Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Concept of Truth Regime

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Concept of Truth Regime

Article excerpt

Abstract. "Truth regime" is a much used but little theorized concept, with the Foucauldian literature presupposing that truth in modernity is uniformly scientific/ quasi-scientific and enhances power. I argue that the forms of truth characteristic of our present are wider than Foucault recognized, their relations to power more various, and their historicity more complex. The truth regime of advanced modernity is characterized by multiple, irreducible truth formulae that co-exist and sometimes vie for dominance. A truth formula stabilizes a network of elements: a relation between representation and presentation (words and things), truth and non-truth, and the place of the subject in discourse. Our contemporary truth regime comprises radically heterogeneous truthful knowledges--science, governance, religion/politics, and common culture--that have distinct histories and relations to power.

Resume. L'expression << regime de la verite >> est un concept tres utilise mais a l'egard duquel peu de theories ont ete emises, les traits de Foucault supposant que la verite a l'epoque moderne est uniformement scientifique ou quasi scientifique et qu'elle donne plus de pouvoir. Je suis d'accord que les formes de verites qui sont caracteristiques de notre epoque sont plus larges que celles reconnues par Foucault, leurs relations au pouvoir plus nombreuses et leur historicite plus complexe. Le regime de la verite de la modernite avancee se caracterise par de multiples et irreductibles formules de verites qui coexistent et parfois rivalisent. Une formule de verite stabilise un reseau d'elements : une relation entre representation et presentation (mots et choses), la verite et la non verite et la place du sujet dans le discours. Notre regime de verite contemporain est compose de connaissances vraies radicalement heterogenes--science, gouvernance, religion/ politique et la culture commune--qui ont des histoires et des relations distinctes a l'egard du pouvoir.


Truth regime is a much-used but little theorized concept. A pithy phrase that Foucault (2000b) introduced in a single interview during 1976, "truth regime" appears to have been subsequently abandoned by him, only to be repeated by many others without further conceptualization. A more robust conceptualization of truth regime is needed to acknowledge that the truth practices of contemporary societies are more heterogeneous than Foucault's overemphasis on scientific and quasi-scientific truth in modernity. Contemporary forms of truth are wider than Foucault recognized, their relations to power more various, and their historicity more complex.

Following the trajectory of Foucault's last work on the multiplicity of co-existing truth games in ancient Greece and Rome, I suggest that truth in modernity is not singular but multiple in its types, which I term "truth formulae." Truth formulae stabilize a relation across a set of elements: between representation and presentation--words and things as Foucault put it in The Order of Things (1989b [1966]), truth and non-truth, and the place of the subject--both the enunciatory (s/he who may speak truth) and the enunciated (the subject within the text). Power is not an intrinsic criterion of truth formulae; rather, truth formulae acquire effects of power through their attachment to specific dispositifs (power apparatuses such as discipline and sexuality) in a truth regime. Truth formulae in contemporary societies have variable relations with power rather than the single function of assisting power.

I take "truth regime" as a "general politics of truth" in the sense Foucault (2000b:131; 1994a:158) first proposed: "Each society has its regime of truth, its 'general politics' of truth--that is, the types of discourse it accepts and makes function as true." Foucault sketched several criteria of truth regimes: techniques that separate true and false statements; how true and false are sanctioned; the status given those who speak that which is recognized as truth. …

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