Monday, August 27, 2012

Paul Oliver: Michel Foucault on the Socialization of Individual Identity

According to [Michel] Foucault, the individual identity is not self-determining. The subjective self does not exist because of the free will and autonomy of the individual. Rather our identity is created through a system of socialization over which we have relatively little control. We are born into a particular social setting, a political setting, a society with a particular set of values, and a religious system. All of these conspire to forge and mould our subjectivity. The individual looks out at the world with a vision that tends to reflect the surrounding ideological system. (17)

Oliver, Paul. Foucault: The Key Ideas Blacklick, OH: McGraw Hill, 2010.


  1. I agree with Foucault to an extent. You can not have a human being that is independent of his surrounding. There is a constant relation between environment and context and human behavior. We are intelligent creatures and therefore have the capacity to observe patterns in our surrounding. So when we perceive a certain experience we have the ability to associate it with something previously experienced and therefore form a pattern of action. When X is the situation, Y is the reaction.
    But are human being solely determined by an uncountable chain of causes and effects? Or is there a previous self that makes each human unique and able to interpret situations in a certain fashion that no other does. This idea ends up in a chicken and egg argument because for one to interpret a phenomena in nature one must have a "self" able to judge outside himself, but this self is in turn a result of interpretations of our context, and so on and so forth....
    So, I think in the end Foucault's claim may be a bit over simplified. This is a debate that has been going on for a long time, and there are a lot of different perspectives on this led by a lot of great thinkers.

  2. Olivia -- I agree that you cannot have a human being that is free of her surroundings.

    However, I don't see where in the quote you are getting that Foucault is saying human beings are "solely determined by an uncountable chain of causes and effects"?

    I'm also confuse by what this "previous self" is that you are claiming humans have? Are you trying to discuss the possibility of an "eternal soul" or are you making a reference to reincarnation?

    Foucault does not think we are all the same. We may grow up in the same culture, but there are infinite variations of experience that play out within that culture/environment.

    I think it is unfair to take a small quote pulled out of context and make the claim that he is simplifying the issue, so let me supply more "context" for understanding who Foucault is and about his perspective:

    Michel Foucault: Philosopher/Sociologist/Historian