Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Georg Winkel, ‘Foucault in the forests—A review of the use of ‘Foucauldian’ concepts in forest policy analysis’, Forest Policy and Economics Volume 16, March 2012, Pages 81–92


In this paper, a review is conducted on the use of the concepts of Michel Foucault in forest policy analysis. In doing so, three major questions are posed: (1) how Foucauldian thinking has influenced the analysis of forest policy, (2) what has been excluded from the analysis, and (3) how a Foucauldian perspective contributes to an enhancement of the theoretical knowledge on forest policy as well as how it may be used in future analyses. Accordingly, in the first section, the Foucauldian concepts that have been the most influential to forest policy analysis, discourse, knowledge, and power as well as governmentality are introduced and summarized in a table aiming to outline a ‘Foucauldian perspective’. Subsequently, thirty-nine papers on forest policy that draw on Foucauldian concepts are analyzed with regard to the following dimensions: author, academic background, research motivation, regional focuses, topics and time span covered by the analysis, disciplinary approach, frameworks, theoretical approach and Foucauldian concepts used, methods, main findings, and the conclusions drawn by the scholars about the value of using Foucault for their research. Additionally, the development of the studies over time is analyzed.

It can be shown that Foucauldian thoughts have inspired the analysis of forest policy in two major ways: first, via post-structural political ecology studies and, second, via post-positivist discourse analysis. While nearly all of the papers were written by geographers, anthropologists, and policy analysts affiliated with European or North American universities, most of the studies analyzed forest policies in developing countries. Less frequently, conflicts about boreal forests were addressed. Consequently, two commonly found patterns were: an extension of the suppressive effects of colonial forest governmentalities into modern forest policies and discursive struggles about the use of forests. All of the papers shared some common elements, such as: a skeptical attitude towards claims of a single rationality and an objective truth and, in particular, toward central state and capitalist discourses; an interest in the suppressive effects of dominant types of language and knowledge; an understanding that language and knowledge need to be addressed as aspects of power; and an emancipatory motive and interest in broadening the available knowledge base and democratizing policy making. Finally, the results are discussed, and the initially posed questions are again addressed. It is recommended that the Foucauldian analysis of forest policy should literally escape from its own main discourse and address topics that were largely neglected until now.

Research Highlights
► Governmentality and discourse approaches are most influential.
► Different theoretical approaches and methods have been applied drawing on Foucault.
► Main findings encompass the power of (post-)colonial discourses.
► Also contemporary boreal forest policy conflicts are analyzed.
► It is recommended that future analyses should systematically exceed the boundaries of the analyzed research discourse.

Keywords: Discourse analysis; Governmentality; Foucault; Power-knowledge; Political ecology; Policy analysis

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