Sunday, 21 October 2007

"Foucault in the House"

About 10 days ago, we had an interesting guest speaker - An ex-MICAn who is now into anthropological research. She spoke to us, apart from other things, about Foucault's concept of identity and how the notion of the individual is itself systemic. To cut a long story short, individuals exist or rather we think in terms of the singular because that is how our system has been built. That is, to look at it conversely, in a society where the concept of the individual did not exist in language and thought, would not see people as distinct entities separate from each other.

Expanding on this she further went on to say that according to Foucault, identity was defined by the interaction and manifestation of the various power dimensions of society - be it family, education, law, community or religion. The point being that the notion of the individual (at least this is how I understood it) is in itself an immensely social one. That it is defined by a shared history and a shared present. Also, that one cannot ever completely escape this system and define oneself outside of it as both dissent and change, as well as ways to co-opt these are built into the system itself.

I found this whole notion of identity very interesting, as notions of self and others have always interested me. However, what I do have trouble with here, and as I was discussing with Aditi shortly after this lecture, was believing that there is nothing called an independent consciousness that perceives itself outside of language and culture. While language is essential to articulation, perception is independent of both language and culture. It is almost involuntary in the sense that if one opens one's eyes, one cannot help but see. Similarly, is there notion of self awareness that does not depend on acknowledgement from others? There has to be for the human body is a tangible physical entity that can see, hear and touch itself.

It is another of those motley things that I would like to explore... and any of you who have read Foucault - please do elaborate on what he said on this while I get my hands on at least one of his major works.

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