Foucault Fighters

Note to reader: this is a postgraduate study blog entry.

At the last class on Thursday last week, our lecturer asked us each to say what we think about the course so far.  I said that the MA is making me think, quite a lot actually, and that even though the modules I am taking seem different in the beginning, they are all coming together, with crossovers and common topics cropping up here and there.

Foucault is of course one of them, so is Freud, Darwin and all the great thinkers of our time.  However, the most prominent topic that comes up everywhere for me is the question of identity.  This is also obvious in my blog entries.  It seems that everything in this world can be said to have been created out of the question of identity or the need to project one’s identity; the need to identify one’s self, either as part of a community or as an individual.  Not only are we obsessed with making a statement to the world about who we are and what we stand for, we also find the need to justify our actions for it.

Earlier in last week, we had a guest lecturer come in to speak to us about research methods used in ethnology and anthropology, and the issues surrounding them.  The key message seemed to be that whatever the research topic and method, it is very important to be aware and conscious about the chosen method as that will direct or channel the results in a certain way.  As much as it is important to try and be subjective in the analysis, we should also be aware of the areas in which we are (unintentionally) bias.  Our background and experiences cannot be helped and will undoubtedly influence our research in some way, but the more aware we are of how it influences the way we perceive our research, the more subjective we are able to be.

We are also told to clarify in our research, from the beginning, what methods and parameters there are.  This helps the reader/audience have an idea of what the basis of the research is first, which will then feed into the reader/audience’s criticism.  If for example, we were doing a piece of research only through the means of YouTube videos, if reported accurately, the reader/audience can then decide for themselves as to whether this mode of research is enough for them, or whether they will require further knowledge from other types of research on the same.

The question of identity also comes from or is closely linked up to the issue of choice.  Because we have a choice in things, we can consider what we want to support, or believe in, or be.  To create an identity, one has to choose; whether it be clothes, a political viewpoint, a job, or even relations.

I argue, though that the choices we all have are actually suffocating.  To take an extreme (but fashionable) topic, let us look at the idea of immortality (you can think about vampires, or perhaps the existence of an elixir of health, or just pure magic).  If we had the choice of being immortal versus being (basic) human, do you think that it is fair to allow us, with our current state of knowledge and experience to make that choice?  This is of course an extreme example as I said above, for it is a life altering (no turning back) choice.  Although, if you look at some of the choices we have to make in our lives today, they are life altering as well.  Marriage, jobs, travel…. all these things cannot be undone once it has happened.  Are we equipped to make all the right choices?

Education is key to this.  We all go through education to give us more knowledge and experience to allow us to be better people, to be more aware of the choices we are making, and (most importantly, I think) to question the choices themselves.  Our choices in this world can only get more, and it means that we will need to be armed with more knowledge and experience in order to make informed choices.  What then happens to those who are left off the academic or employment ladders?  Can we rely on all parents to bring up their children to a certain level?  Is there an optimum or minimum level of education needed for survival?

As I was discussing the differences in the education systems in different countries with my course mates, I found that the argument for and against the different syllabi started wavering.  It was not as simple as that.  Take for example Foucault.  I have not heard of Foucault until I started on this postgraduate degree.  This is even after I have completed a BA and MSc degree before.  However, my American course mate tells us that they study Foucault in history, in high school, and this is part of the compulsory syllabus for them.  In my high school syllabus in Malaysia, compulsory subjects were Malay, English, mathematics, history (Malaysia and Asia) and moral.  Thinking about it now, they should have perhaps taken the opportunity in moral studies to introduce philosophical schools of thoughts or even ethics theories, but they didn’t.  Moral paper was primarily a time filler for those of us who are not Muslim, since the Muslim students had to do a compulsory Muslim paper.  I remember that in moral, they gave us scenarios and made up terms that we had to memorise and apply for each scenario.  Where you used the wrong terminology (even though your explanation may be thoughtful), your answer was considered wrong.  It was not only tedious to study, but it had served no educational purpose at all.  Looking back, I think I would have probably preferred to study the teachings of the Quran, but I know that would have raised many other issues with parents, especially with those who were trying to bring their children up with other religions.

I digress, but what I want to make as a point is that we need all the knowledge we can take as humans, in order to better ourselves and better our lives.  We gain knowledge not only through education, but through living life itself, through working, through socialising.  However, it is important to be aware of the knowledge and experience gain.  Start by questioning your own actions, by thinking before you say, by justifying to yourself every thought, every sentence uttered, every action taken.  Think about it as a form of meditation, which is just a higher sense of awareness, really.

Foucault tells us that “one must punish exactly enough to prevent repetition”.  I say that we need to be a step further, a step ahead.  We cannot just react, we need to act first.  I say that we must educate enough (if not more) to prevent wrongdoings from happening in the first place.

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