I would like to clarify what Foucault means by "regime of truth", "discursive formation" and possibly related terms such as "truth game", "enunciative system".

Here is my guess from looking at some sources, but it still is a bit murky...

Discursive formations are images, texts etc that support a regime of truth, which is a system that determines what is even accepted as a truth in a discourse such as modern medicine, penology or science.

Some questions -- is a discursive formation a process of forming a discourse, or is it something already formed ("formation" being ambiguous in English). How do these relate to "truth game", "enunciative system", other terms?

This prior post is helpful -- What does Foucault mean by discursive practices or discursive constitutions in definition of discourse? -- but not quite the same question, as it asks about discursive practices rather than formations, and does not mention "regime of truth"

1 Answer 1


This short essay on Foucault News attempts a description of regimes of truth; a more extended elaboration of this is in this paper, What is a regime of truth? by Daniele Lorenzini. He explains:

The first time Foucault introduces the concept of 'regime of truth' is in chapter one of Discipline and Punish where... a corpus of knowledge, techniques, 'scientific' discourses became entangled with the practice of the power to punish...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... 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 —, 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”.
    1. “the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements”
    1. “the way in which each is sanctioned”
    1. “the techniques and procedures which are valorised for obtaining truth”
    1. "the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true"

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”

However, he later has a more nuanced view where he says that

precisely that these two notions — 'regime' and 'truth' — cannot go together: it is not possible to speak of a regime of truth like we speak of a political or a penal regime.


truth, if it is really true, does not need a supplement of force, an enforcement, a supplement of vigor and constraint to be accepted. It is the truth, and that's all: truth is sufficient unto itself for making its own law — its coercive force resides within truth itself. "Truth itself determines its regime, makes the law, and obliges me. It is true, and I submit to it".

This is in line with Arendts essay, Truth & Politics.

  • Thanks -- very good ref on regime of truth. I am still curious how discursive formation relates to it, if it does. Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 18:44

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