Derrida and Foucault Compared

Derrida and Foucault Compared

A Chapter by Nicole

A critical comparison of Derrida and Foucault as it pertains to Postmodernist Theory.


The differences and commonalities between the claims of Derrida and Foucault, exemplified in the selected passages, revolve around their respective arguments about the restrictions or limits of form. Their basis of agreement lies in their mutual belief that there exists a set standard of form that can be broken or “played” upon. Their basis for disagreement lies in their differing opinions of how the presence of “errors” generate a change in form or a new form altogether.

Derrida focuses his discussion on the ideas of “play” as it relates to a center from which the “play of substitutions” must stem. In short, for there to be an act of play from a set standard, such as totalization, that set standard must exist and must be excluded by the nature of that set standard. This concept ties into Foucault’s passage, which focuses primarily upon the function of a discipline. Foucault states that in order to be considered a discipline, it must be “within the true” or rather within the limits of the area of knowledge it pertains to. So the two passages express the similar claim that a set of standards must be achieved for a discourse, or discipline to exist. The two also agree that it is possible to see beyond or to exceed these limits which may be viewed as either an error or a new field of play.

Foucault differs from Derrida in his approach of how the limits of standard or discipline are challenged. Foucault states that there cannot be any real “errors” in the form of a standard or discipline because there is no way to establish a process to identify them. While Derrida seems to agree that there are “errors” that fall beyond the limits of a respective field, he expresses that it is really impossible to call them errors because while the restrictions of a field are finite, the substitutions of free play that Foucault would call errors are infinite. That is to say, rather than expressing a sense of wrongness as in an error, they rather behave as modifiers to the requirements of that field. The existence of one hinges directly upon the other, which is to say that for there to be an infinite field of substitutions, there must be a field in existence that excludes it. Foucault opposes this by saying that every discipline, within its own limits, can recognize a proposition to be true or false which would leave “errors” excluded, rather than permitting them their own discipline that is dependent on but separate from the initial discipline. This is the “center” that Derrida expresses to be missing from an inexhaustible field. Foucault acknowledges that the presence of conditions that completely excludes “errors” as a center for a proposition being “within the true” of a discipline or field and this behaves as a grounding center for the play of substitutions or “errors.”

© 2012 Nicole

Author's Note

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Added on February 23, 2012
Last Updated on February 23, 2012



Wichita Falls, TX

About Me... My name is Nicole Conway and, yes, I'm an author. It feels wonderful to finally be able to say that. Believe me, I've worked very hard for it. Writing is not just a passion, not just a .. more..