In looking for Foucault supplementary audio, I ran across a fairly new podcast, “Historyish,” which appears to be run by people involved with the University of Warwick and the Postgraduate Forum for the History of Medicine.
Their October 2011 episode on Foucault can be found here; the page itself includes some of the biographical information read on the episode.
The first 20 min of the episode are not about Foucault, but instead a “this day in history” segment, sharing fun facts. From this, I had hoped that we’d get some clarity re. how accurate a historian Foucault was (a topic which we decided on our Foucault episode was rather beside the point for our purposes). Instead, you get a decent overview of Foucault’s life and work, which made a few points that I hadn’t really considered:
First, the term episteme, which I’ve since seen in Derrida but don’t think entered into Discipline and Punish, is characterized on the podcast as a more generalized version of Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a scientific paradigm: whereas a paradigm is a “world view” for the purposes of a particular science, establishing what counts as legitimate inquiry, the episteme covers the whole intellectual culture of a particular society; this is very much relevant to Katie’s question on our episode about how we can, from within a given society, question the practices of that society, if society supposedly dictates the terms in which we can even raise the critique. (Personally, I think this problem much overstated, but I’ll save that rant for our upcoming semiotics and structuralism episode.)
Second, the Historyish folks put Discipline and Punish in the context of Foucault’s earlier inquiries into health practices and the notion of madness: some of the habits that society can inculcate in us include practices like hand washing. I recall this also from the History of Sexuality:the use of economic measures to keep society running smoothly is not limited to keeping us from violence, to keeping things hygienic and running smoothly. For example, from an economic point of view, you have to channel sexual energy so you don’t just have people rutting in the streets all the time and keeping anything from getting done.
Regarding madness,the Historyish folks stress that the panoptic gaze includes classifying us all with regard to some norm. As a personally unorthodox individual, they say, Foucault was very concerned with this idea of what society considers “normal” and how this gets enforced. The connection to an “episteme” should be obvious here: the norm is reinforced by the very vocabulary we set up, by what’s in the list of legitimate (i.e. normal) jobs, acceptable topics of conversation, etc.
This is all in line with Foucault’s self-ascribed title of Professor of the History of Systems of Thought, though we need to read more into “system” there than would likely come out of an intellectual history course. There’s some discussion of Foucault’s debt to Saussure among others.
I’m interested overall to hear more of the podcast (there are episodes on Marx and Max Weber). The whole thing is done with good humor, though the fast-talking-with-British-accents make me sympathize with non-Americans who listen to us, and I don’t feel like I’m in on all the jokes. Also, really, it’s OK to make edits in a discussion recording without putting in a little musical segue; that gets old fast.