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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown


Formal and orderly speech or writing. In the writings of Michel Foucault, discourse is construed as the whole mass of texts that belongs to a single "discursive formation." Foucault argues that discursive hierarchies are established by a set of rules that is always subject to historical transformation. He attempts to map out the way discursive territory is divided into the disciplines of science, literature, history, philosophy, and so forth, revealing the hierarchy of discourses and the implicit power structure at a given historical moment. For Foucault, discursive practice is necessarily interwoven with power relations and social practices, history itself being but a "web" of discursive formations.

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997