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Not all practices are equal: an exploration of discourses, governmentality and scale-free networks

Dent, C. (2009) Not all practices are equal: an exploration of discourses, governmentality and scale-free networks. Social Semiotics, 19 (3). pp. 345-361.

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Foucault's ideas surrounding the notion of governmentality are built upon the intersection of multiple discourses and discursive practices - a "complex topography of rule". The notion of disciplinarity is well accepted in the literature; however, there are few attempts to conceive how practices, from a range of discourses, relate to each other. Everyday observations indicate that not all learnt practices are equally important to a given subject. To say that all these practices are inculcated in order for the subject to be able to conduct themselves appropriately does not provide insight into the relative importance of particular practices to a specific subject's constitution. The central contribution of this article is that the sum of practices acquired by a subject may be conceived of as a network; more specifically, as a "scale-free network". The adoption of this perspective adds texture to the Foucaultian tradition in a way that emphasises the connections between acquired practices - the perspective facilitates the conceptualisation of the sum of practices in terms of a topography of practices. This approach is explored through an examination of the background, training and work of patent examiners. Examiners make a useful example as they operate within both the scientific and legal discourses and, therefore, learn and express practices associated with both discourses. This network-based approach offers a new perspective for understanding practices that occur in multiple disciplines - that is, it offers a useful conceptualisation of the processes by which discursive practices are ordered (thereby facilitating acquisition).

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Routledge
Copyright: © 2009 Taylor & Francis
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