Rhetoric According to Foucault, Discourse

Rhetoric relates to the control of knowledge, and thus, the control of social and political power. It is therefore essential to deconstruct rhetoric to discover patriarchal and other forms of bias. Not only do biases lead to distorted knowledge, but biases like sexism also lead to the normalization of misogyny. Bell Hooks also notes that feminist rhetoric deconstructs, challenges, and ultimately eliminates all forms of oppression and not just sexism. Racism and other types of discrimination can be traced to faulty rhetoric.

As Foss and Griffin state, changing rhetoric is an act of empowerment. “The traditional conception of rhetoric,” note Foss and Griffin, “is characterized by efforts to change others and thus gain control over them,” (3-4). Whereas patriarchal rhetoric is a discourse of dominance and control, feminist rhetoric is a discourse of “equality, immanent value, and self-determination,” (4). Switching from a patriarchal to a feminist rhetoric can therefore have the long-term effect of shifting social relations and social norms. Duncan takes the role of rhetoric a step further, while agreeing with Foucaults underlying argument about the relationship between knowledge and power.

For Duncan, gender itself is socially constructed. Children are immersed in the rhetoric of gender before they are old enough to participate in the process of manufacturing discourse. Society thrusts gender roles and norms upon children, socializing them into their respective genders. When an individual challenges the underlying assumptions of the rhetoric, he or she can be ridiculed for not conforming to the dominant discourse. Therefore, modern feminists agree wholeheartedly with Michel Foucault in the belief that rhetoric creates reality and that reality can change by changing the discourse upon which it is built.

Works Cited

Foss, Sonja K. & Griffin, Cindy L. “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric.” In Communication Monographs.

Hooks, Bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge: South End Press.

“Michel Foucault on Rhetoric.” Retrieved 10 May 2010 from

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