Cultural Studies Terms/Subject Position and Subjectivization

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Subject position and Subjectivization

1. Chief Theorist

Michael Foucault (1926, October 15 – 1984, June 25)

2. Definition

In Foucault’s theory a subject is created within a certain discourse. One of Foucault’s main concerns is the relationship between knowledge and power. According to him, it is not a subject itself who produces knowledge, but the discursive formation of which the subject is only one part. Foucault’s definition of subject position highlights the productive nature of disciplinary power – how it names and categorizes people into hierarchies (of normalcy, health, morality, etc.).

Foucault includes the subject in his theory in two meanings: First, one cannot communicate outside discourse meaningfully and therefore one is subject of discourse. This means that one is somehow determined by discourse, its meanings, power and regulations. Secondly, the viewer or reader becomes subject to the discourse if he/she puts him-/herself at the position from which discourse makes most sense. This processes of becoming subject of or to discourse is called subjectivization.

3. Related Terms

Discourse, perspective, point of view, paradigm

4. Illustration

The picture of Diego Valesquez, Les Meninas, as an example for how underlying messages, substitution, two subjects and two centres construct meaning by subjectivation through discourse.

5. Links

Foucault: The order of things


Repository of texts written by Foucault

6. Sources

Bibliography: Primary source: Foucault, Michel (2002) The order of Things: An archeology of the human sciences [1973]. London. Routlege.

Secondary Sources: Hall, Stuart (2003). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. London, Thousand Oaks, New Deli: The Sage publications.

Ruoff, Michael (2007). Foucault Lexicon. Paderborn: Fink.