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discourse formation

Literature DictionaryDictionary of Postmodern Terms
This concept is the subject of chapter 2 of archeology of Knowledge.
He begins with a criticism of the concept that everything with the same label is not the same thing and that the difference between differently labeled things may be a habit of thought.
Suppose a society called everyhing slightly red "red" and grouped purple along along with red in the process. And compare this to a society that called everything slightly orange "orange," included red (but not purple) under the category, but also yellow. How would these two societies be able to talk about the color of things? They would be using different language maps to organize colors and a simple translation from one to the other appears simply impossible.
The problem is that within our own language community we fail to notice the way in which we are constituting what we talk about by such arbitrary language practices that have become second nature to us. Studying these discourse formations (or discursive formations) is "archeology ." We will try to grasp the implicit rules we use that work together to form this map of the world around us.
Without knowing it, we group distinguishable objects into unities and thus constitute our objects. An object is constituted like this by a "unity of discourse". In Wittgensteinian terms, this might mean by a language game.) The unity of discourse on a particular topic (or object) "would be the interplay of rules that define the transformation of these objects, their non-identity through time, the break produced in them, the internal discontinuity that suspends their permanence." (archeology of Knowledge, p.33) For example, we constitute the object of "marriage" by a set of rules that allows us to say that we are "married" together with the interplay of rules that defines the marriage as dissolved (annulled, divorced, non-valid). Foucault suggests that an archeology should examine the way this works, how we control our mental taxonomy through language practices.

 

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