I found a line in my book which says something like this:

Michael Foucault's main job is to historicize discourse and textualize history.

The context of this quote is the following (from a course book by K.P Subedi and Subhas Giri):

After discovering the rules of a particular discourse, Foucault relates them to the study of knowledge and power. His job is to historicize discourse and textualize history. Foucault refuses to see history in terms of linearity and development. He sees history in terms of a kind of power struggle of particular time. According to Foucault, power is not repressive and tyrannical rather it is generative and productive force. Power binds together the disparate forces of a society. every event is the product of a vast network of signification and power rather than originating from a single, coherent cause.

I couldn't quite get this concept.

Does he want to say that discourse created history and history is created through text? I couldn't understand the concept, please make it clear to me.

  • 1
    Which book is this? Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 18:16
  • Critical thinking and practical criticism
    – yubraj
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 18:26
  • Oh sorry! It's my course book. I think It's not found. What I can do now is provide page and context of this subject of question
    – yubraj
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 2:23
  • This book is purly in English. Major English subject but a reference book by K.P Subedi and Subhas Giri, Lecturer of RR Campus TU
    – yubraj
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 7:29
  • I can't provide more reference than this. Hopes to be enough
    – yubraj
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 6:14

1 Answer 1


For Michel Foucault, discourse does not simply mean "verbal exchange"; in and through his work it has come to mean (quoted from Wiktionary),

An institutionalized way of thinking, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic (...)

For example, in Madness and Civilization (Folie et déraison, 1961) he described how the Age of Reason adopted a new type of discourse about "madness", which led to the confinement of "lunatics" and other marginalised individuals in newly created institutions. In other words, this type of discourse is also linked with power over certain classes of people.

For a different and more general formulation, I refer to Gary Gutting and Johanna Oksala's article "Michel Foucault" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (emphasis added):

The focus of his questioning is the modern human sciences (biological, psychological, social). These purport to offer universal scientific truths about human nature that are, in fact, often mere expressions of ethical and political commitments of a particular society. Foucault’s “critical philosophy” undermines such claims by exhibiting how they are the outcome of contingent historical forces, not scientifically grounded truths. Each of his major books is a critique of historical reason.

The "universal scientific truths" are types of discourse; in fact, presenting certain statements as universal and scientific is part of the "discourse". However, Foucault's work shows how these "truths" are not universal but the product of a specific society and a specific historical context. Identifying this context and showing how the discourse functions in that context is to historicize it.

Foucault studied power relationships by studying discourse, i.e. by studying language as found in texts. In this way, history became textualized. (See also Foucauldian discourse analysis on Wikipedia and DISCOURSE: In Relation To Postmodernism And Foucault’s Theory On Discourse on SociologyGroup.com.)

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