Home Community Insights Chomsky versus Foucault in Seun Adegunsoye’s 2010 Invasion of University of Ibadan Central Mosque

Chomsky versus Foucault in Seun Adegunsoye’s 2010 Invasion of University of Ibadan Central Mosque

Chomsky versus Foucault in Seun Adegunsoye’s 2010 Invasion of University of Ibadan Central Mosque

The development of structuralism, which proposes that the world should be understood through structures, is dated to the early 20th century while post-structuralism emerged in the 1960s as a movement critiquing this proposition. In both movements, there are many thinkers across several disciplines who have debated and still debating the essence of the two concepts in understanding man in relation to his environment. However, sometimes it is difficult to separate structuralists from poststructuralists because of their thoughts which are neither against nor supporting principles associated with the concepts.

Nevertheless, in this piece, our analyst examines the outcomes of the 1971 debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault about human nature and try see how the thinkers align with or depart from propositions of the two concepts. The judgment delivered by the University of Ibadan Management in 2010 after Seun Adegunsoye, a Christian, broke into the University’s Central Mosque during Friday prayers and preached to the worshipers is then contrasted with their points of view.

For Chomsky, there is a human nature, which needs to be understood through relatively fixed structures such as language. Chomsky notes that a bio-physical structure that is basic to mind and enables determination of a unified language from the multiplicity of individual experiences (Rainbow, 1984) is highly imperative in conceptualizing and understanding human nature. “Chomsky insists, a “mass of schematisms, innate governing principles, which guide our social and intellectual and individual behaviour … there is something biologically given, unchangeable, a foundation for whatever it is that we do with our mental capacities,” (Rainbow).

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In our analyst’s view, these responses seem to be fixated on the essentialism approach of structuralists and suggest that human nature is better known and managed when structures that enable their movement or participation in various activities are analysed. Michel Foucault queried Chomsky’s responses asking if human nature exists?  Foucault sees Chomsky’s positions as claims to universal truths which we need to be cautious of accepting because there are no universal truths in using only language to assess existence or non-existence of human nature.

For him (Foucault), “in the history of knowledge, the notion of human nature has played certain types of discourse in relation to or in opposition to theology or biology or history. Instead, he calls for “historicisation of grand abstractions,” which allows us to understand people based on their history not by our own external position. In this regard, Foucault could be seen as a poststructuralist because he seeks to change the way humans are seen and related with in relation to their environment thereby resisting the dominance approach of the structuralists.

Saussure seems to strike a balance between Chomsky’s and Foucault’s positions by stating that language cannot only be used to construct reality because reality itself exists outside language, “but it only gains meaning through discourse.” The lecture reemphasizes Foucault’s position that some views could be accepted as meaningful and true when they are situated in particular historical epochs. Therefore, histories are necessary conditions for understanding people in order not to see them as barbarians when they act in accordance with their traditions and values.

On politics and justice, the two thinkers also differed in line with their structuralism and post-structuralism orientations. Like his position on using structures for understanding human nature, Chomsky notes that political actions are guided by reason and human nature. This means whenever leaders and followers engage in certain actions the wrongness or correctness of the actions should be judged based on their application of innate qualities for solving and/or addressing challenges.

The failure to utilize creativity (human nature) to conceptualize a humane and just social order should not be blamed on science, “but in the social and political organization of our society” (Rainbow, 1984), the idea which Foucault opposes. Foucault argues that political task is to criticise the working of institutions in order to unmask their hidden agenda and fight them towards social justice. In my view, this position aligns with the idea of rhizome expressed in the lecture note which represents poststructuralists as being optimistic about the network’s ability to liberate people from all the structural constraints of society. In essence, analysing and accepting outcomes of injustices of the political elites and capitalists through structures alone is not adequate in providing universal social order.

From the two thinkers, our analyst notes that post-structuralism orientations are more appropriate in enforcing established or desired norms of behaviour as exemplified by Foucault’s examination mechanism which makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish, in normalizing judgement without necessarily being rigid. In other words, understanding what facilitates a misbehaviour would enable passing of judgement creatively without being strict with the offender.

This resonates with Miss Seun Olubunmi Adegunsoye’s case. She was a final year Christian student at the University of Ibadan, who was suspended for intruding the university’s Central Mosque during a Friday congregational prayer and preached that all the worshippers would not be in paradise if they did not accept Jesus Christ as their saviour. The University Management employed suspension out of numerous codes of punishment for transforming erring students having discovered that using expulsion could lead to another crisis which could arise from her Christian Community. However, the suspension was not acceptable to some members of the Muslim Community because the crime highlights the level of hate motivated provocations that Nigerian Muslims face.

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