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Foucaultarguedknowledgeproducedinthesocialsciencesis

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Unformatted text preview: ‐technical introduction to discourse theory. I believe these ideas are useful for examining an array of issues ranging from economic development, discrimination, and unemployment to issues of climate change and ecological degradation. Since the central theme of this paper is “discourse” I will begin with a preliminary description. Discourse as defined by Webster’s dictionary is an act of speech, writing, a lecture, or a conversation. The description of things such as plants and rocks seems objective, neutral, and value‐free, but the French philosopher, historian, and writer, Michel Foucault pointed out that when social scientists study the economy, culture, race, class, crime, and law the question of objectivity is more problematic. Foucault argued knowledge produced in the social sciences is different from that produced by the natural sciences because in social science human beings are both the subject and the object of knowledge. In his studies of madness, crime, medicine, and sexuality, Foucault showed how psychiatrists, criminologists, and doctors occupying positions of superior status produce knowledge about the mad, the criminal, the sick, and the homosexual in order to regulate their behavior. Contrary to claims about scientific objectivity Foucault helped to show us that the production of any knowledge was, and is, influenced by a whole host of relations including culture, class, race, gender, and property ownership. The study of rocks is qualitatively different from the study of say, food stamp recipients. The political views of a geologist hardly influence the study of rocks but the cultural assumptions of a sociologist may greatly influence a study of food stamp users; the religious views of a psychiatrist may influence the “study of homosexuals.” Subject studies object as problem and in so doing comes to define itself as non‐problem. More on that later. 3 Alan Sokal (1996), a physicist who perpetrated an embarrassing hoax on the postmodern journal Social Text invited people who think the world is discursively constructed to jump off his 24th story apartment window. This is an example of what I call the silline...
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