Foucault: Discourses & Lifestyles

David Gauntlett’s Media, Gender and Identity (Routledge, 2008, 2nd edition)

Chapter 6: Foucault: Discourses and Lifestyles – Study Questions

An Initial Look at Foucault and His Work

Useful Links: Foucault Biography I Foucault Britannica I Foucault BBC Radio 4 I Foucault Beyond Good and Evil Documentary

When David Gauntlett introduces Foucault’s work to us in the fifth chapter of “Media, Gender and Identity”, he draws our attention to Foucault’s theoretical approach with the following words: “Knowledge should transform the self” (p. 126). How does this statement help us understand Foucault as a theorist?


Gauntlett very broadly divides Foucault’s work into two phases: a) an earlier phase b) a later phase. Please draw two columns on a piece of paper; one for the earlier phase and one for the later phase. Then write keywords or phrases explaining what Foucault is concerned with in each of these two phases. Discuss what your notes might reveal about Foucault’s approach as a theorist.

On page 126, Gauntlett emphasizes Foucault’s interest in the discourses of institutions and their experts and how these discourses might constrain certain groups of people. How can discourse be connected to power?

The blogger’s recommendation: You might like to discuss this in relation to the film “Far from Heaven”. Comment on the relationship between Frank and Cathy and the role of the psychiatrist in the film.


Foucault on Power

What is your notion of power? How would you define power?

How does Foucault define power? In what ways is it different from the earlier notions of power – before the Renaissance: Kings, queens, churches and after the Renaissance: coming of the social and human sciences… and today? How does Foucault’s definition of power differ from that of Marxists or that of feminists?

Do you think Foucault’s model of power ignores the inequalities in society or the marginalized groups? Why? Why not? Please discuss.

Power and Resistance

What does Foucault mean by saying power is productive? Discuss this in relation to the following statement by Foucault: “Where there is power, there is resistance”. According to Foucault, in what ways can people show resistance? Are revolutions possible? Why? Why not? Can you think of some examples from world history?

Extra task: Discuss the following quotes by Foucault.

“Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it”

“Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.”

sex_and_the_citySex and Identity pp. 132-135

What does Foucault’s tracing of the history of discourses about sex tell us about sex and identity? (The blogger’s suggestion: Drawing a simple rough timeline indicating the discourses might help explain your points)

What discourses about sex, marriage and love might media (talk shows, dramas, magazines, newspapers, self-help books, etc.) convey? How and to what extent do you think they might have an impact on our perception of identity and/or our perception of our selves?

Back to Lifestyle: Foucault’s Ethics p. 135

How would you define “ethics”? Look up the word in a few dictionaries and comment on their definitions of the word. How does Foucault define ethics? Is his definition different from yours and the ones you have found in the dictionaries? Please comment.

Technologies of the Self pp. 135-140

How does Foucault define technologies of the self? What is the point of the technologies of the self? Why does an individual work on himself/herself? What does an individual achieve through the technologies of the self? Is there any room for resistance in an individual’s use of technologies of the self?

What does Foucault’s exploration of Ancient Greek and early Christian approach to ethics, pleasure and technologies of the self tell us about identity? In what ways do these approaches differ from one another?

How would Foucault’s exploration of Ancient Greek and early Christian approach to ethics, pleasure and technologies of the self help us view or understand the self today?


The Art of Life pp. 140-141

Explain what Foucault means by “life as work of art”: How can life be treated as a work of art? And why?


Gay Lifestyle pp. 141-143

“Is it possible to create a homosexual mode of life? This notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a “way of life”? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that a way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life.”

Answer the following questions in light of the quote above: What does Foucault mean by “a homosexual mode of life”? How can people today create such a mode of life?

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