Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ch. 2 of Prof. Pennycook's CALx

Chapter 2 The Politics of Knowledge


"Critical theory that can help inform our thinking about social structure, knowledge, politics, pedagogy, practice, the individual, or language." (p. 25)
"Critical theory that takes knowledge and its production as part of its critical exploration." (p. 25)


There needs a general introduction of power, first.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains power in the framework of 'power-over' or 'power-to' in the section of "Feminist Perspectives on Power." Below is a brief summary of the description.

The power-over concept defines "power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do." The classical example that advocated this concept is Max Weber. Robert Dahl offers an “intuitive idea of power” which is “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (1957, 202-03).
Dahl, Robert. 1957. “The Concept of Power.” Behavioral Science 2: 201-15.

The power-to concept defines power as an ability or a capacity to act. Thomas Hobbes is a classical example in this camp. Hannah Arendt's definition of power as “the human ability not just to act but to act in concert” (1970, 44) is another example of this conception..
Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co..

Regarding the discrepancy of this concept, the Stanford Encyclopedia offers an explanation that "how we conceptualize power is shaped by the political and theoretical interests that we bring to the study of power."

A very useful guidebook, Key Concepts in Critical Social Theory by Nick Crossley (2005, SAGE Publications) proposes HOW VS WHO as a useful distinction for categorizing different theories of power.

Starting with the WHO side, Crossley chooses Steven Lukes and his three-dimensional approach as a prime example. Lukes presents the three dimensions, in the words of Crosseley, (1) decisions reached, (2) suppressed agenda items, and (3) invisible restraints upon the airing of opinions.

See how Wikipedia summarizes the approach:

Lukes, S. (2004) Power: A Radical View (2nd edition) Palgrave Macmillan.

On the HOW side is Foucault. Crossley summarizes Foucault's Discipline and Punish in "the transition in modes or technologies of power from the ancien re'gime into modern societies." (Crossely 2005, p. 219) The first shift is from visibility to discipline power (self-policing and self-regulation). The second is a shift of knowledge base from religion to the human sciences. The third is a change in the perceived nature of power from 'negative' to 'positive' (eg. from punishment as hurting to punishment as rehabilitation). The fourth transition is related to WHO VS HOW dimension: from the notion of power "rested in the person of the monarch" to the notion "dispersed throughout the social body in a capillary network, functioning at the mundane level of everyday life." (Crossely 2005, p. 220).

"The human sciences" is explained in Sparknotes along with "Norm" as follows:

The human sciences - Sciences, or bodies of knowledge that have man as their subject. Psychiatry, criminology, sociology, psychology and medicine are the main human sciences. Together, the human sciences create a regime of power that controls and describes human behavior in terms of norms. By setting out what is "normal", the human sciences also create the idea of abnormality or deviation. Much of Foucault's work is an attempt to analyze how these categories structure modern life. See norm.

Norm - An average standard created by the human sciences against which people are measured: the sane man, the law-abiding citizen, and the obedient child are all "normal" people. But an idea of the "normal" also implies the existence of the abnormal: the madman, the criminal and the deviant are the reverse side of this coin. An idea of deviance is possible only where norms exist. For Foucault, norms are concepts that are constantly used to evaluate and control us: they also exclude those who cannot conform to "normal" categories. As such, they are an unavoidable but somehow harmful feature of modern society. See human sciences.

If you like, read my short Japanese essay on knowledge/power in academic discourse of ELT.

Foucault's notion of power/knowledge is explained by Crossley as a "two-way street" where strategies and technologies of power facilitate and generate knowledge, while knowledge becomes the basis and principle of power. (Crossley 2005, 226).

Foucault, however, rather emphasises the aspect of body in explicating the concept of power. Crossley (2005, pp. 23-26) sees Foucault's concept of 'body-power' or 'bio-power' as a challenge to two conventional ideas of power. One is a challenge to the idea of power as a commodity, capacity or 'thing-like' entity, typically possessed by the state, political elites or the ruling class. The other is against "the notion that 'power' and social order are exclusively or even primarily secured through 'ideas' or 'consciousness (p. 24).'" What Foucault means by 'body-power' or 'bio-power' is the "moulding of the body at the level of the social microcosm (p. 25)" 'body-power' or 'bio-power' "aims to mould the body in the manner required by society, fostering life and bodily potential (p. 26)."

For a possible example of "body-power/bio-power" in operation in ELT in Japan, read my short essay in Japanese about my visit to an elementary school.

Now let us go to Prof. Pennycook's account of power:

"The workings of power," "power as operating through all domains of life." (p. 27)

Power as something an individual has, or power as something that is socially constructed and maintained.  "How power operates on and through people in the ongoing tasks of teaching, learning languages, translating, talking to clients."(p. 28)

Books Pennycook regards as important for the concept of power includes the following:

Fairclough (1989) Language and Power.

Bourdieu (1991) Language and Symbolic Power.

Lakoff (1990) Talking Power: The Politics of Language.

Foucault (1980) Power/Knowledge

Foucault's concept of power is summarized in Spaknotes as follows:

Power - Foucault's conception of power is a central part of this work. Essentially, power is a relationship between people in which one affects another's actions. Power differs from force or violence, which affect the body physically. It involves making a free subject do something that he would not have done otherwise: power therefore involves restricting or altering someone's will. Power is present in all human relationships, and penetrates throughout society. The state does not have a monopoly over power, because power relations are deeply unstable and changeable. Having said that, patterns of domination do exist in society: for example, the modern power to punish was established through the action of the human sciences. The relationship between power and knowledge is also an important one. The human sciences are able to control and exclude people because they make claims to both knowledge and power. To claim that a statement is true is also to make a claim to power because truth can only be produced by power.

Below are some excerpts from Chapter 6: TRUTH AND POWER of Foucault's Power/Knowledge (Pantheon).

Power is not just repression, according to Foucault.

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. (p. 119)

Some people may regard the State as the only power. It is, however, a 'meta-power' that rests upon multiple and indefinite power relations.

The State is superstructural in relation to a whole series of power networks that invest the body secuality, the family, kinship, knowledge, technology and so forth. True, these networks stand in a conditioning-conditioned relationship to a kind of 'meta-power which is structured essentially round a certain number of great prohibition functions; but this meta-power with its prohibitions can only take hold and secure its footing where it is rooted in a whole series of multiple and indefinite power relations that supply the necessary basis for the great negative forms of power. (p.122)

School is an important measure to create and maintain power.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a form of power comes into being that begins to exercise itself through social production and social service. It becomes a matter of obtaining productive service from individuals in their concrete lives. And in consequence, a real and effective 'incorporation' of power was necessary, in the sense that power had to be able to gain access to the bodies of individuals, to their acts, attitudes and modes of everyday behaviour. Hence the significance of methods like school discipline, which succeeded in making children's bodies the object of highly complex systems of manipulation and conditioning. (p. 125)

Through school and university and other social institutions, truth is created and maintained to become power.

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

The politics of power may have less to do with the content of truth but more to do with the institutions of truth.

The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticise the ideological contents supposedly linked to science, or to ensure that his own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth. The problem is not changing people's consciousness -- or what's in their heads -- but the political, economic, institutional re'gime of the production of truth.
It's not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at the present time.
The political question, to sum up, is not error, illusion, alienated consciousness or ideology; it is truth itself.  Hence the importance of Nietzsche. (p. 133)

Read the entry of perspectivism in Wikipedia:

Perspectivism is the philosophical view developed by Friedrich Nietzsche that all ideations take place from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives which determine any possible judgment of truth or value that we may make; this implies that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitively "true", but does not necessarily propose that all perspectives are equally valid.

Read the following excerpt from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil and see how his perspectivism is a radical departure from the European theological-philosophical tradition.

[I]t is high time to replace the Kantian question, "How are synthetic judgments a PRIORI possible?" by another question, "Why is belief in such judgments necessary?"--in effect, it is high time that we should understand that such judgments must be believed to be true, for the sake of the preservation of creatures like ourselves; though they still might naturally be false judgments! Or, more plainly spoken, and roughly and readily--synthetic judgments a priori should not "be possible" at all; we have no right to them; in our mouths they are nothing but false judgments. Only, of course, the belief in their truth is necessary, as plausible belief and ocular evidence belonging to the perspective view of life. (Chapter 1 Prejudices of Philosophers Section 11)
The Project Gutenberg Etext of Beyond Good and Evil, by Friedrich Nietzsche (Helen Zimmern translation)

Introduction to Foucault

See also Open Culture.

2.2.1 Liberal Ostricism

Applied linguistics as an "autonomous realm that is not connected to more general political views," "disinterested stance of rational inquiry." (p. 29)

Structural linguistics: all languages are equal. Deviant forms are explained in terms of their own structural consistencies (eg. Black English, dialects, interlanguages.) --> "structuralist egalitarianism"

Failing to understand "how languages are complexly related to social and cultural factors, ignoring, therefore, profound questions of social difference, inequality, and conflict." (pp. 32-33)

Arendt's distinction between Gleichartigkeit/sameness and Gleichheit/equality

Gleichartigkeit/sameness as a biological notion.
The sameness prevailing in a society resting on labor and consumption and expressed in its conformity is intimately connected with the somatic experience of laboring together, where the biological rhythm of labor unites the group of laborers to the point that each may feel that he is no longer and individual but actually one with all others. 
(Hannah Arendt, 1958, p. 214)  The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press)

Gleichheit/equality as a political notion.
The equality attending the public realm is necessarily an equality of unequals who stand in need of being "equalized" in certain respects and for specific purposes.
(Hannah Arendt, 1958, p. 215)  The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press)

--> All languages are "gleichartig/same" biologically (Chomsky's linguistics as biology).

-->All languages should be regarded as "gleich/equal" politically.

-->All languages, however, are NOT "gleichartig/same" economically (economy as a means for biological survival.)

-->"Socially?"  ("Social" for Arendt is about collective production and consumption for survival, whereas for Luhmann it is about pluralistic differences among individuals).

Arendt (1985) in The Human Condition regards the "social/sozial" as follows:

But this "collective nature of labor," far from establishing a recognizable, identifiable reality for each member of the labor gang, requires on the contrary the actual loss of all awareness of individuality and identity; and it is for this reason that all those "values" which derive from laboring, beyond its obvious function in the life process, are entirely "social" and essentially not different from the additional pleasure derived from eating and drinking in company.  The sociability arising out of those activities which spring from the human body's metabolism with nature rest not on equality but on sameness, and from this viewpoint it is perfectly true that "by nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition  half so different from a street porter as a mastiff is from from a greyhound."  (p. 213)

Luhmann (1995) adopts a general systems theory and distinguishes social system and psychic systems, the former being further subdivided into interactions, organizations and societies.

See the chart Luhmann uses (adapted by Yanase) by downloading form here.

2.2.2 Anacho-Autonomy

Noam Chomsky: rationalism, realism, mentalism, creativity and freedom on the one hand, and anarcho-syndicalism or libertarianism on the other.

Wikipedia defines anarcho-syndicalism as follows:

Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which focuses on the labour movement. Syndicalisme is a French word meaning "trade unionism" --hence, the "syndicalism" qualification. Anarcho-syndicalists view labour unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the State with a new society democratically self-managed by workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system, regarding it as "wage slavery," and state or private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Not all seek to abolish money per se.

Wikipedia defines libertarianism as follows:

Libertarianism is a term used by a broad spectrum of political philosophies which prioritize individual liberty and seek to minimize or even abolish the state. The extent to which government is necessary, if at all, is evaluated from a variety of distinct metaphysical, epistemological, and moral grounds. The word libertarian is an antonym of authoritarian.

Plato's problem and Orwell's problem:

For many years, I have been intrigued by two problems concerning human knowledge. The first is the problem of explaining how we can know so much given that we have such limited evidence. The second is the problem of explaining how we can know so little, given that we have so much evidence. The first problem we might call "Plato's problem," the second, "Orwell's problem," an analogue in the domain of social and political life of what might be called "Freud's problem." (Chomsky, 1986, xxv)

Plato's problem, the questions ultimately belong to the sciences, although many conceptual questions arise, including some that have long been troublesome in one or another form. The problem is to discover explanatory principles, often hidden and abstract, to make some sense of phenomena that seem on the surface chaotic, discordant, lacking any meaningful pattern. The study of Orwell's problem is quite diffeent. The patterns that lie behind the most important phenomena of political, economic, and social life are not very diufficult to discern, although much effort is devoted toward obscuring the fact; and the explanation for what will be observed by those who can free themselves from the doctorines of the faith is hardly profound or difficult to discover or comprehend. (Chomsky, 1986, xxviii)

Plato's problem is deep and intelletually exciting; Orwell's problem, in contrast, seems to me much less so. (Chomsky, 1986, xxix)
Chomsky, N. (1986) Knowledge of Language. Praeger Paperback

However, see how much effort Chomsky makes for the "less exciting problem."

Take a look at The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on YouTube and see how they agree and disagree. Personally, I very much enjoy this dialogue where the two different minds respond to and agree to disagree with each other. An open dialogue gives us a different intellectual joy from the one that a monologue of a book does.

The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature is published by New Press.

2.2.3 Emancipatory Modernism

Scientific leftist, relating language study to leftist politics.
"It [=emancipatory modernism] continues to keep in play notions of objectivity and truth, and it fails to be reflexive about its own knowledge status. (p. 38)"

"Neo-Marxist materialism": language (superstructure) merely reflects society (infrastructure). (p. 39)

"Emancipation through awareness":patronizing and oppressive? (pp. 39-41)

2.2.4 Critical Applied Linguistics as Problematizing Practice

Poststructuralist, postmodernist, and postcolonial perspectives. Skepticism about sicence, truth claims, and the emancipatory position outside ideology. (p. 42)

"This book and my understanding of critical applied linguistics are not "objective" or "scientific": They are political. And ultimately, as I argue later (--> chap. 5), they are grounded in an ethical vision." (p. 43)


"Too much mainstream critical work is not critical enough: It is too normative, too unquestioning of its assumptions." (p. 44)


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