Foucault and Genealogy

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Tue Feb 19 15:05:14 MST 2002

[ converted from HTML. Les ]

Hi Everyone,

Just a couple of queries about Michel Foucault. I have been reading
some of Foucault's earlier 'archaeological' work lately. The basic
idea behind it seems to lie in the reconstruction of the unwritten
rules, conventions, practices and events (?) which constitute the
foundation of any historical discursive practise. The aim of this
archaeology, it seems, is to challenge and undermine notions of
rational progress, unified historical subjects, historical totalities
and perhaps even Reason itself.

Later in his career, Foucault made a turn to Genealogy. It seems that
the reason for this turn (regardless of biographical details) was to
help understand the formation of these underlying discursive
substrata, with particular reference to the conflicts in varying forms
of discourse that Foucault believed belied any notions of, for
example, necessary economic utility, humanist essentialism, scientific
positivism, moral progressivism, etc. It seems that Foucault hence
understood the foundations of knowledge to be the effects of
conflicting political agents, the established viewpoint apparently
belonging of necessity to the party with the strongest 'force' behind
it (?).

I have briefly looked at Dominic leCourt's book which discusses
Foucault, 'Marxism and Epistemology'. In this LeCourt seems to say
that the only way around the problems of Foucault's archaeology is
from a historical materialist perspective. This book was written
before Foucault's 'Nietzschean turn'.

I was wondering if anyone has any opinions on Foucaults work. In what
sense does Foucault undermine notions of domination resulting, not
from the (discursive or otherwise) practices of allegedly particular
forms of power (the prison system, the asylum, etc.), but from a
relatively unified and totalising economic system? Does anyone think
Foucault's depiction of power as the motor of all epistemological and
social change fairly unhistorical? Why is Foucault unwilling to
conceive of anything other than specifically local forms of struggle?
I can certainly see the benefit in bringing to light the particular
ways in which power shapes, constitutes or even dominates its
'subjects' (?), but surely there is no reason why this might not allow
for a more totalistic understanding of power in more totalistic
societies? Isn't there a possibility of a critical dialectic between
power at the micro and macro levels?

Anyway, if any of you can shed some light on Foucault in any way I'd
be grateful.


 Zak, Belfast


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