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Foucault's history of the present as self-referential knowledge acquisition
Patrick Baert
Philosophy Social Criticism 1998 24: 111
DOI: 10.1177/019145379802400605
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com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. Introduction From the birth of the social sciences onwards. the type of knowledge involved is ipso facto not self-referential. typically The paper propounds a new concept of knowledge acquisition. a new light can be thrown on both Foucault’s archaeology and his genealogy: both are directed towards a self-referential form of knowledge. Second (and conversely). explaining or understanding a ’world-out-there’. Foucault .e. 2014 . past . This world is different from and exists independently of one’s theoretical presuppositions. it is assumed that one’s social scientific knowledge aims at depicting. Underlying take Key words on board archaeology . First. it is to show that this concept of knowledge acquisition is already anticipated by Foucault. present . genealogy .sagepub. methodology . and that it is a common thread throughout his work. history . that it is a major concern of his. First. That is. which affects one’s presuppositions) and which draws upon the unfamiliar to reveal and undercut the familiar. Consequently. structuralism Nietzsche . Second. and as such the two periods are shown to have more in common than conventionally assumed. the aim of the paper is to elucidate this self-referential type of knowledge by showing how it is used by Foucault. it is not the aim of 111- Downloaded from psc. philosophy of social sciences .Patrick Baert Foucault’s history of the present as self-referential knowledge acquisition Abstract this article is the conviction that social scientists a too restrictive concept of knowledge acquisition. there has been an implicit consensus within social scientific and philosophical circles regarding the nature of social scientific knowledge. The aim of this paper is twofold. one which is self-referential (i.

of course. the nature of explanation. I do not wish to question that there are many dissimilarities between.sagepub. this type of knowledge should aim at explaining phenomena which are unfamiliar by drawing upon analogies with phenomena which are familiar. revealing and threatening what was hitherto taken for granted. More importantly. Some philosophies might be more explicit in promoting one or more of these assumptions (for instance. always a twofold process in which ’prejudice’ is both a sine qua non for knowledge acquisition and affected by the latter. this type of knowledge attempts to eradicate the unfamiliar by turning it into the familiar.one taken up successfully by. but rather ultimately directed at revealing one’s own previously held assumptions. or the notion of causality.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. In particular. regarding the demarcation between science and nonscience. once the traditional consensus is replaced by a self-referential notion? My view is that some steps towards this type of knowledge acquisition have already been taken by Nietzsche and Foucault. realism. been said about the differences between various philosophies of the social sciences. Underlying this paper is the conviction that the above consensus regarding the nature of social scientific knowledge is unnecessarily restrictive. it is not primarily (and certainly not merely) directed towards reconstructing a world-out-there. Let me clarify what I do not wish to discuss. A related fact is that its principal target is the familiar. according to Gadamer. It is therefore appropriate to talk about a ’traditional consensus’ in sociology. Understanding is. this type of knowledge aims at creating distance. most empirical researchers in the social sciences carry out their studies in line with the three assumptions. positivism. Third. Much has. and so deal with issues regarding what ought to be and what can be. I do not wish to elaborate upon whether or not any investigation necessarily informs one about oneself. is that the three characteristics mentioned above are shared by a significant number of philosophies of social science. Gadamer. rather than with what actually is the case. or falsificationism. of course. for instance. that is. for instance. This is. 2014 . To put it more bluntly. The underlying question is: what kind of research could and should be envisaged.1 I focus on the issue of methodology instead. the first and the third assumption are among the idees maitresses of realism). What I do maintain. I therefore suggest an exploration of avenues which move away from the traditional consensus. not the unfamiliar. More precisely: rather than drawing upon analogies with the familiar to explain the unfamiliar. I suggest an investigation of a form of knowledge about the social world which is first and foremost ’self-referential’. Hence I explore this new conception of knowledge acquisition by looking more Downloaded from psc.112 social scientific knowledge to reveal or understand the presuppositions which are the medium through which that knowledge is arrived at. an interesting issue . but most philosophies at least implicitly subscribe to all three positions. however.

I need to add one more qualification. to demonstrate the consequences of that conception of knowledge when applied to the discipline of history. given the Parisian cultural ’field’. The philosophical views which influenced the two periods are. the secondary sources fail to recognize the methodological continuity throughout his work. it is understandable that Foucault.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. and. and thus more continuity can be attributed to his work than is customarily assumed. whereas genealogy is heavily indebted to Nietzsche’s writings. First. however. But it would be a mistake to think of Foucault as a mere enfant terrible working outside any intellectual setting. leads the way to poststructuralist thought. some argue that. although Foucault fails to discuss explicitly the concept of power in his earlier work. given that Foucault is a historian. or about an early and a later Wittgenstein. so scholars similarly refer to archaeology and genealogy in Foucault. Finally. 2014 . I summarize the similarities with regard to the issue of knowledge acquisition. I wish to show instead that the types of knowledge acquisition involved in the early and the later Foucault are not so radically different as sometimes suggested.2 Just as it is commonplace to talk about an early and a mature Marx. shares the scientific and objectivist pretensions of fellow structuralists. I discuss his archaeological work. in which claims to originality are crucial to one’s reputation. second to employ Foucault’s work in order to elucidate this type of knowledge.33 Surely. There are undoubtedly convincing arguments for conceiving of the two periods as radically different. Hence Foucault. then I elaborate upon his genealogical writings. So the aim of this paper is first to demonstrate that this type of knowledge acquisition runs throughout Foucault’s work.113 closely at the methodological foundations of Foucault’s work. that by dividing Foucault’s work into archaeology and genealogy. For instance. the issue of power is nevertheless a continuous theme (a view expressed by Foucault himself). does not wish to be too closely associated with other intellectual trends. It is well known that Foucault made several attempts to distance himself from particular labels such as ‘structuralism’. whereas Foucault. after all. It has indeed often been pointed out that an ’epistemological break’ or discontinuity distinguishes Foucault’s earlier archaeology from his later genealogy. third. My position is.sagepub. clearly distinct: archaeological methods are very much embedded in French structuralist thought. it tends to be merely a thematic one. despite Foucault’s attempts to argue that archaeological methods are developed without resort to structural analysis. however. like other French prima donnas. as a genealogist. as an archaeologist. Downloaded from psc. Before so doing. Scholars familiar with Foucault might object to the way in which I identify one methodological theme running through his work. For instance. If commentators do acknowledge a continuity. This is not simply to say that Foucault’s archaeological methods in toto are structuralist. For instance. it is my conviction that the latter is indispensable for making sense of the former.

For the sake of clarity. rather. of course. I will. Second. two of which are worth recalling.7 The early Foucault also draws upon this type of structuralism. the meaning of each sign is arbitrary. if not in contradiction with. 2014 . First. Foucault’s originality does not rely upon his ability to create ideas and concepts de novo. The method of archaeology underlies most of his publications in the 1960s. is that the two perspectives do share a significant number of assumptions. One strand attempts to account for social systems by drawing on analogies with linguistic systems.4 In the Archaeology o f Knowledge. there is the (already mentioned) influence of the French structuralist movement in general and French structuralist history (the Annales School) in particular. it is necessary to distinguish between two strands in structuralist social science. the structuralist notion of langue as structure.sagepub. amongst which his History of Madness and The Order of Things are best known. in his capacity to direct them towards a self-referential type of knowledge acquisition. and that meaning depends on difference from other signs currently in use. This linguistic strand is represented in. there is the impact of French philosophy of science on Foucault’s archaeology.114 Foucault’s notion of language as an event or act is indeed far removed from. (2) structuralism became prominent during Foucault’s formative years. Rather it lies in his ability to combine successfully different intellectual strands. What I wish to say. and as I wish first to deal with their influence on Foucault. but the Annales School does not. Barthes’ Fashion System. and (3) several of Foucault’s teachers were well-acquainted and sympathetic towards the new structuralist movement. ironically enough. Archaeology Foucault’s earlier historical writings grosso modo rely upon what he calls archaeological methods. Social life is seen as an amalgam of signs.66 Let me first start with structuralism and the structuralist historical research of the Annales School.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. This ’linguistic’ strand often relies upon Saussure’s (or Jakobson’s) insights about meaning and its relation to langue. it is perfectly legitimate (and. Foucault sets out to elucidate his methodology and to situate it within then-recent intellectual developments in France. entirely in line with Foucault’s own archaeological methods) to call archaeology structuralist because: (1) structuralist analysis is a sine qua non for making sense of archaeology. for example. and that pointing out their differences does not add significantly to the understanding of archaeology. ad interim. This leads me to the second form of structuralism. omit the linguistic strand. and. Even if it is true that Foucault does not consciously use structuralism in his archaeology.5 Foucault’s archaeology is influenced by a wide variety of intellectual traditions. which attempts Downloaded from psc.

unacknowledged. it assumes a ’stratified’ conception of reality which attributes reality status. Some of these structures are physical. and they introduce the notion of discontinuity or rupture to distinguish various scientific epochs and to underline their differences.8 This strand goes back to some of Durkheim’s writings. for instance. to For history in its classical form. for example.13 Foucault contrasts the ’new history’ with previous types of history in which the task of the historian was to efface discontinuity . that is. Braudel and others argue for the importance of structuralist types of historical enquiry.l° Beyond the level of events. focusing. This strand necessarily relies upon a realist philosophy of science.sagepub. on the extent to which particular epistemological frameworks have dominated particular epochs. The Annales oppose what Braudel calls the court durée’ or ’histoire événementielle’.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21.to mould it into a narrative of continuity. geographical or climatological constraints. the relatively stable. For instance. more stable layers of underlying structures. he is in fact referring to the rules of formation which stipulate the conditions of possibility of what can be said within a particular discourse during a relatively long period of time. structuralist historical research aims to uncover the ’longue durée’. and he detects ’epistemes’ which dominated science and philosophy for centuries. Some scholars are more interested in mental constraints. Foucault’s archaeological work is very much indebted to French structuralist history. Both discourses and epistemes refer to the implicit and shared rules which operate ’behind the backs’ of individuals and which are a sine qua non for the formation of statements. he brings to light particular discourses about madness and sanity which were prominent over a long period of time. 2014 . These rules specify which statements can be made and which are true or false.12 As acknowledged by Foucault in his Archaeology of Knowledge. Reacting against the positivist tendencies of French historiography. but also to underlying structures which generate or cause the phenomena. and it is this kind of ’Durkheimian’ structuralism which has been taken up by members of the Annales School. lie deeper. the latter referring to the history of events or the history of great men or women who have shaped our past. his work also makes use of conceptual tools which were introduced by French historians of science such as Bachelard and Canguilhem. constraining structures which stretch over long periods of time. not only to observed phenomena. which presented itself in the Downloaded from psc.ll When Foucault mentions the ’archaeological’ level of analysis. individual choices and other vicissitudes. the discontinuous was both the given and the unthinkable: the raw material of history.115 demonstrate the extent to which people’s thoughts and actions are moulded and constrained by underlying structures. for he too attempts to unravel the latent structures which have stretched over long periods of time.9 Against this narrative approach to history which is so typical of the histoire Sorbonniste. These scholars oppose a continuous conception of history.

15 It is ism on at this stage important to go back to the influence of structuralFoucault’s writings. Foucault’s view of history indeed suggests long periods of permanence. 1989b: 9) Foucault recognizes the twofold nature of this statement. its failure. One of the most essential features of the new history is probably this displacement of the discontinuous: its transference from the obstacle to the work itself. (Foucault.a failure. reduced.decisions. where it no longer plays the role of an external condition that must be reduced. rather than being an obstruction. its mtegration into the discourse of the historian.those ruptures which call an end to a long temporal span and which herald a new longue durée. Note that Foucault does not always show much interest in explaining how these radical transformations came about. Foucault searches for underlying structures. and therefore the inversion of signs by which it is no longer the negative of the historical reading (its underside. On the one it means that the historian uses the notion of discontinuity as an instrument for approaching reality. accidents.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. (Foucault. and which are relatively stable over long periods of time. under the old type of history. which are hand. There are thus two ’rhythms’ in his picture of history: the very slow rhythm of the longue durée (which reflects the influence of structuralist history) and the accelerated rhythm of rupture (which is very much the influence of French history of science). 2014 . In the new type of history. with which Foucault identifies himself. but that of a working concept. 1989b: 8) So. Discontinuity is a tool which allows the historian to divide up domains or periods. he looks for those radical transformations in history which separate the long periods of relative stability . each of which is dominated by a particular framework or set of practices. becomes essential to the practices of the historian. maybe a sign of lack of rassment craftmanship. discontinuity was at best an embarfor the historian at work .sagepub. in particular the influence of the linguistic Downloaded from psc.14 Foucault merges structuralist notions with this concept of discontinuity. On the other hand. Second. had to be arranged. but the positive element that determines its object and validates its analysis. which. discoveries: the material. and his archaeological method thus aims at pointing out two phenomena. it means that the historian assumes that discontinuity is part of reality. He occasionally justifies his lack of interest in that question by arguing that the methodological problems involved are severe. Discontinuity was the stigma of temporal dislocation that it was the historian’s task to remove from history. These periods are separated by relatively short intervals (often spanning only a few decades) in which the shift from the old structure to the new is accomplished. through analysis. effaced in order to reveal the continuity of events. the limit of its power). initiatives. relatively unacknowledged by the individuals involved. discontinuity. First.116 form of dispersed events .

Central to the linguistic strand is a holistic theory of meaning. structures tend to be taken for granted by the individuals who are subjected to them. one gets the impression that with every discontinuity an entirely different world is created. aims at presenting such bewildering discontinuities in thought and in practice throughout history. So the portrayal of different periods then necessarily involves a contrast between past and present. (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush. the periods discussed by Foucault often stretch as far as the present day. For instance. That is. (c) tame. (b) embalmed. Second. According to this theory. (i) frenzied. 1989d: preface). That is. might lead to the making manifest of a previously latent structure.117 strand. This explains Foucault’s reference to Borges’ fictitious Chinese encyclopedia in the preface to The Order of Things. when reading Foucault. but incommensurable. (1) etcetera. combined with the above Foucauldian picture of discontinuous history. (f) fabulous. (As a matter of fact. to put it epigrammatically.) A number of consequences follow from this. meaning necessarily undergoes a profound change as well. the portrayal of different periods allows one to become aware of the fact that some of the concepts or practices which are used today are not as universal or fixed as they might seem.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. categorizations and practices of today. and these structures are therefore unlikely to be visible to them. But juxtaposition with a different structure. the meaning of a sign is dependent on its differences from the other signs currently in use within that structure. every rupture leads to the emergence of a radically different structure. (n) that from a long way off look like flies’ (Foucault. and given that the meaning of signs is dependent on structure (in the way described above).16 Now. Indeed. if successful. For example. (j) innumerable. (m) having just broken the water pitcher. The different periods which he portrays are not only radically different from each other. And Downloaded from psc.sagepub. In that encyclopedia animals are divided into ’(a) belonging to the Emperor. whether real or imaginary. 2014 . Foucault emphasizes the extent to which this Chinese taxonomy relies upon rules and assumptions alien to us. (e) sirens. which follow each other through time. Borges’ construction does not rely upon our distinction between ’the Same and the Other’. That is why. (h) included in the present classification. (g) stray dogs. they also contrast with the present day. and how it draws upon the unfamiliar in order to account for the familiar. this holistic theory of meaning implies that the various structures. reading History of Madness. through juxtaposition with the past. I am now in a position to elaborate upon how Foucault’s archaeology suggests a self-referential concept of knowledge. Foucault’s history. the present has not always been. The most obvious is that Foucault’s work facilitates the awareness that. are not simply different. one is struck by the extent to which past definitions of madness and the ways in which the insane were then treated are alien to the conceptions. the present becomes visible. (d) sucking pigs. Likewise.

Foucault realizes that power struggles accompany the emergence of new meanings. Foucault is Downloaded from psc. Genealogy’. like Nietzsche. History. As with Nietzsche. and given that structures exercise power mainly through their invisibility and through the fact that they are experienced as universal. Foucault makes use of the concept of power. His depiction of past epistemes. rather than a mere object of research or end-point.19 Second. for instance.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. Nietzsche. in this period. Foucault is very much influenced by Nietzsche. Foucault. and this concept plays a dual role in his theory. given that Foucault’s archaeology makes manifest the structures of today and shows that they are not universal. 2014 . According to this nominalist position. for instance. the claim is that Nietzsche’s influence becomes more explicit and systematic after that date. In contrast. Once people become aware of the assumptions or rules upon which they have hitherto unconsciously drawn. Notice the extent to which the past. I think that is a fair description. Fourth. it should now be clear that in some respects Foucault’s archaeology implies the exact reverse of the realist conception of science. argues that the meanings of good and evil had radically shifted with the advent of Christianity. and once they realize how radically different these were in the past. Foucault borrows the notion of genealogy from Nietzsche. for instance. Foucault explicitly acknowledges that he inherited the concept of genealogy from Nietzsche. Third. like Nietzsche.118 this is exactly what Foucault does. in this period. Foucault’s methodology attempts to draw upon knowledge about and dissimilarity with the unfamiliar (the distant past) in order to gain access to a ’familiar stranger’ (the taken-for-granted present).18 Rather. puts forward an anti-essentialist position. Realism argues that science attempts to make sense of unfamiliar phenomena by drawing upon analogies with phenomena which are familiar. is a medium for access to the present. makes for the uncovering of contemporary conceptions surrounding epistemology or ontology. Genealogy In the 1970s Foucault abandons archaeology for genealogy. the meaning of objects or practices varies according to the context in which they arise. Foucault’s earlier work creates the possibility for the corrosion of the present. So Discipline and Punish and the three volumes of History of Sexuality are offered as genealogical works.sagepub. and that this transformation of meaning was the product of a particular power struggle at the time. and he quotes his mentor in extenso.17 It has often been pointed out that. First. In the article ’Nietzsche. Third. then the strength of these assumptions or rules is potentially undermined. This is not to say that Nietzsche did not exercise any influence on Foucault before 1970.

the errors. rather. First. for that matter). present and future. These meanings gradually came to be experienced by people as self-evident. or coherent. they deal with matters of truth and morality . Second. The new meanings were subsequently transmitted across generations. were essential to the development of new (and more efficient) forms of social control. the genealogist breaks with any historicist view that assumes a necessary unfolding of laws or wheels of history: ’the things which seem most evident to us are always formed in the confluence of encounters and chances. There is of course a storyline which runs through Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment (and through his History of Sexuality. Consequently. during the course of a precarious and fragile history’ (Foucault. In Foucault’s own words: we a should not be deceived thinking that this heritage is an acquisition.2° Fourth. honourable. 1977b: 146).after all.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. 1990a: 37). The starting-point for the genealogist is to show that. harmless. Foucault demonstrates in Discipline and Punish the extent to which the emerging social sciences and psychiatry. contrary to the appearance of belief systems or ethical systems as innocuous or. whilst disguised as liberating forces.these systems are very much implicated in power struggles. innocuous (if not honourable) and consistent. like Nietzsche. necessary. Third. it is an unstable assemblage into possession that grows and Downloaded from psc. more strongly. as to be held in respect .119 also indebted to Nietzsche when he conceives of power as intertwined with knowledge. It would indeed be a mistake to assume that old meanings are completely erased by new ones as if a tabula rasa were possible. lack of coherence is shown by demonstrating how new meanings coexist with old ones. I will now elaborate upon what I see as the cardinal features of Foucault’s notion of genealogy. He or she then demonstrates that the emergence of these new meanings was due to power struggles or contingency.or conversely. So knowledge is not neutral to power. but there is no overall theoretical scheme which necessarily unfolds itself through time. the minute deviations . The genealogist goes back in time in order to show that at some point. and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us’ (Foucault. 2014 .sagepub. the false appraisals. sohdifies. the complete reversals . radically new meanings were allocated to concepts.22 Fourth. current meanings are shown to be less harmless or honourable than is assumed by demonstrating that they are interrelated with power struggles. Foucault’s genealogical history is opposed to any meta-narrative which would incorporate past. For instance. the self-evident nature of the current meanings is undermined by demonstrating that radically different meanings existed in the past. and so became part of the culture. against any form of causal-mechanical view or teleology is the genealogist’s attention to ’the accidents. nor is it simply self-emancipatory.21 Genealogy aims at demonstrating that these meanings are neither obvious nor necessary.

sagepub. 2014 . the inmates end up monitoring themselves. in the face of death. This system is supposed to lead to ’self-correction’ on the part of the inmates: knowing that they might be watched at any time. The Panopticon implies a particular organization of space such that at any time: (1) the inmates are unable to figure out whether they are being watched.26 The Panopticon is Foucault’s example par excellence of hierarchical observation in the 19th century.23 Foucault goes at some length to show that.2g The combination of hierarchical observation and normalization culminates in the notion of the ’examination’. which set in motion a ’disciplinary’ society. fragile inheri- exemplify this by elaborating briefly upon Foucault’s use of in genealogy Discipline and Punish. He argues that. the effect was to implement more efficient forms of social control which could be (and were) applied outside the penal system.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. This inspired the utilitarian reforms at the beginning of the 19th century. and heterogenous layers that threaten the tor from within or from underneath. and. That is. the philosophes had already expressed their hostility on humanitarian grounds towards the old penal system. Characteristic of the emerging disciplinary society was the emphasis on incarceration. considerable power. That logic is as sophisticated and internally coherent as ours. fissures. bore hardly any resemblance to that which the philosophes had in mind. in which conceptions of punishment were radically transformed. Bentham’s new system. however. people are ranked depending on the extent to which they conform to the standards. The spread of disciplinary power aims at a regular. Be that as it may. confronted with an enormous audience. policymakers and intellectuals thought of more ’efficient’ forms of exercising social control. and for the audience then to side with the condemned. (1977b: 146). this practice led to much disorder. rather than being simply a barbarian system. It was not uncommon for those about to be executed to speak openly against the sovereign or the regime.27 Besides hierarchical observation. and (2) they know that they might be monitored.120 of faults. up until the late 18th century. punishment was a public and gruesome spectacle. symbolizing the strength of the sovereign and directed towards the body of the Let me victim. systematic training and monitoring of the body.24 Confronted with these problems of the ’society of spectacle’. nothing to lose. because the person to be executed had. On the basis of this penal accountancy. The successful implementation of the examination ultimately depended on the development of Downloaded from psc. ’examination’ and ’normalization’. that form of punishment has its own logic. disciplinary power implies emphasis on what Foucault calls ’normalization’. elements of behaviour are rewarded or punished depending on whether they adhere to or deviate from the postulated norm.25 As early as the 18th century. The consequence of Bentham’s system was anything but to reform criminals. ’hierarchical observation’.

the carceral system is shown to be characteristic of this disciplinary regime. and found not to be universal: ’history serves to show that-which-is has not always been’ (Foucault. The carceral network. his aptitudes. however benevolent its intentions. the doctor-judge. the misfortunes and unintended outcomes of the penal regime led to the call for a different system. genealogy undermines particular justifications of the present. it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based. 1977a: 304) genealogy undercuts the present in a number of ways. Foucault opens Discipline and Punish with a significant contrast: a detailed account of the gruesome public execution of Damiens in 1757. subjects to it his body. coherent and benevolent. his achievements. Likewise. (Foucault.121 sophisticated procedures for documentation and classification. The judges of normality are present everywhere. The emerging ’science of man’ made possible such procedures. as long as we know how it was that they were made’ (Foucault. observation. For instance. surveillance. they can be unmade. wherever he may find himself. 1990a: 37).3° ’What reason perceives as its necessity. like archaeology. rather than being solely emancipatory. the educator-judge. Third. or rather. We are in the society of the teacher-judge. genealogy erodes the present through juxtaposition with the past.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. the new system gradually appeared as obvious. of the normalizing power. offer Downloaded from psc. Foucault sets out to show in Discipline and Punish that.29 The juxtaposition of public spectacle and prison system reveals the assumptions of both. his gestures. The reader is struck by how different the public spectacle of former times is from the penal system of today. and the network of contingencies from which it emerges can be traced’ (Foucault. in modern society. has been the greatest support. The present is made manifest. followed by the rigid time-schedule of a prison 80 years later. m its compact or disseminated forms. and each individual.32 Fourth. the social sciences are not just implicated in but essential to the emergence of a disciplinary society. genealogy undercuts present meanings by demonstrating the accidents which accompanied their initial So emergence. what different forms of rationality old as their necessary being. 1990a: 37). played a crucial role in the transformation into a ’disciplinary’ society. meanwhile the assumptions of the latter system are revealed. First. the ’social worker’judge . Second.sagepub. and ’since these things have been made. although prima facie directed towards self-emancipation. can perfectly well be shown to have a history. However much this society of ’surveillance’ was bound up with social control. his behaviour. So today the disciplinary regime has permeated many realms of society. 2014 .31 So these forms of rationality ’reside’ upon human practice and human history. genealogy leads to a certain loss of innocence since that which is hitherto experienced as innocuous is shown to be very much tainted by power struggles. distribution. Hence the social sciences. with its systems of insertion. 1990a: 37).

122 Present belief systems or practices are often legitimized by indicating that they are a continuous progression from the past. two of which are worth mentioning here. Foucault relies upon a concept of knowledge acquisition that is self-referential and draws upon the unfamiliar to gain access to his the familiar. 1977a: 1 S 1 ). Foucault does not always seem to be successful in applying this fifth principle. Indeed. different regimes of explains why. however.sagepub. through all of his work. for instance.33 Conclusion It has traditionally been said that Foucault’s archaeological period and genealogical period are radically different from each other. I think that this way of looking at Foucault has a number of advantages. I have tried to show that. contrary to the alleged black-and-white depiction by Foucault. I have suggested instead that we look at Foucault in a different way. Genealogy aims at demonstrating that both the assumption of continuity and the notion of progress are erroneous. one recurrent criticism of Discipline and Punish points out that. But on other occasions Foucault seems to be more sensitive to the multi-layered nature of reality. but it is shown in Discipline and Punish to have other features as well. That which appears to be a unitary. so there is Foucault’s archaeology and his genealogy. genealogy undermines the apparent coherence of present belief or normative systems. the ’society of spectacle’ is still prevalent today . First.a criticism essentially in line with the notion of genealogy. this perspective on Foucault allows one to conceive of his work as a coherent whole. Fifth. The science of man might portray itself as singularly self-emancipatory. previous meanings are never completely erased. consistent system is shown to be heterogenous and to consist of disparate layers of meaning. Foucault takes on the difficult task of showing the internal logic of that system. and be sensitive to the continuity in his work. And it also explains why Foucault points out that the present penal system ties in with the spread of disciplinary techniques and hence is not simply an advance in humanitarianism (compared with the ancien rigime). In practice. after the hideous details of the execution of Damiens. Not Downloaded from psc. This is partly because.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination’ (Foucault. Just as it is commonplace to distinguish between Picasso’s Blue period and his Pink period. and it is impossible to provide an independent yardstick to judge between. 2014 . ’Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to power. as I mentioned earlier. where the rule of law finally replaces warfare. Every system creates its own internal logic and justification. Past practices and concepts appear so distinct that they cannot be moulded into a continuous narrative. This combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity.

For example. Second. but also one’s own. that traditional conception assumes that the intellectual is a messianic figure. and who incites political action in the name of truth. Take Foucault’s notion of the role of the intellectual. for instance. (This is not to say Downloaded from psc. What can the ethics of an intellectual be . without always properly explaining how the changes were brought about.. Foucault does indeed demonstrate radical shifts in. 2014 . This work of altering one’s own thought and that of others seems to be the intellectual’s raison d’être. It is indeed difficult to conceive of what the ’advisory’ role of the new intellectual consists in.123 only does it allow one to see the link between archaeology and genealogy. from the perspective of the traditional consensus. who preaches from above. 1990a: 263-4) . My argument is that the tools provided by the new intellectual are exactly those I have stressed in this paper: they are revelations about and alterations of one’s own presuppositions. But making sense of Foucault’s proposal for the new intellectual becomes more difficult without relying upon my view. Foucault himself acknowledges this in his discussion of the ’ethics’ of the new intellectual by distinguishing the mere academic from the academic who is also an intellectual. someone who provides expertise and technical knowledge to assist in local struggles. for instance..sagepub. (Foucault. be argued that Foucault’s position against the traditional intellectual is a necessary corollary of his postmodern hostility towards meta-narratives or totalizing systems. It is also well known that Foucault substitutes this for the more modest conception of what he calls the ’new’ intellectual: that is. It could. to make oneself permanently capable of detachmg oneself from oneself (which is the oppoTo be at once an academic and an site of the attitude of conversion)? intellectual is to try to mampulate a type of knowledge and analysis that is taught and received in the umversities in such a way as to alter not only others’ thoughts. But this is only problematic so long as one imposes ab extra a traditional conception of knowledge acquisition on Foucault.. as elaborated in this paper. Once it is acknowledged that Foucault adopts a self-referential conception.. to be peculiarities. it also enables one to make intelligible several themes or ideas which would otherwise appear marginal (or unrelated) to the main project of his work.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. this way of looking at Foucault helps to explain what appear. many critiques focus upon Foucault’s lack of interest in explaining discontinuity.34 I grant that it is possible to account for Foucault’s rejection of the traditional notion of the intellectual without taking on board my main argument as given above. For Foucault. epistemes or systems of punishment. It is well known that Foucault argues against what he sees as a ’traditional’ conception of the intellectual.. as long as one remains within the realm of a traditional concept of knowledge acquisition. if not . then it is clear that the explanation of discontinuity does not necessarily fall within the scope of his enterprise.. omissions and weaknesses in Foucault’s work.

By ’emancipatory potential’ I mean that it allows people to liberate themselves from culturally induced constraints. The above perspective on Foucault might have broader implications for the social sciences. 2014 UK . First. the historian is in search of the present. and of &dquo.124 that explaining discontinuity ipso facto falls outside his enterprise. In Foucauldian parlance. 1990a: 36). the historian aims at explaining past events. by showing them to be neither universal nor coherent.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. and it is at least a contributory factor. Within the contours of the traditional consensus. They criticize Foucault for failing to accomplish something which he did not set out to obtain in the first place.) Rather than merely accounting for why particular changes have occurred in the past. So. This erosion might not be a sufficient condition for emancipation. if my view on Foucault’s concept of knowledge acquisition is correct. and the past is his or her gateway towards that present.ourselves in the present&dquo. In contrast. With that account of Foucault in mind. and by tracing back their ’lowly origins’. I have indicated in this paper that Foucault erodes present structures by making them manifest. and I then set out to use Foucault in order to elaborate upon what this self-referential concept of knowledge acquisition could be. Second. and which. ’. once the self-referential concept has been adopted. are thus a stepping stone University of Cambridge. from Foucault’s perspective. I did not mention Foucault at all in the very beginning of the paper. That explanation can be relevant to the present only insofar as the observed regularities are not merely restricted to that period. After all. history becomes a ’history of the present’ in that he sees his own task as describing ’the nature of the present.sagepub. Downloaded from psc. the broader relevance of this new type of knowledge acquisition becomes very apparent indeed. then these criticisms simply miss the point. the account shows the emancipatory potential of this self-referential concept of social scientific knowledge. should not necessarily be aimed at anyway. and towards lawlike generalizations. Foucault’s main aim is to elucidate and undercut present belief and ethical systems. one cannot but be sympathetic towards Foucault’s omissions. The very same act of revealing the present also undercuts that present. Once the traditional consensus has been abandoned in favour of the self-referential. the account exposes the significance of this concept of knowledge acquisition when applied to the study of history. I started instead with the call for a new type of knowledge acquisition. but it may well be a necessary condition. in the light of the fact that the present ’is a time which is never quite like any other’ (Foucault.

University of Cambridge.: 57-69. Smart (1988: 41 ff. 1994. University of Sussex. and the History Department.: 170-94.: 170-7. 28 ibid.). for Time.face). (1980). Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth (London: Routledge. University of Rome (LUISS). 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 a instance. 6 ibid. Pleasants for useful comments on earlier versions. pp. 9 Braudel (1966: pr&eacute.sagepub. Baert (1996). 120-2).. Giddens and N. 22 Foucault (1977b: 142 ff. see 10 For a discussion of French structuralist history. See also Bachelard (1984). A. 32 Foucault (1977a: 293 ff. ibid. 5 Foucault (1989b).). part 2.: 3-7. Sheridan. the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. 1 H. ibid. 30 ibid. Foucault (1977a.. 2014 . 2 For example. l’histoire’ in a volume in memory of Jean Hyppolite. pp. Canguilhem (1978). P.: 177-84. German (4th edn.. la g&eacute. 31 Foucault’s emphases. 1990). see. Foucault (1989d: xiv). Sociological Context Foucault (1989b: esp. 42-6.125 Notes Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the World Conference of Sociology in Bielefeld. 1996.: 73 ff.). 1992.).com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. 8 For a discussion of the stratified conception of reality in realist philosophy. 1990b. 1972). For example.alogie. 195-228. Foucault (1977b: 140-64). see the excellent contribution by Geuss (1994). 23 Foucault (1977a: 3-69). 7 Barthes (1983). 1979. 24 ibid. 110 ff. 29 ibid. Baert. esp. 3 Foucault (1989b: 15ff. the article appeared initially as ’Nietzsche. pp. 1997. 25 ibid. Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward.-G. See especially Foucault. Saussure (1959: 88 ff. 1992). Foucault (1989b: 12-14). 4 Foucault (1989a). Downloaded from psc. Foucault (1989d). 1996.: 135-69. 1975). Foucault (1989b: 9). Foucault (1989d: xiii). the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. 27 ibid. 3-17).. 1992).:3-30. Hants: Avebury. 20 21 With respect to genealogy. I thank A. esp. orig. Self and Social Being: Temporality within (Aldershot. 26 ibid. Gadamer. 3 ff.n&eacute.

P. Vol. Ithaca. Vol. (1979) The History of Sexuality . . F. a Critique’. M. (1989b) The Archaeology of Knowledge. Foucault. Penguin. NY: Cornell University Press. . Bouchard. Foucault. Foucault (1980: 107 34 ibid. Barthes. Vol. M. (1990) Foucault.). (1984) The New Scientific Spirit . M. 2014 Peter Owen. Genealogy. London: Routledge. (1990a) Politics. ed. Reprinted (1991). 140-64. Poster. (1994) ’Nietzsche and Genealogy’. Gordon. Foucault. Geuss. Philosophy. Reprinted (1991). Penguin. (1988) Routledge. R. Harmondsworth. Marxism and History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Information. London: B. (1977a) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Allen Lane.diterran&eacute.126 33 ibid. Culture. M. (1992) Time. New York: Hill & Wang. ed. Bachelard. (1989c) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. (1996) ’Realist Philosophy of the Social Sciences and Economics: Sociology. (1990b) The History of Sexuality . London: Routledge.e et le monde m&eacute. G. London: Foucault. (1992) The History of Sexuality . Foucault. Paris: Armand Colin. M. ed. Foucault. Boston. in Language.en &agrave. de (1959) Course in General Linguistics . Herts: Harvester Wheatsheaf. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. R. Cambridge Journal of Economics (September) 20: 513-22. F. Canguilhem.com at MARQUETTE UNIV on August 21. Dortrecht: Reidel. History’. (1983) The Fashion System. l’&eacute.sagepub. MA: Beacon Press. C. L. ff. (1977b) ’Nietzsche. Bibliography Baert. M. M. I. (1978) On the Normal and the Pathological . M. Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984. 3. Reprinted (1990). Michel Smart. London: Routledge. European Journal of Philosophy 2(3): 274-92. G. (1966) La M&eacute.: 192 ff. Braudel. (1989d) The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Kritzman. Countermemory. London: Routledge. . M. The Care of the Self. Downloaded from psc. London: Foucault. Mx: Penguin. An Introduction Mx: Harmondsworth. P. (1989a) Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. M. Reprinted (1992). London: Routledge. Foucault. D. Mx: Harmondsworth. 2. M. Practice. Saussure. M. pp. The Use of Pleasure.: 62. Foucault. Reprinted (1991). Baert. Foucault.diterran&eacute. Originally published in French (1963). D. Hemel Hempstead. Foucault. Cambridge: Polity Press. Foucault. Outline of a Temporalised Aldershot: Avebury. Reprinted (1993). Self and Social Being.poque de Philippe II. F.