Monday, August 31, 2015


214. Language games of power

Here I make a connection between Foucault’s notion of knowledge embedded in structures of power, and Wittgenstein’s notion of language games. Perhaps the two notions are complementary, enriching each other.

According to Wittgenstein, if you want to know what the meaning of a word is, see how it is used. Then you see that it is connected with meanings of other words, in a language game. If you do not play by the rules, or are unfamiliar with them, you are out of the game. The meanings of the words you use are not those of the game, and you get excluded or ignored. This connects, I propose, with Foucault’s notion of ‘savoir’, knowing the system and how it works, needed to be seen and accepted as a legitimate participant. Knowing how to play he language game.

As suggested earlier in this blog (in item 206), this seems to be part of the Greek crisis: the Greeks were not ‘in the know’ and did not play by the rules of the dominant language game imposed by the officials and politicians of the EU.

According to Foucault, discourse is embedded in a non-discursive context. In the Greek case this included, among other things, the condition that EU politicians feel the electoral pressure from rightist, nationalist populist parties, which presses them to resist further financial aid, let alone any cancelling of Greek debt. The IMF, being less, or less directly, political, did plead for substantial cancelling of debt.

Apart from the more or less visible structures, of participants, discourse, interests, positions, resources, etc., Foucault recognized the importance of the ‘deep structures’, the unconscious, of thought. Those are embedded in language, I add.

In his Archaeology of knowledge Foucault assigned several types of rules to ‘discursive formations’, as follows[i]:

1.      Rules for the formation of objects, i.e. what the discourse is about, including their source, in a selection from a social context, to be transferred to the discourse, those who have the authority to decide what objects are admitted. For example, in the Greek case the discourse is about financial viability, not about social justice.

2.      Rules for regulating discourse, in determining who has the right  to use a given mode of speech, the site where legitimate discourse takes place, the position of someone making a statement about the objects of discourse. In the Greek case: members of the established constellation of the EU (with the IMF more peripheral), Brussels as the site of discourse, and whether the participant in the discourse is a minister of finance, head of state in the EU, head of the central bank of the EU, or official from the IMF.

3.      Rules concerning who governs the formation of concepts, i.e. the basic logic, methodology, range of accepted statements, statements admissible from other discursive formations, and relevant memories from history associated with accepted statements, and ‘procedures for intervention’ in the approximation and delimitation of statements and the generation of new ones. In the Greek case, I propose that this is largely a rhetoric of globalized markets, statements from (mainstream) economics and finance, the history of capitalism, and the management of meetings and reports.

4.      Rules for the formation of strategies, i.e. specific doctrines, principles and guidance for the efforts of individual participants, the possible branching out of discourse into different, possibly mutually conflicting directions, and influences from non-discursive. Here, the Greeks tried to open up the discourse to issues of European solidarity, social justice, and historical antecedents. A branching occurred between the positions of the EU and of the IMF.

 
Is this analysis helpful to better understand the Greek case? Or, conversely, is it helpful for a further elucidation and specification of Wittgensteinian language games?      


[i] P. Gary Gutting, 1989, Michel Foucault’s archaeology of scientific reason, Cambridge University Press, p. 234-239.