How is power produced, reproduced and normalized? Explore how institutions and disciplines commission and use knowledge to support or unsettle practices of power.

The Power/Knowledge Pathway prepares students to analyze how relations of power condition the ways in which knowledge is produced. Students will reflect on the practices through which disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, arts and sciences produce knowledge that supports, normalizes or unsettles practices of power. Some examples include the way institutions like schools, hospitals, museums, the state, prisons and the family commission and then use knowledge—including mapping, surveys, architecture, aesthetics, psychology, geological surveys, criminology, epidemiology, demographics, econometrics, ethnography and quantitative analyses—to establish expertise, identify problems and elaborate techniques with which to carry out interventions. The Pathway will therefore foreground how the disciplines can be mobilized to discipline, regulate, manage, include and exclude individuals and populations. It will also draw attention to the way interdisciplinary and anti-disciplinary fields such as area studies, queer studies, rhetoric, ethnic studies and cultural studies have attempted to challenge canonical, Eurocentric, patriarchal and hetero-normative ways of knowing.

While students construct their own animating questions, some possible examples include:

  • How does the history of anti-colonialism reproduce colonial forms of power and knowledge?
  • How does psychology deal with issues of “cultural” or other kinds of difference?
  • Is political theory a description of or intervention in the political world?
  • How are children represented in educational materials and children’s literatures?

Thematic Inquiry

The thematic inquiry will introduce students to the concepts of discipline, power, knowledge, subjectification and normalization, as developed by Michel Foucault and his interlocutors. The course will consist of a carefully selected portion of Foucault’s theoretical writings paired with “case studies” so that students can see how the theoretical concepts infuse practices in social and cultural life, and then ask whether they correspond well and whether the theory has actual explanatory merit.