is often popularly applied to the building appropriated to the work of a benevolent or educational institution.”
Which, in turn, is related to how the word gets used as synonymous to institute (OED, s.v. “institution”, n., “institute”, n.).
Now, as you can see, Foucault (198) is saying that institutions are non-discursive because the act of instituting something has to do with establishing it as this or that, constituting it, giving it form as such, not whimsically, but systematically, which, in turn, requires certain regulation, hence the constraints he (198) mentions. As a side note, I’m not particularly fond of using the word institution when discussing the non-discursive because comes across as too concrete and too limited. It makes me think of this or that specific establishment, like an education system or the military, as opposed to how something is established as such in the first place and how that comes to play a role in our everyday life. It risks ignoring how any non-discursive formation is an institution, at least according to his own definition. It gets pretty confusing, which is, at times, evident even in his own writing. Then again, that’s just me, my take on this, so feel free to think otherwise.
Anyway, I think Miller (197) does have a point when he argues that institution is of course discursive. Then again, I think Foucault actually acknowledges this when he (198) replies to Miller that it can be understood as such, sure, but it is beside the point because, in the context of disposive, it is of little importance to delineate or, rather, I guess, to keep delineating between what is discursive and what is non-discursive. Now, that said, I don’t think he is suggesting that one then just collapses the two into one, under a single term. It may appear that he is suggesting such by introducing dispositive, but he isn’t. He (198) exemplifies with the architectural plans of the French military school, the École Militaire, designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and the building itself. It’s obvious the former is discursive and the latter is non-discursive, sure, but, as he (198) goes on to point, defining them as this or that, either as discursive or non-discursive, becomes problematic because you cannot define something discursive or non-discursive without taking both into account at the same time. For example, to make sense of a military school, which is clearly an institution, that is to say a non-discursive formation, you also need to have knowledge of military and architecture, which are clearly discursive formations. On top of needing to know all that, you probably need to know a whole lot more, for example, what roles military and architecture play in a given society and what else they are connected to, be they discursive or non-discursive formations. Sure you can disentangle all that, if that is of interest to you, as he points out when he (198) states that the distinction between the discursive and the non-discursive only matters to him if there is a mismatch between the two, if the non-discursive does not conform to the discursive.
Deleuze clarifies this play of the discursive and the non-discursive, what he also refers to as statements and visibilities, in his seminars on Foucault. You can find these online, which is why I won’t be giving you any page numbers. In the first session, dated October 22, 1985 (transcribed by Annabelle Dufourcq and translated by Mary Beth Mader), Deleuze begins these seminars by stating that Foucault is concerned with these two already in his early work, way before ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ (1977 translation by Alan Sheridan), which is markedly genealogical rather than archaeological, as already pointed out, even if the former could be understood as an extension of the latter, considering that it’s not like his later work isn’t similar to his earlier work. Anyway, during this first session, Deleuze goes on to specify that Foucault isn’t simply interested in speaking as a matter of expressing one’s thoughts, nor seeing as a matter of behavior, but as conditions for expression and behavior. So, he is not asserting that speaking isn’t about expression, because it is, nor that seeing is about behavior, because it is, but rather that his interest lies in assessing the historical conditions for them, what conditions them. In other words, Foucault takes one step back, looking at the conditions of apparition of whatever it is that one is dealing with rather than taking what already is or appears to be as granted. This is also what I’m interested in. It’s not that I’m not interested in this or that, including people and their behavior, because I am. It’s rather that I’m much more interested in their apparition, their conditions of existence. Simply put, I’m interested in how the given is given or, rather, how what is considered to be given gets to be considered given.
To get to the point, Deleuze refers to these conditions of existence as historical regimes of saying and seeing. They condition what can be said and seen. As a side note, I guess it would make sense to be more inclusive or expansive about this, so that rather than talking about seeing it would be about sensing and what conditions it in a given time period, but I’m just going with what he is saying. Anyway, he reminds the people attending the session that these two should not be confused, that they are indeed distinct. He exemplifies this in reference to Foucault’s ‘This is Not a Pipe’ (1983 translation by James Harkness), pointing out that the pipe in René Magritte’s 1929 painting known as ‘The Treachery of Images’ is not a pipe but a mere representation or, to avoid invoking dualism, a depiction or an illustration of a pipe. As another side note, in a previous essay I referred to it as a representation, just as Magritte did, although, I guess, that’s strictly speaking not accurate. Anyway, you should be able to get the point he is making, regardless of whether it is or isn’t a representation. So, yeah, there is this temptation to say that it is indeed a pipe, but it isn’t, which is the point Magritte wants to make with the painting, because, as Deleuze puts it, saying isn’t seeing and, conversely, seeing isn’t saying. That said, while the two are distinct, they are connected to one another, the discursive being the one that has primacy over the non-discursive, as he goes on to add. Primacy should not, however, be understood as resulting in the non-discursive being reducible to the discursive as that would mean that they are isomorphic, that is to say not distinct from one another, as aptly noted by him. Then again, oddly enough, this connection results in what he calls capture, involving incursions or incisions from one to the other, going both ways, from the discursive to the non-discursive and from the non-discursive to the discursive. He summarizes this by stating that a historical formation is an arrangement, an assemblage (agencement), that captures or combines heterogeneous elements, both statements and visibilities, never merely one or the other. In addition, the elements or should I say parts of these arrangements do not combine or get captured with just about any other element. In other words, some captures or combinations rule out the inclusion of certain other elements. This does not mean that this may not change, but rather that not all elements can get captured or combined at the same time as that would mean that one would be reducible to the other, as he stresses it in this seminar session.
It’s for this reason that in the second seminar session, dated October 29, 1985 (same transcriber and translator), Deleuze refers to the statable and the visible as historical a prioris that condition the apparition of statements and visibities, what gets stated and what gets to be seen. To be clear, they are what is before or independent of experience, thus what conditions experience, but they are not fixed conditions, as he goes on to clarify. They are stable, but they are not stable forever as that would prevent change. If they were stable forever, that is to say fixed, they would not be historical a priori, just a priori. I’d call them metastable. Anyway, this is also why Deleuze likens Foucault’s historical formations, his archaeology, with geological strata in the second session. He points out that both archaeologists and geologist go through layers of ground or earth. They dig and dig, only to realize that there is no original stratum, no original layer, only strata upon strata, layer upon layer. That may seem disappointing, but that’s because people have been taught to go through layers, to uncover what lies beneath them, rather than looking at the layers themselves.
Right, this leads us back to the dispositive, the term used by Foucault, which, according Deleuze, as he explains in the first seminar session, is what defines this arrangement of statements and visibilities of a certain historical formation, of what is statable and visible at a given time period, and, I might add, in a certain spatial context, considering that the arrangements may differ geographically. This also helps us to understand how knowledge is connected to statements and visibilities. Deleuze clarifies this point by noting that what is statable and visible are what make up knowledge and therefore to know something, whatever it is, involves producing the connection between statements and visibilities, the statable and the visible, speaking and seeing, that captures or combines elements from both. This also means that there is no truth nor origin beyond knowledge, which, in itself, is always produced, as he points out.
In ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, Foucault (46) refers to these connections between the discursive and the non-discursive as discursive relations. They are not internal to discourse itself, so they don’t “connect concepts or words with one another”, nor do they “establish a deductive or rhetorical structure between propositions and sentences”, as he (46) goes on to clarify. That said, they are not external to discourse either, in the sense that these restrictions would “limit it, or impose certain forms upon it, or force it, in certain circumstances, to state certain things”, as he (46) adds to this. Simply put, the connection, what Deleuze calls a disjunctive relation or a non-relation in his first seminar session on Foucault, is not within discourse, because that would mean that it only has to do with discourse, its internals, or so to speak, but not without discourse either, because that would result in explaining discourse through something otherworldly, like, say a structure that transcends it. Instead, for Foucault (46) these relations are at the margins of discourse, “at the limit of discourse”, so that “they offer it objects of which it can speak, or rather … they determine the group of relations that discourse must establish in order to speak of this or that object, in order to deal with them, name them, classify them, explain them, etc.” It’s worth noting that he (46) qualifies the second part by noting that it’s too hasty or reductive to say that discursive relations merely offer discourse objects, as he (46) points out initially, because that risks coming across as presupposing “that objects are formed independently of discourse”, which, of course, they are not. This puts emphasis on discourse as practice, as something historical, not something that works on givens, on a prioris, such as language and objects out there, as he (46) goes on to add. Therefore, as Jäger and Maier (115) explain it:
“An object that is not assigned any meaning is not an object. It is totally nondescript, invisible, even non-existent. I don’t see it because I overlook it.”
They (115) exemplify this with how back in the day people used to gather fallen tree branches in parks for firewood, because, well, at that time people considered them to be firewood, whereas these days people basically don’t even notice the branches on the ground, because knowledge-wise it’s not relevant to see them. Of course we could stop people and ask them what they think about fallen tree branches in this or that park, point to them, but at that point we are altering the what Jäger and Maier (114) call the “common power/knowledge complex.” This is exactly why I prefer not engaging with people in my own work. If were to engage with them, like in that tree branch example, I would make them see and speak the way I do, as informed by the wealth of knowledge that I have about this and/or that, instead of how they do. The focus is not on what this and/or that is, nor on what people say or see, but rather on how this and/or that comes to be, how is the world arranged so that people come to say or see whatever it is that they come say or see. It’s all about apparition, all about the conditions of existence of whatever it is that we are dealing with.
Deleuze clarifies this issue in his second seminar session on Foucault, noting that the combinations or captures he spoke of during the first session allow people to state something and see something, whatever it is that someone speaks of or sees out there, wherever it is that they happen to be. In plain terms, to avoid speaking of the discursive and the non-discursive, so that even a random person attending his seminar can understand it, knowledge has to do with what comes to make sense to people, what can be stated and/or seen, as he points out to his audience. This means that when we speak of something, let’s say delinquency, to use a Foucauldian topic, we are not speaking of something that has an independent existence, something that isn’t socially formed by us for us to speak about it. This also means that when we see something, let’s say a criminal, to stay on Foucault, we do not see him or her, as such, as having an independent existence, as something that isn’t socially formed by us for us to speak about it, as such. To reiterate an earlier point, this is why there is no truth, as such, only knowledge which conditions what can be said and what can be seen, as Deleuze summarizes this issue. This is also why Jäger and Maier (114) state that “linguistically and non-linguistically performed practices and materializations are connected by knowledge”, which is, in turn, discursive, albeit never merely reducible to discourse, as Deleuze points out during his seminar sessions. Of course, we also need to remember that knowledge is in turn tied to us, not having an existence without us, which means it is constituted within a network of power relations, as Jäger and Maier (114) remind us. Therefore knowledge is never neutral. It’s always connected to exercises of power and therefore when we analyze something we should take into account who gets to produce knowledge as it is knowledge that comes to define the statable and the visible, what can be said and what can be seen.
Jäger and Maier (115) further comment on knowledge, noting that to make sense of how it is central to what’s been discussed so far, it’s useful to further differentiate between explicit and implicit/tacit knowledge. The former is clearly expressed, made apparent to people through some semiotic mode(s), such as language. For example, various street signs function this way. Okay, sure, you do need to know what, for example, a stop sign is, no doubt about it, but their point is that the knowledge is presented to people, rather than simply assumed to be shared by people, like it is in the case when there is no stop sign, nor yield sign. It is simply assumed that the vehicle to your right always has the right of way. If traffic flows on the left, as it does in some countries, this is then reversed. Nothing about this is, of course, universal, after all, cars are a relatively recent invention. Anyway, the point is that people simply assume that that’s the case. This can, of course, be even more mundane. Their (115) example pertains to how it is considered rude to stare at people, the point being that it isn’t actually explicitly regulated, considered illegal or something, yet people do tend to avoid staring others.
Now, to get on with this essay, Jäger and Maier (113) exemplify dispositives with a figure that involves linguistic and non-linguistic discursive practices, as well as materialized discourse, that is to say both the discursive and the non-discursive. The figure contains a street sign near what appears to be park bench. The street sign tells its reader that loitering is not allowed and that violation of this order is considered an offense. A person is or appears to be, nonetheless, loitering where loitering is not allowed and will lead to prosecution. Police come and take the person away for this violation. Now, their point is that what’s written on the street sign, “No loitering[,] Violators will be prosecuted”, functions as what Deleuze and Guattari (84) call an order-word in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, even in the absence of whoever, what institution, it is that came up with that. It produces an order of things, to, once again, explain this in reference to one of Foucault’s book titles. This is then backed up by the enforcement of this order-word, so it also involves disciple and punish, to explain this in reference to another Foucault’s book title. In words used by Jäger and Maier (116):
“To assign meaning is not a noncommittal, ‘merely symbolic’ act. To assign meaning is to animate whatever one comes across, to re-shape and change.”
Now, of course, their (113) example would remain merely discursive if this didn’t involve materialized discourses, that is to say the non-discursive, which, conversely, cannot be understood without to the discursive. The street sign or what I take to be a depiction of a street sign (in the book it’s just just a rectangular gray box with writing on it) needs an actual context for it to make sense, to be enforceable, unless loitering is considered a punishable offense in general (which I don’t think Jäger and Maier are trying to point out here).
This figure presented by Jäger and Maier to exemplify a dispositive is what Deleuze (34) and Foucault (171) call a diagram in ‘Foucault’ (1988 translation by Sean Hand) and ‘Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison’ (1995 translation by Alan Sheridan). It’s just another label for dispositive or dispositif, as explained by Deleuze in ‘What is a dispositif’, as contained in ‘Michel Foucault: Philosopher’ published in 1992 (edited and translated by T. J. Armstrong). It’s also what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the abstract machine in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. I prefer diagram and abstract machine over dispositif or dispotive, but I don’t really care what label gets used as I know what’s what.
Now, what’s presented in the figure presented by Jäger and Maier (113) is intended to exemplify just one dispositive, diagram or abstract machine, but, of course, it’s evident that one cannot make sense of it without knowing a whole host of other things, involving both the discursive and the non-discursive. To be more specific, you need to know what loitering is, why it is or might be prohibited, in general or in specific contexts, who is responsible for the enforcement, how they can be identified, what they can and cannot do, what’s a park, what’s a park bench. Summarizing the example provided by Jäger and Maier (113), it’s impossible to address anything in isolation, be it discursive or non-discursive. You always need to take the specific context into account, which means that to understand one dispositive, you also need to understand other dispositives as it’s all connected, to the extent that it is, of course.
Jäger and Maier (114) move on to point out that Foucault wasn’t really explicit about how one might analyze dispositives (that is to say apparatuses, diagrams or abstract machines, but I’ll revert back to their preferred term). For them (114) this was because Foucault focused mainly on the discursive side, with particular emphasis on linguistically performed practices, namely speech and writing, thus ignoring other semiotic modes, possibly because, like everyone else, Foucault was, of course, a product of his time and place that put emphasis on language. I agree with their view on this, and so does Foucault himself, as he (196-197) points out in the interview. This is exactly why I consider the works of Deleuze and Guattari to be more fruitful for my own purposes, extending the analyses from one semiotic mode to other modes as well. It’s not that language isn’t important because it most certainly is, as I explained in the previous essay. It’s rather that there is, perhaps, too much emphasis on language, which is, of course, very telling of the underlying systematic practices, as Jäger and Maier (114) point out.
Jäger and Maier (116) move on from discourse and knowledge to power, in order to explain how one always needs to pay attention to power relations and exercises of power in discourse and dispositive analysis. This shifts the focus from the simple question of what and the more complex question of how to the not necessarily more complex but certainly more interesting questions of who and why, as I pointed out already in the second paragraph of this essay. I’ve already pointed out that, following Foucault, power is always something that is exercised, from one point to another, for example between this and that person, which is why power is always relational and hence the emphasis on power relations, so I won’t go into detail with this. Of course, this pertains to the question of how, because power explains how discourses and knowledge are produced, as noted by Jäger and Maier (116). That said, it also directs us to who gets to have a say and who doesn’t, as well as why that might be the case. This is the critical aspect that makes Foucauldian discourse analysis and, by extension, dispositive analysis, far superior to the (neo-)Marxist discourse analyses discussed in the previous essay. What’s particularly important about it, and what makes it so great, is the relationality.
When power is relational, something that is exercised, there are no easy answers, no oppressor/oppressed, no good/evil dualities. This means that one needs to address things case by case. The oppressor, the one superior in a particular power relation, may well be also be oppressed, the inferior in another power relation. A bully may also be bullied by someone else, which does not, however, mean that the bully only bullies someone because he is bullied, like in a chain of command, but rather that the bully may bully someone else in a certain context, only to be bullied by someone else, a third party, in another context. It is, of course, possible that there is a hierarchy, a chain of command, like there is in the military, which results in a superior commanding an inferior, which, in turn, results in that inferior commanding his or her inferiors, but that’s because the relations of power happen to be organized that way in that context. Foucault (198) explains this well in the interview:
“[P]ower means relations, a more-or-less organised, hierarchical, co-ordinated cluster of relations.”
Note how he does acknowledge that power can be hierarchical and coordinated, but only more or less so. This means that there is no fixed organization of power, from where power emanates, as he (198) points out in the previous sentence. That said, what’s already in place, how things are organized can well be very hierarchical, which results in top-down exercises of power, as acknowledged by him (200-201):
“In so far as power relations are an unequal and relatively stable relation of forces, it’s clear that this implies an above and a below, a difference of potentials.”
Indeed, but nothing about this is given or fixed, as already pointed out. They may appear as given or fixed, but they aren’t, as he (199) goes on to add:
“Generally speaking I think one needs to look rather at how the great strategies of power encrust themselves and depend for their conditions of exercise on the level of the micro-relations of power.”
Anyway, back to Jäger and Maier (117) who specify the connection between discourse and power:
“As flows of knowledge through time and space, discourses determine the way in which a society interprets reality and organizes further linguistically and non-linguistically performed discursive practices[.]”
I think that’s very well put. I think it’s also worth emphasizing that this applies not only to objects, but also to subjects, as already discussed by the two (112) and reiterated here (117) particularly aptly:
“[I]t is thus not the subject who makes the discourses, but the discourses that make the subject[.]”
Now, to comment on this, this is what makes people go nuts and why, I think, many of those who’ve read my article manuscripts have acted like total a-holes in response to what they’ve read. I really like how Jäger and Maier (117) have the audacity point this out:
“[W]hich may be irritating for those attached to the idea of the uniqueness of the individual[.]”
Oh, burn! It’s exactly this! People go nuts when you point out that, well, they are not unique autonomous subjects. It’s like a switch that gets flipped when I point out that what they think, say, do, see or sense is not of great importance to me, except as effects, as products of discourses. What’s funny about such hissyfits is that people who are attached to the idea of a unique autonomous subject tend to fail to understand that this is not a denial of agency. It’s rather that the focus is on “the constitution of the subject in its historical and social context”, as they (118) go on to point out. They (118) aptly summarize this position on the subject:
“In a nutshell, Foucauldian discourse theory contests the existence of an autonomous subject, but that does not mean that it is against the subject. The active individual is fully involved when it comes to realizing power relations in practice. The individual thinks, plans, constitutes, interacts and fabricates. Individuals also face the problem of having to prevail, to assert themselves, to find their place in society.”
Simply put, a subject is constituted, a product of discourses, but it also plays a role in the constitution of subjects, others, as well as him- or herself, and objects through discourse. This simply means that one is what one is, what one happens to be at any given moment, not what one thinks one is or someone else thinks one is. One is certainly free to do, say, think or see whatever, but only from that position, which is always already conditioned.
On top of this apparent lack of autonomy and individuality, Foucault (94–95) states in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’ (1978 translation by Robert Hurley) that “[p]ower relations are both intentional and nonsubjective”, which means that power is always exercised as having “series of aims and objectives”, yet “this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject” as “it is often the case that no one is there to have invented them, and few who can be said to have formulated them.” He (95) summarizes this by noting that the entire network of power can be characterized as having this “implicit characteristic of the great anonymous.” In ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ he (27) refers to this as “silent murmuring”. Simply put, “discourses are supra-individual”, as Jäger and Maier (118) express it. Sure, they are co-produced by people and thus change all the time, to the extent that they do, of course, but the point is that “no single individual or group controls discourse or has precisely intended its final result”, as they (118) go on to add. Then again, as they (118) specify this, some do have more influence than others, as an effect, as part of the order of things, but no one has full control over discourse. For example, it’s evident that scientists and scholars have a lot of influence over various discourses, but they cannot fully control it, except, perhaps, within their own field. Once something exits their field or discipline, they are impotent with regards to what happens to their work. This is even more evident when that something exits all the fields or disciplines, for example when media reports on their work. This could also be said about how the state operates. There may be a lot of concentrated effort to make sure that people behave in a certain way, but, for some reason, people don’t end up behaving that way. Conversely, some outsider, some random person, may end up having considerable influence over something, even though he or she didn’t really intend it to balloon that way, to become a thing, if you will, as also acknowledged by them (118-119). This is why they (118) choose to quote Foucault as having said that to Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinov in personal communication, as mentioned (187) in their 1982 book ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’:
“‘People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does[.]’”
It’s beside the point to attempt to indicate who, in particular, is in position to define and alter discourses and who is not, as well as to calculate the level of their influence. The point Foucault wants to make is that while a system can be highly rigid and thus resistant to any change, it’s not impossible to change. All pipes leak eventually, or so to say. That said, changing something that is highly rigid, possibly highly hierarchical and meritocratic, is, of course very difficult if you do not have what it takes to change the system from within. In other words, as noted by Jäger and Maier (118-119), it’s probably no coincidence that among those who are not on top, only the well educated ones tend to be able drive change. In Bourdieusard terms, outside the elite, they are the ones who have the necessary relevant capital to do so, whereas most people don’t. You need to know the inner workings of the system, it’s weaknesses, in order to poke holes in it, to make it leak.
All this is well and good, but how do you actually do discourse analysis or dispositive analysis? Well, I’d say there’s no one way of doing it, but I’ll cover what they have to say about this in their book chapter. To give you their (119) short answer, you do it by “disentangling the giant milling mass of discourse”, which, I’d say, is a tedious task. To given you the long answer, they (119) indicate that it involves “charting what is said in a given society, in a particular time and place”, focusing on what is said and how it is said, as well as “uncovering the techniques through which discursive limits are extended or narrowed down.” Simply put, you start with somewhere. It doesn’t really matter where you start, because you just have to start and see where that takes you as the process of disentangling various discourses from one another will lead you to all kinds of places. So, yeah, it’s going to be arduous and tedious. You start by taking a close look at what is said and how it is said, while paying attention to how the limits of what’s statable and seeable are produced. This somewhat simple yet time consuming process is followed by “subjecting these workings of power/knowledge to critique”, which, according to them (119) is not a matter of judging the material, stating that this and/or that discourse is good or bad. I’d say that this doesn’t mean that something cannot be good or bad, but you have to indicate to whom it is good or bad. It’s worth keeping in mind that there’s no universality in discourse analysis, only posing as universality, which is exactly what they (119) indicate as what people should be focusing on in discourse analysis:
“It means to expose the evaluations that are inherent in a discourse … and the means by which a discourse makes particular statements, actions and things seem rational and beyond doubt, even though they are only valid at a certain time and place.”
In other words, it’s highly tempting to argue for something, with recourse to some a priori, even though there are no a prioris, only historical a prioris. Your task as a discourse analyst is going through this and/or that discourse, disentangle it or them from others or one another and indicate what this or that discourse deals with and what its role is in a given society, how it plays a role in the creation of a certain order of things. Now, I’d say that this also includes assessing who is involved, but not in the sense that it’s this or that person who said this or that, because that’s rather superficial. Sure, we can point out that it was this or that person who came with up with this or that and expressed it, but that doesn’t address how that person came to come up with it and express it in that time and space and why it came to be held as valid in that time and space. To reiterate an earlier point, this is exactly why I’m not really interested in this or that person, that is to say the subject, what he or she says or sees and, conversely, doesn’t say or see, because what interests me, as a discourse analyst, is how that person comes to be that person, say and see this and/or that. Addressing agency, the who, is therefore really impersonal. I’m therefore more interested in the subject positions, that is to say who gets to be in a position that permits them to say or see this and/or that and who doesn’t get to be in a such position. Now, of course, to work that way, you have to address those positions as well, and how they are formed, yes, through discourse!
For example, in a school environment you have teachers and students, as well as some administrative staff and, perhaps, some maintenance staff, unless they are contractors (which leads us to another path, to another discourse that could be disentangled and evaluated on its own). What’s interesting here is not this or that particular student, teacher, principal or janitor, but what the position affords them and what it doesn’t afford them. You find a similar arrangement in the military, where you have the officers, including the non-commissioned officers who typically rank lower than the commissioned officers, and the troops, those who have no power over anyone, some administrative officers, namely those above a certain rank and medical staff who are given certain rank for their services, and maintenance staff that work as civilian contractors (this also involves a discourse of its own, but let’s not get tangled up with that). Again, what’s interesting here is not this or that soldier, regardless of his or her rank, but what his or her rank affords him or her in the service. These two arrangements are highly rigid, meaning that you are set as this or that, which, in turn, leaves little room for individual maneuvering. This does not, however, mean that there’s isn’t more room for such in other contexts, so that someone may gain more informal or de facto position that makes it possible for him or her to exercise power over others, but rather that in these contexts the positions are fixed and access to them is highly regulated. This also doesn’t mean that people’s opinions over this and that don’t matter, for them, but rather that they don’t matter, to me, inasmuch I’m engaged in discourse analysis as the focus is not on them. I’ve been called out on this aspect, multiple times, but what can I say in response to such (not that I can, because review is typically just a one way street, involving a subordinate/superordinate power relation where I’m the subordinate) except that you’ve chosen to address my work, which consists of what some prefer to call mediated discourse analysis, what Jäger and Maier refer to as dispositive analysis, but, oddly enough, you clearly can’t comprehend it, what it deals with, and thus end up insisting that I should focus on what people have to say about this or that, even though that’s not what discourse analysis is about. It’s only apt that Jäger and Maier (117) cite Foucault (117) has to say about this in a interview with Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino, known as ‘Truth and Power’, as also included in ‘Power/Knowledge: Select Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977’:
“One has to dispense with the constituent subject, to get rid of the subject itself, that’s to say, to arrive at an analysis which can account for the constitution of the subject within a historical framework.”
Oh, no, Michel, Michel, did you just say fuck the subject? Yes, you did, you did indeed. So, yeah, remember this, the next time you criticize a discourse analyst for not caring about people’s opinions, Again, this doesn’t mean that people’s opinions aren’t important. They are, for themselves, but that’s not what we are dealing with in discourse analysis, as clearly pointed out by Foucault (117), who goes on to further specify it:
“And this is what I would call genealogy, that is, a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects etc., without having to make reference to a subject is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout the course of history.”
To give some more context to this, he (116-117) is responding to questions pertaining to Marxism and phenomenology, because, as the interviewer or interviewers (117-118) point out (it’s unspecified whether this was asked by Fontana or Pasquino), both “have clearly acted as a screen and an obstacle” for Foucault to overcome in his work. It is also in this context that Foucault (118) addresses why he isn’t fond of ideology:
“[Firstly,] it always stands in virtual opposition to something else which is supposed to count as truth.”
He (118) further specifies this gripe by adding that:
“[T]he problem does not consist in drawing the line between that in a discourse which falls under the category of scientificity or truth, and that which comes under some other category, but in seeing historically how effects of truth are produced within discourses which in themselves are neither true nor false.”
In other words, he isn’t buying this true/false dichotomy, because, for him, that’s already an effect of discourse, of discursive practices that are neither true or false themselves. He (118) also doesn’t like how it functions with recourse to subject:
“[Secondly,] the concept of ideology refers, I think necessarily, to something of the order of a subject.”
Simply put, to have that true/false debate, you need to have the subject in place, which he (117) isn’t buying, as already mentioned. To him (118) it also relies not only on the subject, but also on what might be called the infrastructure, what I believe is typically called the base in Marxist terms:
“Thirdly, ideology stands in a secondary position relative to something which functions as its infrastructure, as its material, economic determinant, etc.”
So, to make more sense of this, he isn’t keen on ideology because it’s an abstraction and he’d rather focus on the what it is abstracted of, staying on the level of the base or infrastructure, to explain that in the Marxist terms, here and now, as opposed to going through it because, I believe, it involves producing a dualism, treating ideology as transcendent or otherworldly, as an a priori. In summary, he isn’t saying yes or no to whether this and/or that is true or false, because, I’d say, for him, this involves a poorly formulated question, a misguided approach, because it relies on a certain presupposition that has not been made evident and addressed. It’s the same with the subject. It relies on a certain presupposition that, at least, would have to be explained prior to making use of it, which, of course, would risk undermining those who rely on it and use it as a starting point. Just imagine that, the hilarity of it, first explaining how the subject, that is to say everyone of us, is a product of discourses, as already pointed out a number of times, and, at best, a co-producer of these discourses, depending on the circumstances, of course, as not everyone gets to have equal input, only to conduct a study where the starting point is, nonetheless, the subject. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work. Okay, sure you can skip the first part and start from the subject, that is to say not explaining it, but then Foucault is going to Foucault you.
Anyway, back to Jäger and Maier (119) who note that the analyst is not outside discourse. This reiterates the point that we are all products of discourses, regardless of how unique and autonomous we like to think we are. Simply put, the analyst participates in discourse by engaging in discourse analysis, as they (119) point out. What makes the discourse analyst critical is the position or the role of a parrhesiast, someone who expresses his or her views, whatever they may be and whatever they may concern, as a product of various discourses that have made him or her critical to the discursive construction of reality, as loudly and clearly as possible and, most importantly, even when it is inconvenient to others, not only when it is convenient for oneself, and therefore comes with a considerably personal risk, as they (119) go on to characterize it. I agree with their view (119-120) on what the role of the analyst should be:
“Critical discourse analysts should, in our opinion, adopt a democratic attitude, meaning that researchers, audiences, and other actors exchange ideas on equal footing, try to understand each other and are open to modifying their position based on sound arguments.”
The tricky thing with this is, of course, that it’s not that people aren’t capable of this, that they can’t try to understand one another, nor that they can’t modify their views, but rather that people typically aren’t willing to do so, inasmuch as it contradicts their immediate interests. It’s just not desirable to them. That’s exactly what differentiates the parrhesiast, the one who speaks fearlessly, from others, from those who do not speak fearlessly, as further elaborated by Foucault in ‘Fearless Speech’ (published posthumously in 2001, as edited from his lectures by Joseph Pearson).
In terms of methods, well, there aren’t any specific methods that you must or should subscribe to in discourse analysis, nor in dispositive analysis. It’s basically just selecting whatever tools are appropriate for the task. You ask certain questions, whatever they may be, and answer them. The tools are there to help you to achieve that. There’s not right or wrong tool for this and/or that, as such, which means that different tools can be used to achieve the same goal. Some tools may be more useful or easy to use than others, but it all really depends what you are dealing with. For example, when working with nuts and bolts, you probably go for wrenches, because, well, they are made for that task. There are all kinds of wrenches, open- and closed ended ones, as well as adjustable wrenches. They can all get the job done. You could, of course, also do the same with other tools, for example with pliers, or with any makeshift solutions, if you don’t have a wrench or your wrench is the wrong size and non-adjustable, or if you are just adventurous. What matters is that you get the job done.
Before wrapping things up, Jäger and Maier (120-126) dedicate the last part of their book chapter to certain concepts or, should I say specifications, in order to better explain what the analysis often (but not always) looks like. In this part they broaden the terminology to include: special discourses, interdiscourse, discursive limits, discourse strands, discourse fragments, discursive knots, collective symbols, discourse planes, discourse sectors, discursive events, discursive context and discourse positions. They also address all this in terms of space and time, as well as how they form a whole, which is, as you might guess, not an original or final whole, before moving on to give the reader a step by step guide on how to analyze something the way they do.
Anyway, to briefly explain the concepts they (120-126) cover, interdiscourse is just about how discourses never exist in a vacuum, unconnected to one another, even though not all discourses are directly connected to other discourses. Special discourses are also fairly easy to comprehend, consider that, for them, they have to do with the regulation of knowledge in this or that discourse plane, which, in turn, has to do with the social location or situation where and when those discourses come to being, what one could also call genres. Discourse strands are particular flows of discourse that share a common topic and, I’d say, like strands of hair, they can be further divided into a number of subtopics or groups of subtopics. To be clear, for them, a discourse strand has more to do with the actual performance of discourse, the concrete utterances, thus being more textual than discourse, which, in contrast, is more of an abstract concept, dealing with how the constitution of meaning. Discursive limits are also rather easy to grasp, considering that they simply mark the limits of what can and cannot be said, as already mentioned earlier on. Discourse fragments are the textual aspect of discourse strands, what most people would simply call texts or parts of texts pertaining to this and/or that topic. By referring to them as discourse fragments, rather than texts, they want emphasize how, in actuality, the topics and subtopics of various discourse strands are often fragmented, to be found in where you might expect to find them, rather intuitively, but also in where you might not expect them. In other words, each strand of discourse consist of a multitude of fragments. Discourse knots also fairly self-explanatory. They deal with how various discourse strands are connected to one another, how they intersect, forming a nexus or a knot by being entangled with one another at this and/or that point, to this or that degree or level of intensity. Collective symbols pertain to the imagery shared by those are part of the same society, the same collective or discourse community. They are used to make sense of things, to interpret the world by us and/or for us. They can also solidify the connection between knowledge and power through catachresis, by linking different images to one another, for example by connecting immigration with flooding, by presenting immigrants as a wave or a flood, to use their (123) specific example. As you can see, we are no longer merely dealing with discourse. To be clear, a wave is not, in itself, positive or negative, nor is a flood, except when it is understood as involving the risk of drowning or losing ground to being submerged in water, which, in turn, do require actual water and experience of how it functions, how it can indeed result in drowning or losing ground. In fact, a wave can be a positive, despite the potential risks involved. There’s no surfing if there are no waves. This would also be interesting to address in terms of how light is a wave (or is it a particle … and now we are in the quantum realm), but let’s not get carried away here. A flood can also be highly beneficial. Flood plains tend to be highly fertile for agriculture. Anyway, the point here is that how we understand something can be quite fluid (I’m sorry, I just had to go with that, considering all the water examples), connecting this and/or that with this and/or that, in this and/or that sense of it, which extends the discussion from the discursive to the non-discursive, but without making it simply non-discursive either. To me, it’s that partial capture Deleuze mentions in those seminar sessions. Discourse sectors are the sectors of a discourse plane. For example, what they (123) call the mass media plane can be understood as consisting of a number of sectors, such as television, newspapers and the internet, or, alternatively, old media and social media, depending on how one wants to define the sectors. Discursive events pertain to how all events are always discursive, regardless of what events we are dealing with, with particular emphasis on the intensity and the extensity of the events. In other words, yes, all events indeed discursive, there’s no way around that, so, you might as well speak of events and thus reserve what they call discursive events to these specific events marked by how they come to shape discourse in the future. They (124) exemplify this with nuclear accidents, of which the Tree Mile Island accident didn’t come to shape discourse, whereas the Chernonyl and Fukushima accidents did. Discursive context has to do with what discourse strands this and/or that discursive event is linked to, as, I guess, opposed to the actual or non-discursive context in which the discursive event took place. Similarly to the context, discourse positions have to do with one’s participation in discourse, what one’s role is in relation to the (re)production of discourses, as, I guess, opposed to the actual or non-discursive positions that one occupies, as their (125) emphasis appears to be on how one is positioned and positions oneself in relation to knowledge about this and/or that rather than indicating one’s position in a society, having this and/or that occupation, or the like.
With regard to the overall aspect, they (125) note that “[a]ll the entangled strands in a society together form the overall societal discourse” which is never fully homogeneous, but involve homogenizing tendencies. To reiterate their earlier point, they (125) add that one is dealing with a complex network, a net of discourse, which makes only sense, if you think of it, how discourse has these strands, which connect to one another in certain points, thus forming a net if we do not simply focus on just one intersection, just one discursive knot of discourse strands. The task of a discourse analysis is to look at this net, start from somewhere, from some strand, and see how whatever strand you are dealing with is connected to others strands, and so on and so on. Of course, this is easier said than done as presenting it as a net or a network (as in how the strands are worked into a net) may make it appear as a neat arrangement of strands that meet in certain places, knotting, and form a uniform mesh, you know, like a fishing net. This may make you think of it as something rather simple, two dimensional, if you will, when, I think, it would be more apt to think of it as three dimensional, which is why I prefer to think of it as something complex, as a rhizome or as a multiplicity, to explain this in Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance. This is not to say that Jäger and Maier are wrong to call it a net or a network, but rather that regardless of what one calls it, it should not be understood as defined in terms of a pre-existing structure that defines how the strands come to meet one another in knots.
To put this in other words, there’s nothing easy, nothing neat about discourse analysis. You deal with the mess that’s reality or rather the construction of reality, one strand at a time, which means that on top of it not being easy, nor neat, it’s really time consuming. It’s all slowly but nonetheless constantly evolving, so the analysis is basically a never ending task. There are no cookie cutter templates to work with and you can only do so much. There are always more strands to examine and more fragments to take into account. In addition, what you come up with and the way you come up with it may prove to be unpopular, as judged by others who may find it highly inconvenient that you do what you, the way do it, like a parrhesiast. That said, once you get it, once you come to terms with what’s been discussed so far, it’s not actually that difficult. It’s actually fairly easy, quite intuitive really. So, I’d say that the toughest part is getting used to it, coming to terms with it all, not applying it only in your work, that is to say at work, but at all times, regardless of the context, all day, everyday, non-stop, never ceasing to wonder about the conditions of existence. Okay, okay, you are allowed to enjoy life as well, but then again, I don’t see being attentive as being a burden. Those two are not mutually exclusive. As I pointed out, it’s becomes really intuitive, so it’s not like a grind, at all. Sure, it can be inconvenient because there’s no on/off switch, no good/evil dichotomies, just constant open-ended becoming. You replace being this OR that with an arrangement of this/that AND this/that, AND this/that, AND this/that, and so on, and so forth, as Deleuze and Guattari (98) explain this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This emphasizes your responsibility, for yourself, for others, for everything really, but, then again, while that may appear to be quite the burden, you eliminate all kinds of burdens that you’ve probably subjected yourself to, like, pride and shame, to name something off the top of my head. To explain this in terms used by Deleuze and Guattari (130), this liberates you from being both the master and the slave at the same time.
Jäger and Maier (118, 126) specify that it is possible to conduct discourse analysis synchronically or cross-sectionally, looking at whatever it is that one is dealing with, here and now or in whatever period of time one wishes to focus on, or diachronically or longitudinally, addressing how and to what extent that has changed over time. The former is, to my understanding, the archaeological approach, whereas the latter is the genealogical approach. Now, you might object to the former because it would appear to be pointless to address anything if everything changes, as acknowledged in the latter approach, but that’s not the case, nor should the these two approaches seen as mutually exclusive. It’s obvious that everything changes, granted, but, as they (126) point out, while “[d]iscourses may change, … normally they do not vanish totally and suddenly”, which means that “discourse analysis allows prognoses.” You get an idea of how things are and how they’ll likely are in the future or, to be more precise, how things come to be the way they appear to us and how they’ll likely come to appear as such also in the future.
In my view, this also applies to dispositive analysis, considering that the focus is not so much on this and/or that discursive formation, nor on this and/or that non-discursive formation, but rather how they come together, forming a whole that is not an original whole, nor a final whole, but the whole of those particular parts, as Deleuze and Guattari (42) define it in the ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1983 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane). One deals with this and/or that order of things, which can and does change, but, to be honest, not much changes, considering how rigid and bureaucratic societies tend to be. This is why it is possibly for me to do what I do, the way I do it, without merely creating static slices that only pertain to this time or that time and place, as my detractors would like to explain it, as I’m not really even interested in this and/or that place, the people there, nor the arrangement of it all, the order of things, but on the conditions of existence of both the discursive and the non-discursive, as well as their interplay, how one captures the other, resulting in particular arrangements or orders of things.
Jäger and Maier (126) also comment on whether discourse analysis is qualitative or quantitative, arguing that it is primarily qualitative, or, at least typically qualitative, they do not pit one against the other, acknowledging that both serve a different purpose. While they (126) do emphasize how working with fairly little material is sufficient in discourse analysis, considering that the discursive limits tend to be fairly restrictive in any social situation, regardless of the spatial and temporal context that it takes place, they also acknowledge how addressing the frequency of this or that statement can be highly beneficial because it helps us to understand how rigid the system is, considering that a frequently occurring statement “has sustained effects and strongly solidifies a particular knowledge.” This has to do with what Deleuze and Guattari (292-293) refer to as “[t]he constitution of a ‘majority’ as redundancy”, how repeating the same thing reinforces it, despite being, as the term suggests, redundant, containing only what it contains and nothing else in order to get the message across. Claire Parnet (22) explains this well in the first part of ‘Dialogues’ with Deleuze (1987 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam):
“The schema of informatics begins from a presumed maximal theoretical information; at the other end, it puts noise as interference, anti-information and, between the two, redundancy, which diminishes theoretical information but also enables it to overcome noise.”
Simply put, redundancy is like a fail-safe mechanism. For example, if you have data on a drive, it’s exists on that drive and possibly nowhere else. If that drive gets damaged, that data may be lost. That may or may not be a problem, depending on how much of that data exists elsewhere. If the data exists elsewhere, you can simply get a new drive and copy that data to it. The word processor I’m using to write this can, for example, be installed to that new drive without much of a hassle because copies of it exist elsewhere. It’s a different thing when you are dealing with data that does not exist elsewhere, for example, when you take photos. It’s very likely that you are shit out of luck if your camera memory card fails and you don’t have redundancy. This is exactly why you may want to choose a camera that has an extra memory card slot and allows saving the data to both cards simultaneously. You could utilize the extra slot for extra storage, so that you don’t have to swap cards at some point, but then you do not have that redundancy, which could be crucial. I’ve encountered this only once with one of my cameras, but I was lucky that time because that failure didn’t occur during a paid assignment. Had it occurred during a paid assignment, it would have been a problem because I would not have been able to provide what I had promised to provide. Anyway, to get back on track with this, the point is that the more you have redundancy, the more likely it is you achieve what you set out to do. At the same time, the more redundancy you have, the more constraints you impose because you just get more of the same that you might not even need. Deleuze and Guattari (79) provide a good example of this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:
“Newspapers, news, proceed by redundancy, in that they tell us what we ‘must’ thin, retain, expect, etc.”
The point they (79) are making, however, is that redundancy of frequency is not simply about communicating information, relaying this and/or that statement from here to there, from this person to that person and so on and so on, but rather about making sure that what is stated, the communicated information, is what you get and nothing else. So, for example, a newspaper has a certain number of pages of certain physical dimensions, meaning that it can only contain this or that much content. If it’s just more of the same, then that’s what you’ll get. The thing is that you’ll learn to expect it, to get more of the same, and they’ll happily give you more of the same because it appears that it’s what you desire. In other words, one is no longer merely dealing with the redundancy of frequency which wards people from escaping the existing discursive limits, negating such attempts to expand them, but what they (79, 132-133) call the redundancy of resonance or subjective resonance, how the subject comes to think of him- or herself as this or that, to identify as this and/or that, not in his or her own terms but in the terms provided to him or her. On top of that, the resonance is not limited to each person, as subjects come to resonate with one another, together, reinforcing one another, as they (133) point out. This only makes sense, considering that people are co-producers of discourse, as already discussed. This also explains why people tend to act as the master and the slave, at the same time, in case you were wondering what I meant by that. Anyway, Jäger and Maier (126) also make this point about how redundancy functions to reinforce the existing states of affairs, although they don’t go on and on about it, like I do in this essay.
To wrap things up, I won’t go into detail and thus barely summarize the bits I find interesting in the last ten or so pages of their (127-137) book chapter. I’m sure you can read their guides to discourse analysis and dispositive analysis yourself, if they interest you, so I won’t cover them here. Right, there isn’t much left to say, considering that what they cover in the final part of the book chapter deals with just that, how one might engage in discourse analysis and dispositive analysis, except, perhaps, that I agree with their take on how you simply have to start from somewhere, by coming up with a research question to which you’ll select the tools that you find to be apt for the purpose of answering that question. It’s as simple as that, really. Now, they are not saying this, I am, but, as there isn’t a right or wrong way of doing it, as such, you are free to do whatever you want, really. If some other people don’t like what you are doing, the way you are doing it, it’s worth reminding them that it’s not their project, so they don’t get to have say in what you are doing and the way you are doing it, inasmuch it is indeed your project, not their project, nor someone else’s project in which you have to do as those who run and/or fund the project say you must do. Jäger and Maier put more emphasis on justifying all this, which does make sense, fair enough, but, then again, it also make sense to point out what I just pointed out. If it’s your project, you get to do whatever the fuck you want, the way you want, and the detractors can just fuck off. There are people who do understand this, that if you do something, the way you do it, it’s not up to them to tell you that you are looking at the wrong thing or looking at it the wrong way. If it was up to them, then, well, why aren’t they doing it themselves? Why would they get to choose what you do and the way you do it? Why would you live someone else’s life?
I’ll finish this by commenting on a couple of the points they (131-133) make about dispositive analysis, considering it is what lead me to write about this book chapter in the first place. This may seem rather simplistic, but, well, be as it may, the upside of focusing also on the non-discursive, that is to say the materialization of discourses, in addition to the discursive, is that it makes practice very concrete, regardless of the modes of semiotization involved. That said, it is in many ways like discourse analysis, because it is not conducted at the expense of the discursive. It doesn’t mean that you can simple waltz somewhere, make some notes and tell others which objects you saw. Instead, it means that you need to have a lot of knowledge. Because it is through knowledge that you can say experience something, regardless of whether it has to do with statements or visibilities, as Deleuze explains this in his second seminar session on Foucault. So, as Jäger and Maier (131-133) point out, when we examine dispositives, we end up reconstructing knowledge by identifying the materialized discourses, which, itself involves knowing. In other words, you cannot identify this and/or that materialized discourse, unless you know what discourses are involved. They (133) express this very clearly:
“To analyze materializations, the researcher has to rely on his [or her] own and his [or her] fellow researcher’s background knowledge.”
That’s it! That’s it! That’s all you need. Now, of course, as no one is born with knowledge, you need gain it, which means that you need to consult “pertinent literature” and/or ask “users, producers and other persons who are experts on the activities and materialization in question”, as they (133) go on to specify this. What literature you should check and which experts should you consult really depends on what you are dealing with. The same applies to what extend you should read about this and/or that and how much time you should spend consulting with experts. Simply put, if you already are an expert in what you are dealing with, then you simply already have that relevant background knowledge. Conversely, if you don’t know much, then either you should, perhaps, focus on something that you do know, you know, to save your own time, or go through the effort, familiarizing yourself with the relevant discourses, on your own, or by involving people who do know. That said, as they (133) go on to add, having knowledge does not mean that it will stay valid forever once you have it because the knowledge involved is always subject to change. For example, monuments may have been built or erected to honor someone, but, later on they have ended up being taken down because people no longer see them the same way, in the same light as they used to, and they no longer see them the same way, in the same light, because the underlying knowledge has changed, as further discussed in one of my previous essays not long ago. On top of that, as they (133) also point out, it’s worth keeping in mind that knowledge is not truth. Knowledge is not pre-existing structure that gets uncovered. It is is constructed. So, while members of different groups or collectives may share certain knowledge with other groups or collectives, they may also have exclusive knowledge that may not only be exclusive but also mutually exclusive with the exclusive knowledge of some other groups or collectives. For example, it’s only likely that a member of the communist party is happy to see a statue of Lenin, whereas someone who isn’t a member of the communist party may not be too happy about it. That said, they may both share knowledge about the statue, for example when it was put there, who sculpted it, what materials were used etc. Then again, they might not know the details that someone else, like a stone mason or a geologist might know about the materials used. None of this means that they can’t know such, but rather that they’d have to gain that relevant knowledge, by, for example, reading about what materials are used in statues and how one identifies those materials or consulting someone who knows, like a stone mason or a geologist because they know about stone, assuming that we are dealing with statues made out of stone and not, let’s say, some metal.
I think this is enough, for now. I think I’ve covered all there is to know about this, for now. I’ll let you know if I’ll come to know something that I think is worth knowing.