Tuesday, October 4, 2011


"Discourse" can be described differently. As a tool in social science theory, "discourse" allows us to classify or characterize things into categories of thought. Discourse a a broad, shared, collective way of thinking about things, it establishes a "regime of truth", it defines truth, and produces knowledge and power. An example of discourse could be western medicine; your doctor is enmeshed in a particular discourse; he views medicine through a particular set of "rose-colored glasses". There is a specific explanation for why people get sick, how to prevent sickness, how to heal sickness, etc. If you were to come to your western doctor and say "I have a headache because the witch doctor put a spell on me..." this would be outside the western discourse of medicine. It would be dismissed as impossible or frivolous because it is outside the western "regime of truth."

Through discourse, truth is created. However, if you ascribe to this system of analysis, it naturally follows that there is no inherent, absolute, truth. Truth becomes relative; a matter of perspective and stereotype. Discourse establishes that "truth" depends on the holders of power.

I'm intrigued by this concept and as my professor lectures on, I let my mind explore the implications of this.
1) Potential for change. When you see massive and horrific problems in the world (corrupt judicial systems, murder, slavery, genocide, gender discrimination), the key is to hit at the psychological "discourse" behind these ideas/practices. Since these actions are the result of a set "regime of truth" believed and followed by perpetrators, by attacking and/or changing this discourse, you could hypothetically change their truth and therefore their actions. If we follow the concept of "discourse" to the end and apply it to these circumstances, the battle becomes ideological and a matter of creating the "right" sort of truth.
2) Discourse can be a powerful and frightening tool. If discourse truly creates truth and establishes norms, what is the relationship between propaganda and discourse? Can leaders use propaganda to establish discourse and/or regimes of truth? Is brainwashing a form of discourse? Look at the culture of death Hitler created by establish a way of thinking about and categorizing the Jews and "inferior" peoples. By creating a new "truth", establishing a widely-accepted discourse among Germans and Europeans, millions were murdered by those who genuinely believed they were beautifying and benefiting society.

This concept of "discourse" is both empowering and devastating if carried out to its full potential. More thoughts on this later.

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