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Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics

Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics

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Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics

3/5 (21 ratings)
513 pages
11 hours
Dec 10, 2014


This book, which Foucault himself has judged accurate, is the first to provide a sustained, coherent analysis of Foucault's work as a whole.

To demonstrate the sense in which Foucault's work is beyond structuralism and hermeneutics, the authors unfold a careful, analytical exposition of his oeuvre. They argue that during the of Foucault's work became a sustained and largely successful effort to develop a new method—"interpretative analytics"—capable fo explaining both the logic of structuralism's claim to be an objective science and the apparent validity of the hermeneutical counterclaim that the human sciences can proceed only by understanding the deepest meaning of the subject and his tradition.

"There are many new secondary sources [on Foucault]. None surpass the book by Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. . . . The American paperback edition contains Foucault's 'On the Genealogy of Ethics,' a lucid interview that is now our best source for seeing how he construed the whole project of the history of sexuality."—David Hoy, London Review of Books
Dec 10, 2014

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Michel Foucault - Hubert L. Dreyfus

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637

© 1982, 1983 by The University of Chicago

All rights reserved. Published 1982.

Second edition 1983

Printed in the United States of America

20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11      13 14 15 16 17

ISBN: 978-0-226-15453-4 (e-book)

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-16312-3 (paper)

ISBN-10: 0-226-16312-1 (paper)


Dreyfus, Hubert L.

Michel Foucault, beyond structuralism and hermeneutics.

Includes index.

1. Foucault, Michael.   I. Rabinow, Paul.   II. Foucault, Michel.   III. Title.

B2430.F724D73     1983     194       83–9316

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48–1992.

Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics

Second Edition

With an Afterword by and an Interview with Michel Foucault

Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow

The University of Chicago Press

To Geneviève and Daniel



List of Abbreviations



1. Practices and Discourse in Foucault’s Early Writings

The History of Madness

The Archaeology of Medicine

2. The Archeaology of the Human Sciences

The Rise of Representation in the Classical Age

Man and His Doubles: The Analytic of Finitude





3. Towards a Theory of Discursive Practice

A Phenomenology to End All Phenomenologies

Beyond Structuralism: From Conditions of Possibility to Conditions of Existence

The Analysis of Discursive Formations







4. The Methodological Failure of Archaeology

Explanatory Power

Beyond Seriousness and Meaning

Conclusion: Double Trouble


5. Interpretive Analytics


History of the Present and Interpretive Analytics

6. From the Repressive Hypothesis to Bio-Power

The Repressive Hypothesis


7. The Genealogy of the Modern Individual as Object

Three Figures of Punishment




Disciplinary Technology

The Objectifying Social Sciences

8. The Genealogy of the Modern Individual as Subject

Sex and Bio-Power

Confessional Technology

The Subjectifying Social Sciences

9. Power and Truth


Meticulous Rituals of Power

Paradigms and Practices

Power and Truth






Afterword by Michel Foucault: THE SUBJECT AND POWER

Why Study Power: The Question of the Subject

How Is Power Exercised?

Afterword (1983)

1. On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress

History of the Project

Why the Ancient World Was Not a Golden Age, but What We Can Learn from It Anyway

The Structure of Genealogical Interpretation

From the Classical Self to the Modern Subject

2. Foucault’s Interpretive Analytic of Ethics

Methodological Refinements




Norms, Reasons, and Bio-Power

Beyond Foucault



This book was born out of a disagreement among friends. Paul Rabinow, attending a seminar given in 1979 by Hubert Dreyfus and John Searle which concerned, among other things, Michel Foucault, objected to the characterization of Foucault as a typical structuralist. This challenge stirred a discussion that led to the proposal of a joint article. It became evident as the discussion continued through the summer that the article would be a short book. It is now a medium-length book and should have been longer.

The book was first to be called Michel Foucault: From Structuralism to Hermeneutics. We thought that Foucault had been something like a structuralist in The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge but had moved to an interpretive position in his later works on the prisons and on sexuality. A group of literary specialists and philosophers on whom we inflicted our ideas assured us with great conviction and no arguments that Foucault had never been a structuralist and hated interpretation.

The second title of our book was Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. At this stage we argued that while strictly speaking Foucault had not been a structuralist, he thought that structuralism was the most advanced position in the human sciences. He, however, was not practicing the human sciences; he was analyzing discourse as an autonomous realm from the outside. This time we were on the right track. Foucault told us that the real subtitle of The Order of Things was An Archaeology of Structuralism. Our story now was that even though his language and approach were heavily influenced by the vogue of structuralism in France Foucault never posited a universal theory of discourse, but rather sought to describe the historical forms taken by discursive practices. We tried this version out on Foucault and he agreed that he was never a structuralist but that perhaps he was not as resistant to the seductive advances of structuralist vocabulary as he might have been.

Of course, this was more than just a question of vocabulary. Foucault does not deny that during the mid-sixties his work was deflected from an interest in the social practices that formed both institutions and discourse to an almost exclusive emphasis on linguistic practices. At its limit this approach led, by its own logic and against Foucault’s better judgment, to an objective account of the rulelike way discourse organizes not only itself but social practices and institutions, and to a neglect of the way discursive practices are themselves affected by the social practices in which they and the investigator are imbedded. This is what we call the illusion of autonomous discourse. Our thesis is that this theory of discursive practices is untenable, and that in his later work Foucault has made the structuralist vocabulary that engendered this illusion of autonomous discourse the subject of critical analysis.

A second thesis was that just as Foucault was never a structuralist, although he was tempted by structuralism, so he was beyond hermeneutics although sensitive to its attractions. We were still on the track. It turns out that he was planning to write an archaeology of hermeneutics, the other pole of the human sciences. Fragments of this project are evident in some of his writings on Nietzsche during this period. Foucault was never tempted by the search for deep meaning, but he clearly was influenced both by Nietzsche’s interpretive reading of the history of Western thought as revealing nothing to give a deep interpretation of, and by the ideas that, nonetheless, madness, death, and sex underlie discourse and resist linguistic appropriation.

We argue that Foucault’s work during the seventies has been a sustained and largely successful effort to develop a new method. This new method combines a type of archaeological analysis which preserves the distancing effect of structuralism, and an interpretive dimension which develops the hermeneutic insight that the investigator is always situated and must understand the meaning of his cultural practices from within them. Using this method Foucault is able to explain the logic of structuralism’s claim to be an objective science and also the apparent validity of the hermeneutic counter-claim that the human sciences can only legitimately proceed by understanding the deepest meaning of the subject and his tradition. Using his new method, which we call interpretive analytics, Foucault is able to show how in our culture human beings have become the sort of objects and subjects structuralism and hermeneutics discover and analyze.

Clearly the issue of power is central to Foucault’s diagnosis of our current situation. Yet, as we say in the text, it is not one of the areas he has most fully developed. In discussions with him, Foucault agreed that his concept of power remains elusive but important. He has generously agreed to take a step toward remedying this by offering for inclusion in this book a previously unpublished text on power, for which we are extremely grateful.

We would like to thank the many people, particularly those who attended our meetings in Berkeley, who provided generous attention and suggestions.

Hubert Dreyfus would especially like to thank David Hoy, Richard Rorty, Hans Sluga and, most of all, Jane Rubin for their help.

Paul Rabinow would especially like to thank Gwen Wright, Lew Friedland, Martin Jay and Michael Meranze for theirs.

The second edition has profited from the translating skills of Robert Harvey and the editorial suggestions of David Dobrin. Above all else, we would once again like to thank Michel Foucault for endless hours of stimulating conversation and patient and prompt revisions.

List of Abbreviations

In our study we will use the paperback editions and English translations of Foucault’s works, corrected when we feel it is necessary to preserve the sense. While the translations are generally of an exceptionally high quality given the difficulty of the original text, we have found several places where the translations have reversed the sense the context obviously demands.

We will use the following abbreviations for the texts and interviews we cite.


This is a book about how to study human beings and what one learns from such study. Our thesis is that the most influential modern attempts to achieve this understanding—phenomenology, structuralism, and hermeneutics—have not lived up to their self-proclaimed expectations. Michel Foucault offers, in our opinion, elements of a coherent and powerful alternative means of understanding. His works, we feel, represent the most important contemporary effort both to develop a method for the study of human beings and to diagnose the current situation of our society. In this book we discuss Foucault’s writings chronologically to show how he has sought to refine his tools of analysis and to sharpen his critical insight into modern society and its discontents. We also attempt to place Foucault’s thought among other thinkers with whom his approach has common themes.

Foucault has shown at length that official biographies and current received opinions of top intellectuals do not carry any transparent truth. Beyond the dossiers and the refined self-consciousness of any age are the organized historical practices which make possible, give meaning to, and situate in a political field these monuments of official discourse.

The data contained in such official documents is nonetheless relevant and essential. Perhaps the most ironic and efficient (if not the best) way to begin a book on Michel Foucault is simply to reproduce the biographic dossier which is inserted at the back of the English translations of his works. A recent one reads as follows:

Michel Foucault was born in Poitiers, France, in 1926. He has lectured in many universities throughout the world and served as Director of the Institut Français in Hamburg and the Institut de Philosophie at the Faculté des Lettres in the University of Clermont-Ferrand. He writes frequently for French newspapers and reviews, and is holder of a chair [History and Systems of Thought] at France’s most prestigious institution, The Collège de France.

In addition to his classic study, Madness and Civilization, M. Foucault is the author of The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge, and, I, Pierre Rivière. His latest book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, was published by Pantheon in 1978.

This blurb was published at the back page of the English translation of The History of Sexuality. We might add that Foucault has also published a book-length introductory essay on the Heideggerian psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger, a book on the surrealist writer Raymond Roussel, and a short book on mental illness and psychology.

Shifting from dossier to official reception among the high intelligentsia, in a review in The New York Review of Books (26 January 1978) by Clifford Geertz, Professor of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, we read:

Michel Foucault erupted onto the intellectual scene at the beginning of the Sixties with his Histoire de la Folie, an unconventional but still reasonably recognizable history of the Western experience of madness. He has become, in the years since, a kind of impossible object: a nonhistorical historian, an anti-humanist human scientist, and a counter-structuralist structuralist. If we add to this his terse, impacted style, which manages to seem imperious and doubt-ridden at the same time, and a method which supports sweeping summary with eccentric detail, the resemblance of his work to an Escher drawing—stairs rising to platforms lower than themselves, doors leading outside that bring you back inside—is complete. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same he writes in the introduction to his one purely methodological work, L’Archaeologie du Savoir, itself mostly a collection of denials of positions he does not hold but considers himself likely to be accused of by the mimes and tumblers of intellectual life. Leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order, he states. At least spare us their morality when we write. Whoever he is, or whatever, he is what any French savant seems to need to be these days: elusive.

But (and in this he differs from a good deal that has been going on in Paris since structuralism arrived) the difficulty of his work arises not only from self-regard and the desire to found an intellectual cult only the instructed can join, but from a powerful and genuine originality of thought. As he intends nothing else than a Great Instauration for the human sciences, it is not surprising that he is more than occasionally obscure, or that when he does manage to be clear he is not less disconcerting.

The dossier presents the essential facts, the critical review situates them for us. We can now turn to Foucault’s books.

We center our story on the problems Michel Foucault has grappled with in his works. Our book is not a biography, a psychohistory, an intellectual history, or a digest of Foucault’s thought, although elements of the last two are, of course, present. It is a reading of his work, bearing in mind a certain set of problems, i.e., an interpretation. We have taken from Foucault that which is helpful in focusing on and dealing with those problems. Since we are using Foucault’s work to aid us, we make no claim to comprehensiveness as to the breadth of issues which, at various times, have been the object of Foucault’s studies. This seems to us fair since it is precisely how Foucault handles the master thinkers of the past.

Foucault thinks that the study of human beings took a decisive turn at the end of the eighteenth century when human beings came to be interpreted as knowing subjects, and, at the same time, objects of their own knowledge. This Kantian interpretation defines man. Kant introduced the idea that man is that unique being who is totally involved in nature (his body), society (historical, economic, and political relations), and language (his mother tongue), and who at the same time finds a firm foundation for all of these involvements in his meaning-giving, organizing activity. We will follow Foucault’s analysis of the various forms this problematic (which Foucault calls in The Order of Things the analytic of finitude) took over the next two centuries.

To situate Foucault, it is important to realize that the sciences of man have in the past two decades been split between two extreme methodological reactions to phenomenology, both of which inherit but seek to transcend the Kantian subject/object division. Both these approaches try to eliminate the Husserlian conception of a meaning-giving transcendental subject. The structuralist approach attempts to dispense with both meaning and the subject by finding objective laws which govern all human activity. The opposed position, which we gather under the general rubric hermeneutics, gives up the phenomenologists’ attempt to understand man as a meaning-giving subject, but attempts to preserve meaning by locating it in the social practices and literary texts which man produces. To triangulate Foucault’s movements it is important to pin down precisely all three positions: structuralism, phenomenology, and hermeneutics.

Structuralists attempt to treat human activity scientifically by finding basic elements (concepts, actions, classes of words) and the rules or laws by which they are combined. There are two kinds of structuralism: atomistic structuralism, in which the elements are completely specified apart from their role in some larger whole (for example, Propp’s folk tale elements),¹ and holistic or diachronic structuralism, in which what counts as a possible element is defined apart from the system of elements but what counts as an actual element is a function of the whole system of differences of which the given element is a part. Foucault, as we shall see, explicitly distinguishes his method from atomistic structuralism, so we will be comparing and contrasting his archaeological method with the method of holistic structuralism to which it is more closely akin.

Lévi-Strauss succinctly states this method:

The method we adopt . . . consists in the following operations:

1) define the phenomenon under study as a relation between two or more terms, real or supposed;

2) construct a table of possible permutations between these terms;

3) take this table as the general object of analysis which, at this level only, can yield necessary connections, the empirical phenomenon considered at the beginning being only one possible combination among others, the complete system of which must be reconstructed beforehand.²

Everything hinges on the criteria of individuation of the terms or elements. For holistic structuralists such as Lévi-Strauss, all possible terms must be defined (identified) apart from any specific system; the specific system of terms then determines which possible terms actually count as elements, that is, the system provides the individuation of the elements. For example, for Lévi-Strauss in The Raw and the Cooked,³ raw, cooked, and rotten are identified as three possible elements; each actual system of elements then determines how in that system these three possible elements will be individuated. For example, they can be grouped into binary oppositions such as raw vs. cooked and rotten, or raw and rotten vs. cooked, or each of the three elements can count on its own.

Transcendental phenomenology, as defined and practiced by Edmund Husserl, is the diametric opposite of structuralism. It accepts the view that man is totally object and totally subject, and investigates the meaning-giving activity of the transcendental ego which gives meaning to all objects including its own body, its own empirical personality, and the culture and history which it constitutes as conditioning its empirical self.

Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology gave rise to an existential counter-movement led by Heidegger in Germany and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in France. Foucault was steeped in the thought of both these existential phenomenologists. At the Sorbonne he heard Merleau-Ponty expound what he later calls the phenomenology of lived experience. In his lectures and in his influential book, Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty attempted to show that the lived body rather than the transcendental ego organized experience, and that the body as an integrated set of skills was not subject to the sort of intellectualist analysis in terms of rules developed by Husserl. Foucault also studied Heidegger’s classic rethinking of phenomenology, Being and Time, and sympathetically presented Heidegger’s hermeneutic ontology in his first published work, a long introduction to an essay by the Heideggerian psychotherapist, Ludwig Binswanger.

Heidegger’s phenomenology stresses the idea that human subjects are formed by the historical cultural practices in which they develop. These practices form a background which can never be made completely explicit, and so cannot be understood in terms of the beliefs of a meaning-giving subject. The background practices do, however, contain a meaning. They embody a way of understanding and coping with things, people, and institutions. Heidegger calls this meaning in the practices an interpretation, and proposes to make manifest certain general features of this interpretation. In Being and Time he calls his method, which amounts to giving an interpretation of the interpretation embodied in everyday practices, hermeneutics. Heidegger’s use of this term goes back to Schleiermacher who meant by hermeneutics the interpretation of the meaning of sacred texts, and to Dilthey who applied Schleiermacher’s interpretive method to history. Heidegger, by generalizing Dilthey’s work and developing it into a general method for understanding human beings, introduced the term and the approach into contemporary thought.

There are, in fact, two different kinds of hermeneutic inquiry in Being and Time, corresponding to Division I and Division II, and each of these has been developed by one of the two schools of contemporary philosophers who call their work hermeneutic.

In Division I Heidegger elaborates what he calls an interpretation of Dasein in its everydayness.⁵ There he lays out the way Dasein interprets itself in this everyday activity. This primordial understanding in our everyday practices and discourse, which is overlooked by the practitioners but which they would recognize if it were pointed out to them, is the subject of much recent hermeneutic investigation. Harold Garfinkel, a sociologist,⁶ and Charles Taylor, a political scientist,⁷ explicitly identify themselves with this type of hermeneutic method. An off-shoot of this sort of hermeneutics of the everyday is the application of the same method to other cultures (for example, Clifford Geertz’s brand of anthropology)⁸ or to other epochs in our own culture (Thomas Kuhn’s application of what he now explicitly calls the hermeneutic method to Aristotelian physics).⁹

In Division I of Being and Time Heidegger shows that the understanding in our everyday practices is partial and thus distorted. This limitation is corrected in Division II, which does not take the interpretation of Division I at face value but sees it as a motivated masking of the truth. As Heidegger puts it:

Dasein’s kind of Being . . . demands that any ontological Interpretation which sets itself the goal of exhibiting the phenomena in their primordiality, should capture the Being of this entity, in spite of this entity’s own tendency to cover things up. Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquilized obviousness.¹⁰

Heidegger claims to find that the deep truth hidden by the everyday practices is the unsettling groundlessness of a way of being which is, so to speak, interpretation all the way down. This discovery is an instance of what Paul Ricoeur has called the hermeneutics of suspicion. One might have found that the underlying disguised truth was the class struggle as disclosed by Marx or the twists and turns of the libido as uncovered by Freud. In any such case, some authority which has already seen the truth must lead the self-deluded participant to see it too. (In Being and Time this authority is called the voice of conscience.) In each case too the individual must confirm the truth of this deep interpretation by acknowledging it. And since in each case the suffering is caused by the repressive defenses, facing the truth results in some sort of liberation, whether it be the increased flexibility that comes, as Heidegger claims, from the realization that nothing is grounded and that there are no guidelines, or the power released by the realization that one’s class is exploited, or the maturity gained by facing the deep secrets of one’s sexuality.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, in Truth and Method,¹¹ gives deep hermeneutics a more positive direction as a method for reappropriating a profound understanding of Being preserved in traditional linguistic practices. According to Gadamer, reinterpreting this saving truth is our only hope in the face of nihilism.

Foucault is not interested in recovering man’s unnoticed everyday self-interpretation. He would agree with Nietzsche and the hermeneutics of suspicion that such an interpretation is surely deluded about what is really going on. But Foucault does not believe that a hidden deep truth is the cause of the misinterpretation embodied in our everyday self-understanding. He captures all such positions as well as Gadamer’s at an appropriate level of abstraction when he defines what he calls commentary as the re-apprehension through the manifest meaning of discourse of another meaning at once secondary and primary, that is, more hidden but also more fundamental (OT 373). Such an account of interpretation, he claims, dooms us to an endless task . . . [because it] rests on the postulate that speech is an act of ‘translation’ . . . an exegesis, which listens . . . to the Word of God, ever secret, ever beyond itself (BC xvi, xvii). Foucault dismisses this approach with the remark, For centuries we have waited in vain for the decision of the Word (BC xvii).

Obviously the terminology in this area is confused and confusing. In our discussion we will sort out the various kinds of interpretation or exegesis by using hermeneutics as a broad neutral term, commentary for the recovery of meanings and truths from our everyday practices or from those of another age or culture, and the hermeneutics of suspicion for the search for a deep truth which has been purposefully hidden.

We shall see as we follow Foucault’s changing strategies for studying human beings that he has constantly sought to move beyond the alternatives we have just discussed—the only alternatives left to those still trying to understand human beings within the problematic left by the breakdown of the humanistic framework. He has sought to avoid the structuralist analysis which eliminates notions of meaning altogether and substitutes a formal model of human behavior as rule-governed transformations of meaningless elements; to avoid the phenomenological project of tracing all meaning back to the meaning-giving activity of an autonomous, transcendental subject; and finally to avoid the attempt of commentary to read off the implicit meaning of social practices as well as the hermeneutic unearthing of a different and deeper meaning of which social actors are only dimly aware.

Foucault’s early works (Madness and Civilization, Birth of the Clinic) center on the analysis of historically situated systems of institutions and discursive practices. The discursive practices are distinguished from the speech acts of everyday life. Foucault is interested only in what we will call serious speech acts: what experts say when they are speaking as experts. And he furthermore restricts his analyses to the serious speech acts in those dubious disciplines which have come to be called the human sciences. In The Archaeology of Knowledge he seeks to purify his analysis of discourse by temporarily putting aside his institutional analysis. He argues that what can be roughly referred to as the sciences of man can be treated as autonomous systems of discourse, but he never gives up his earlier position that social institutions influence discursive practices. In the Archaeology he does, however, try to show that the human sciences could be analyzed as having an internal self-regulation and autonomy. Moreover, he proposes to treat the discourses of the human sciences archaeologically, that is, to avoid becoming involved in arguments about whether what they say is true, or even whether their statements make sense. Rather he proposes to treat all that is said in the human sciences as a discourse-object. Foucault makes clear that his archaeological method, since it must remain neutral as to the truth and meaning of the discursive systems it studies, is not another theory about the relation of words and things. He does hold, however, that it is a theory about discourse—orthogonal to all disciplines with their accepted concepts, legitimized subjects, taken-for-granted objects, and preferred strategies, which yield justified truth claims. As he puts it, I believed that I spoke from the same place as that discourse, and that in defining its space I was situating my remarks; but I must now acknowledge that I can no longer speak from the space from which I showed they spoke (CE 21).

Foucault was never a structuralist strictly speaking, or a poststructuralist, and later he even backs away from his strong claims in the Archaeology that discourse is a rule-governed system similar to that presented by the various versions of structuralism, and that it is autonomous and self-referring, as post-structuralists were claiming at the time. However, it is important to confront the position in the Archaeology just because it shares certain fundamental assumptions with the structuralist approach. We will argue at length that the project of the Archaeology founders for two reasons. First, the causal power attributed to the rules governing discursive systems is unintelligible and makes the kind of influence the social institutions have—an influence which has always been at the center of Foucault’s concerns—incomprehensible. Second, insofar as Foucault takes archaeology to be an end in itself he forecloses the possibility of bringing his critical analyses to bear on his social concerns.

In the face of this impasse, in which the method of the Archaeology alone did not allow Foucault to pursue the range of problems and concerns which informed his work, he spent some time rethinking and recasting his intellectual tools. After the Archaeology he turns sharply away from the attempt to develop a theory of discourse, and uses Nietzsche’s genealogy as a starting point for developing a method that would allow him to thematize the relationship between truth, theory, and values and the social institutions and practices in which they emerge. This leads him to pay increased attention to power and the body in their relation to the human sciences. The archaeological method is not rejected, however. Foucault abandons only the attempt to work out a theory of rule-governed systems of discursive practices. As a technique, archaeology serves genealogy. As a method of isolating discourse objects, it serves to distance and defamiliarize the serious discourse of the human sciences. This, in turn, enables Foucault to raise the genealogical questions: How are these discourses used? What role do they play in society?

The Archaeology appeared in 1969. Foucault’s next book, Discipline and Punish, appeared six years later. We intend to argue that in this book Foucault concentrates on the carceral practices which gave birth to the sciences of man and gave man and society a form which is amenable to objective (archaeological) analysis. Hence, many of the key terms such as govern, regulate, transformation, element, rule, series, externality, and system, upon which the Archaeology turns, are shown to be a grid of interpretation generated by specific historical practices.

Likewise, in The History of Sexuality (1977), Foucault challenges the hermeneutic belief in deep meaning by tracing the emergence of sexual confession and relating it to practices of social domination. He shows the significance of confessional practices such as psychotherapy or medical procedures as revealed by the enormous growth of interest in the psyche in all realms of life. Such practices, which were supposed to reveal deep meaning accessible only to an endless, allegorical interpretation, produce the proliferating discourse of speaking subjects. We think Foucault is implying here that we cannot simply assume that there are deep meanings to investigate just because our culture tells us there are. This is just another way of saying that the notion of deep meaning is a cultural construction. Foucault thus gives us a concrete demonstration of the two strategic dimensions of the gradually developing totalizing practices which not only produce man as object and subject but, more importantly, preserve both in our objectified, meaning-obsessed society.

This combination allows Foucault to develop a general diagnosis of our current cultural situation. He isolates and identifies the pervasive organization of our society as bio-technico-power. Bio-power is the increasing ordering in all realms under the guise of improving the welfare of the individual and the population. To the genealogist this order reveals itself to be a strategy, with no one directing it and everyone increasingly enmeshed in it, whose only end is the increase of power and order itself.

There are many other ways to read our history and Foucault is not the first to read it this way. He is clearly in a line of thinkers such as Nietzsche, Weber, late Heidegger, and Adorno. His contribution, however, is a heightened methodological sophistication and a unique emphasis on the body as the place in which the most minute and local social practices are linked up with the large scale organization of power.

Foucault combines the best of philosophical reflection with scrupulous attention to empirical detail. Nevertheless, he remains consciously, frustratingly elusive when it comes to capturing our current condition in general formulae, such as Heidegger’s attempt to define the essence of technology as the positing, ordering, and putting at our disposal of all beings. But Foucault is being consistent to the consequences of his analysis, viz. that such generalities are either empty or that they can serve as the justification for promoting just what Foucault wants to resist. Once one sees the pervasiveness, dispersion, intricacy, contingency, and layering of our social practices, one also sees that any attempt to sum up what is going on is bound to be a potentially dangerous distortion.

Likewise, Foucault annoys many by insisting on a pragmatic intent in all significant historiography. Foucault says that he is writing the history of the present, and we call the method that enables him to do this interpretive analytics. This is to say that while the analysis of our present practices and their historical development is a disciplined, concrete demonstration which could serve as the basis of a research program, the diagnosis that the increasing organization of everything is the central issue of our time is not in any way empirically demonstrable, but rather emerges as an interpretation. This interpretation grows out of pragmatic concerns and has pragmatic intent, and for that very reason can be contested by other interpretations growing out of other concerns.

Now we can see the sense in which Foucault’s work is and has always been beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. During the period of the Archaeology his reduction of the subject to a function of discourse and his attempt to treat serious discourse as an autonomous rule-governed system (although he never claimed to find universal ahistorical laws), led him to say his method was not entirely foreign to what is called structural analysis (AK 15). With his abandonment of archaeology as a theoretical project, however, Foucault not only distances himself from structuralism but situates the structuralist project historically within a context of the increased isolating, ordering, systematizing practices characteristic of what he calls disciplinary technology. He preserves the structural technique of focusing on both discourse and the speaker as constructed objects, however, as a necessary step to free himself from taking the discourses and practices of this society as simply expressing the way things are.

Before he took up structuralist techniques, in his earliest published work, the introduction to an essay by Binswanger, Foucault clearly identified himself with the tradition of hermeneutic ontology which originated in Heidegger’s Being and Time. As his interest in the social effects rather than the implicit meaning of everyday practices developed, however, Foucault simply left the concerns of the hermeneutic position behind. His reading of Nietzsche was the vehicle through which he again turned to the necessity and dangers of the interpretive approach. Nietzsche’s genealogy of the way power uses the illusion of meaning to further itself gave him good reason to be critical of hermeneutics both in its form of commentary on everyday life, and in its related form of deep exegesis of what everyday practices cover up. But this same genealogical analysis has led Foucault to the position he calls dechiffrement. This amounts to an understanding of social practices as having an intelligibility radically different from that available to the actors who, according to the hermeneutic account, find the practices superficially meaningful, deeply meaningful, or even deeply meaningless.

Foucault develops this interpretation—and this we claim is his most original contribution although he does not thematize it as such—by pointing to agreed-upon examples of how a domain of human activity should be organized. These exemplars, such as the Christian and psychoanalytic confessionals and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, show us how our culture attempts to normalize individuals through increasingly rationalized means, by turning them into meaningful subjects and docile objects. This helps explain how the study of human beings as subjects and objects has had such centrality in our culture, and why the current techniques used in this study—hermeneutics and structuralism—have proven so powerful. Thus Foucault manages both to criticize and to utilize—in a highly original way—the two dominant methods available for the study of human beings.


The Illusion of Autonomous Discourse


Practices and Discourse in Foucault’s Early Writings

The History of Madness

Madness and Civilization (1961) opens with a description of the

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