28 October 2013
As far as I know, the first time Foucault introduces the concept of ‘regime of truth’ is in chapter one of Discipline and Punish where, speaking of the formation (within the new penal system in the xviii and xix centuries) of a corpus of knowledge, techniques, ‘scientific’ discourses that became entangled with the practice of the power to punish, he argues that a new “regime of the truth” emerged (Foucault 1975, p. 30; 23). Now, what makes this concept so interesting is the fact that, through this expression, Foucault links the notion of truth to the explicitly political notion of regime – as he does also in the February 18th, 1976 lecture of “Society Must Be Defended”, where he speaks of “our regime of truth and error” and incidentally makes it clear that ‘regime’ means here a certain power of separation between truth and error (Foucault 1975-76, p. 145; 164).
But the most interesting text, before 1980, with regard to Foucault’s use of the concept of regime of truth – leaving aside a short passage in The Birth of Biopolitcs (Foucault 1978-79, p. 20; 18) –, is without a doubt the 1976 interview The political function of the intellectual, where Foucault argues, in contrast to a certain philosophical myth, that “truth isn’t outside power, or deprived of power”: on the contrary, truth “is produced by virtue of multiple constraints [a]nd it induces regulated effects of power”. This is to say that “each society has its regime of truth”, and by this expression Foucault means: (1) “the types of discourse [society] harbours and causes to function as true”; (2) “the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements” and (3) “the way in which each is sanctioned”; (4) “the techniques and procedures which are valorised for obtaining truth”; (5) “the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” (Foucault 1976, p. 112; 13). Therefore, “truth” is “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and functioning of statements”; it is linked “by a circular relation to systems of power which produce it and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which redirect it”. And right at the end of the interview, Foucault adds that the essential political problem for us, today, is trying to change our “political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth” (where truth is modeled on the form of scientific discourse), in order to constitute a new “politics of truth” (Foucault 1976, pp. 113-114; 14).