Notes on: Foucault M (1974) The Archaeology of Knowledge, London: Tavistock PublicationsLtd
[My] Critical Introduction
This book represents a different level of analysis for Foucault, away from the usual analyses of institutions and institutional ideologies, or networks of power, to look at the notion of discourse as constitutive of academic disciplines. I found many ambiguities in the discussion of the term 'discourse':
1. He seems to refer to different levels of organisation -- there are discourses, discursive formations, positivities, epistemes and so on. From what I can see, positivities and epistemes are discourses in principle, so to speak, which affect concrete discourses.
2. This produces an ambiguity over whether everything is 'discourse'-- Foucault seems to affirm it in part 2 but denies it in part 4, perhaps because he is using different notions of discourse.
3. There are some weird oscillations in the argument, including lots of denial of causality, essentialism, philosophical anthropology and so on (especially in part II), but there is a sense in which these banned notions return: Foucault needs causality to explain the specifics of why one discourse triumphs and not another; he needs subjects to do the practices which constitute discourses. There are some strange discussions here too of his own motives, interests, desires and so on, raising the spectre of the old combination of theoretical and political motives for all this, together with a personal desire to innovate.
I'm not at all sure that it is all that original. I was constantly reminded of work like Kuhn's (which is certainly far more readable).
Foucault seems to ignore or deny the specific effectivity of universities and pedagogies. They are mentioned once or twice as being important in the development of discourses, but this is never pursued. As a result this seems to be far too much emphasis placed on the activities of linguists or political economists or whatever to somehow dominate public thought. Many of his actual examples seem located in some pre-University 'classical' era?
There are some lovely implication for the emergence of things like 'the perspectives' in sociology, though. These must now be seen as a construct, the result of a [pedagogical?] discourse.They do imply some underlying unifying concept as well. They clearly need deconstruction and then reconstruction -- as discourses that claim to cross gaps, or show relations of difference and so on?
We need to contrast the usual history of the emergence of academic disciplines in terms of some smooth development, involving underlying causals, and trends with those histories of epistemological ruptures and discontinuities in the work of people like Bachelard and Canguilhem [which is whereAlthusser got his idea of an epistemological break in Marx]. Their history is not a simple one of increasing rationality of concepts, but one of different uses, rules of use, and contexts. There are plural networks of pasts, histories, and teleologies, which can be traced especially in various figures of breaks from ideologies to sciences. The problem really is to explain the continuity of terms such as concepts or theories.
There is one underlying problem in both sorts of history -- what is a document? Is it a trace of a past trend, of 'unities, totalities, series, relations' (page 7)? Or a prompt for some collectively unconscious memory? History can now be seen as a way to link documents rather than relying on such a memory, as an 'intrinsic description of the monument', as archaeology. This means that:
1. It is much more open to different notions of series and so on, and suggested relationships between series; it becomes a history of strata, events. In the history of thought, this leads to an individualisation of series rather than some overall totality.
2. Discontinuity is much more important and should become central to a deliberate method to avoid reductionism. Discontinuity should emerge as a result of a proper investigation, as a general problem which history should illustrate. Once seen as an obstacle, it now becomes a problem to be solved, or a definite working concept.
3. There is no total history, no general underlying themes, no eras. We should now pursue a search for series and their possible interrelationships, which can be displayed as 'tables', with no central principles.
4. We need new methodologies to manage documents. Should we take representative samples, or whole ‘corpora’? What level of analysis should be pursued, should it be quantitative or qualitative? What groupings should be studied, and what relations exist between them -- causal ones, functional ones or linguistic ones?
This sort of challenge to orthodox history dates from Marx, but we are still waiting for an explicit theorising of discontinuity, for example in linguistics. Instead, we have long been afraid of discontinuity, of the Other (page 12). We have wanted to preserve history as the last refuge for the 'sovereignty of consciousness' (page 12): it guarantees the project of the subject, its ability to grasp the past so as to avoid alienation in the future. Marxist decentring has been fought off, often by referring to matters such as 'values' or 'civilisation', which are assumed to be continuous. Nietzsche's notion of genealogy has also been resisted, by insisting that rationality is a central principle [rather than some arbitrary starting point developed according to rather petty interests, which is roughly Nietzsche's position].Approaches such as those in structural psychoanalysis, linguistics, or ethnology which attempt to decentre the subject have been resisted by developing a notion of history as the 'hard work of freedom', as a matter of dynamism opposed to the stasis of structures (and this includes the development of a humanised marxism, page 13). The last refuge of the subject can now only be found in new 'myths, kinship systems, language, sexuality or desire' (page 14).
The project in this book is to do history without such anthropology, and also to systematise Foucault's earlier work [specifically Madness... , Birth..., and The Order of Things]. This is allegedly pursued bottom-up, rather than by importing a method, using Foucault's own historical accounts [in these books] as a basis, although they are still too general (Madness) or too structural (Birth). Criticism from his colleagues has made him aware of this, and so there is still a need to be cautious. However, he is still against those critical approaches which seemed designed 'to reduce others to silence' (page 17). Foucault admits that his style can be vexing for a reader [especially when he indulges in strange imaginary dialogues with the reader, as below], and he enters a short digression on the pleasures of writing:
'I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write' (page 17).
It is necessary to do some negative analysis first, to deconstruct older categories, including 'book', 'oeuvres', genres and any [philosophical] anthropological categories. We are trying to get a set of discursive 'effective statements',which are not just linguistic units but discursive ones. Effective statements constitute a large but finite field, which replaces the idea of structural possibilities. The issue here is not one of trying to establish linguistic rules, but rather asking 'How is it that one statement appeared rather than another' (page 27). This should lead to a concrete, specific and descriptive rather than an allegorical analysis of things like films, theories or thoughts: allegorical analysis always looks for some other meaning in what is said, some latent discourse. There is a need to stress discontinuities,even though we admit the possibility of a return to more conventional unities at the end -- at least we will have denaturalised these unities, however.There are good empirical reasons for choosing the field of the human sciences which can be seen as 'groups of discourses', but only as initial approximations.
What of the conventional disciplines? These are seemingly based on identical objects of inquiry, such as madness, but does this mean that there is some common space within which objects are constituted? Such a notion would help us begin to grasp divisions, and dispersions of objects. A similar argument might be developed about the linguistic styles of discourses -- they seem to have common vocabularies and descriptive statements, as in medicine. However, there is something deeper to be investigated, a system which generates such statements and rules of deployment, so that we can investigate how these discourses produce different concrete and heterogeneous statements. We can investigate for example 'ways they interlock or exclude' each other,how they 'transform', and the 'play of their location, arrangements and replacement' (page 34).The aim is not to devise a scheme to integrate different concepts,but rather to 'analyse the interplay of their appearances and dispersion' (page 35), and the same goes for various organising themes [as in sociological perspectives?]. Again, there is constant doubt about these themes, such as the way they are articulated in different concepts (page 36), or the way that concepts are shared in discourses based on different themes.
Discourses are specific because they're always 'points of choice', in terms of the different possibilities to animate themes, develop strategies, or play different games (page 37). In this way, differences and dispositions should not be seen as a problem but as the raw materials of analysis: they cannot be reduced or managed, and they should not be ignored in favour of generalisations from 'small islands of coherence' (page38).
We should attempt to uncover 'discursive formations'-- systems of dispersion, regularities in choices -- rather than operate with categories such as science or ideology. We need to investigate their rules of formation, their conditions of existence. This is a speculative venture and it could lead either to the rediscovery of the older genres, or ‘a blank, indifferent space' (page 39).
How do the objects of the various sciences emerge? [the example here is psychopathology]. This often happens against the context of other objects found in other disciplines, and involves processes working on those objects, such as transformation, resemblance, difference, proximity, negation and soon. Various [usually institutional] 'authorities' are able to delimit this activity, using various existing 'grids of specification' (page42)-- which may involve familiar categories such as the soul versus the body, individual histories, whole existing fields of causality and so on.There are also various specific connections, such as that between the law and psychiatry [concretised in the prison system]. If relations between these concepts overlap then a discursive formation can emerge. These are then underpinned by 'institutions,economic and social processes, behavioural patterns, systems of norms, techniques, types of classification, and modes of characterisation' (page 45). Certain' primary relations' between institutions on their own may or may not make discourses possible: usually, secondary or reflexive relations are necessary too as well as disscursive relations in their own right.
All this takes place before any naming, classification or explanation, and it clearly operates as a practice rather than just a linguistic activity. These practical processes provide the unity of a discipline. How it happens is the point of analysis, rather than political criticisms of some of the consequences, such as labelling certain people as mad.
We need to rescue the complexity and density of discursive objects, rather than trying to recapture 'things', which apparently exist prior to discourse, to examine discursive rather than linguistic rules, to write a 'history of discursive objects' (page 48). Discourses are positive practices rather than just connections between words and things. Discursive objects have their own rules of ordering, as 'practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak' (page 49).
The example of clinical discourse makes this point. It consists of a complex relation of descriptions, accounts, explanations and reasonings which are linked in various ways:
1. By the status of the doctor as a person legally entitled to use clinical languages. This is itself a complex matter, relating to other statuses, obligations, systems of qualification and so on which make it quite specific.
2. In institutional sites for the doctor where clinical discourse is applied -- the hospital, the laboratory, the library, or a documented field, all of which are regulated, constraining or enabling in different ways.
3. In various positions occupied by subjects, who have to learn, use instruments, and occupy a place in information networks. These positions are complex and can change or shift in status, according to their location in hospitals, laboratories, or books in the library. We see the emergence of whole 'modalities of enunciation' of the clinical discourse (page 53).
Overall, the practice of clinical discourse fixes the relations between these elements. Such relations cannot be reduced to logical successions of types of diagnosis, for example, or to some general consciousness which progresses, or to a story of how actual doctors shifted from traditional to clinical modes.Modalities of enunciation disperse the subject (there is no unified medical gaze as in Birth...). Discourses are not simply the expressions of some subjective synthesis, but are better seen as spaces, or networks of sites and statuses.
General preconceptual discursive rules produce specific concepts in a discourse. These may be localised into specific fields, such as linguistics, or economics, but they are interconnected, either at some higher levels or via a certain 'concomitance’ [the relations between, say, linguistics and cosmology are connected in that they are both general scientific ways of thinking]. These rules generates a variety of sometimes conflicting concepts, hence the appearance of dispersion, since they are not strictly logical [a large number of details are offered on pages 56-60]. There are some general types of rules:
1. Forms of succession, governing how implications are pursued, how descriptions are progressively specified, how various statements are combined for example in rhetorical schemata, or hypothetico-deductive mechanisms.
2. Forms of co-existence which include boundaries around statements in a discourse's 'field of presence', and which leave some outside. There are also fields of concomitance, including analogical confirmations, general principles or models, and disciplines which act as higher authorities, such as mathematics. Finally, there is a field of memory, which consists of traditions to which one expresses relations of 'filiation, genesis, transformation and continuity' (page 58).
3. Procedures of intervention, which regulates rewriting, transcribing or translating (including translating qualitative into quantitative terms). These can assist in refining statements, delimiting them, according to the validity of transference from one field to another. They permit systematising propositions.
Some of these rules are explicit, some rhetorical, some internal and some relational in terms of other texts, but together they constitute a system to generate concepts and statements and to explain their dispersion in various actual theories, as actual discourses.
Strategies also focus discourses, and this can explain how different discourses can appear from within the same discursive formations. Strategies consist of 'themes and theories' (page 64) [they seem to function rather as do 'research programmes' for Lakatos]. Strategies crystallise out from a number of possibilities:
1. As the effects of certain 'discursive constellations' which provide models, general theories and so on [very close to Kuhn's notion of a paradigm here]. New constellations provide new possibilities for discursive formations to become autonomous from their existing constellations.
2. From various kinds of social authority. There are social functions exercised by a strategy, including pedagogic practice [but only, apparently for those grammarians discussed on page 68]. Discourses are appropriated by various social groups in the familiar way, but also form connections to 'possible positions of desire': they may become 'a place for phantasmic representations, an element of symbolization, a form of the forbidden, an instrument of derived satisfaction’ (page 68), not only for poetic discourses but also those referring to wealth, language, nature, life, and madness.
Together, all these possibilities explain the formation of individualised discourses clustered around strategies. There is the usual need to remember the specificity of the level of discourses -- these are not merely ideologies, or even expressions, but have their own effects, of transformation, and linking, or enunciation [they seem to transcend individual ideologies, which appear here as rather vulgar variants?]. Strategies are just one interwoven element, but an important one to remind us that discourses are never 'pure' (page 70).
It is difficult to trace all the factors that produce these unities, but the point here is to make the case for the unity of dispersed and concrete discourses.This case relies on a two-level analysis, operating at the level of the system first and then moving to actual discourses [sociology and politics can be used to explain the latter as a crystallisation of the former]. The lower levels are also effective in choosing concepts, though:the discursive level should not be seen as dominated by determinant from outside, and a discursive formation acts merely as a link between discrete series of discourses. This view opposes the usual forms of analysis which are typically one sided. The pre- systematic and the pre-discursive are still important 'Discourse and system produce each other -- and conjointly-- only at the cost of this immense reserve' (page 76). The pre-discursive level is itself still discursive, however, not some more primitive underlying 'life' or 'being' --'One remains within the dimension of discourse' (page 76). [This whole section seems to me to be in deep trouble. I'm not sure if this is sophistication or evasion of a well-known problem. Discursive analysis looks abstract and idealist, and Foucault tries to avoid this by introducing a major role for some materialist 'pre-discursive' level, and for practice and specific history -- yet these factors cannot be grasped except as discourses too!].
Let us return to the issue of statements rather than concepts as some kind of basic unit of analysis. These focus our attention on ‘enunciative characteristics' (page 81) rather than some logical or linguistic structure.This helps us to analyse 'what occurred by the very fact that the statement was made in specific circumstances' (page 83).[A lengthy debate ensues examining the claims of rival linguistic units such as speech acts, propositions or sentences -- pages 82-84]. Statement should be seen as signs that make sense, as functions such as the enunciative function:
1. Which is apparently not reducible to mere linguistic qualities, not just a matterof the relations between signifiers and signified, or proposition and referent. [There is a great deal of dense reasoning here, and swathes of typically ‘philosophical’argument, often ultimately appealing to ‘common sense’. I may not have understood a word of it]. Social contexts are crucial. Enunciation does not just depend on meanings derived from linguistic rules or logical truths, but refer to much broader 'referentials', such as 'laws of possibility' (page 91). The relation between an enunciative statement and its referential is not logical or empirical either, but should be seen as an internal relation between the statement and its 'spaces of differentiation' (page 92) [I don't know what this means].
2. It also has a special relation with its [human] subject : statements do not simply convey the privileged meanings of their author. For example there might be some special, anonymous, all-seeing subject uttering statements, as in the narrator of a [realist] novel. The subject becomes a function rather than a concrete individual, although sometimes this function is so specific that there can only be one [bearer], such as the author of a scientific innovation. Compare this level of specificity with the anonymous empty function of the addressee in the simple maths text (page 94).
3. The relation of the statement to its domain is a necessary one, moving beyond the functions of isolated sentences. We should not just see this as a matter of some determining context, since this relation makes a context possible, by operating in fictional or scientific domains, for example (page 98).There is an 'associated field', provided by other elements, such as those provided in a conversation or a demonstration, a number of quite implicit references, a set of implications which follow, and a set of statements to which this one belongs (marking it as literature or science and so on).These statements emerge from whole metacontexts, or 'enuciative fields' (page 99) This field, and the enunciative function itself, is therefore prior to the formation of actual sentences or propositions, and thus also prior to structural or logical analysis.
4. Analysis must be material, since the form that a statement takes, whether written or spoken, for example, has a material effect and an historical location . Such statements are constitutive, and should not be seen simply as a variation from some imaginary pure sentence. They exhibit both specific and universal qualities, as can be seen from difficulties that arise in use, for example when a statement is repeated. Their material existence in institutions produce definite possibilities of reinscription and transcription, but also constraints (page 103)
[Overall then, we seem to have some strong arguments to distinguish Foucault's formulation from his rivals and to maintain his peculiar definitions and so on. He claims that this will enable us to examine matters such as ‘circulation, use, disappearance, recognition, and various tactical appropriations' of such statements (page 105). As an example of his appalling style,with which I have struggled manfully, try the following:
'Should we say similarly that the statement refers to nothing of the proposition, to which it owe sits existence, has no referent? Rather the reverse. We should say not that the absence of a referent brings with it the absence of a correlate for the statement but that it is the correlate of the statement -- that to which it refers, not only what is said, but also what it speaks of, its "theme" -- which makes it possible to say whether or not the proposition has a referent: it alone decides this in a definitive way' (pages 89-90).
Aren't you glad I'm here? You thought my stuff was bullshit?]
So we need to examine operational fields rather than any kind of 'atom'.Foucault admits that his use of the term discourse has been ambiguous up to now, referring to a group of verbal performances, and acts of formulation,and a collection of statements. We can make use of these three definitions as stages to explain both continuity and dispersion, and we should end up with the final definition of discourse as 'the group of statements that belong to a single system of formation' (page 107), hence clinical discourses, economic discourses and so on. The point is that relations are always implied in a discourse, relations to objects, via the offer of a number of subject positions to other elements in a field, and to material institutions.This solves some problems but it is now not so easy to isolate statements which do not function like sentences.
Foucault is keen to deny that he wants to reveal hidden meanings behind discourses, and says he wants to perform an historical analysis of emergence. One way to begin this is to see discourses as polysemic where some possible meanings have been repressed but there are other analyses too, and this one operates at a secondary level (page 110). Repression of this kind still depends on enunciation in the first place -- first you have to describe the enunciative field itself, and only then can you go on to analyse the suspicious lack of alternatives found in concrete discourses. A preliminary investigation is required of statements before utterances are actually 'solidified'. Some description of an enunciative field is always implied in specific analyses of works and texts. Analysis of sentences is only possible after sentences have emerged in the domain of enunciation: sentences do not emerge directly from some 'primeval night of silence' (page 112), and they all contain residual elements from this domain. This transcendental level cannot itself be reduced to some simple source by materialist or humanist analysis.
How does all this relate to the earlier work? Foucault undertook his archaeology in order to try and regularise his insights and proceed 'without flaw, without contradiction, without internal arbitrariness' (page 114) [ a typically scholastic agenda]. The point was only to establish a possibility, and not to found a full theory. The point was to see how statements were linked in a discourse, not sentences with linguistic rules, nor propositions with logical ones, nor formulations with psychological rules (page 115). So what were the rules are to describe various relations, like those between subject positions and domains? How were they institutionalised and actually used?
The search for rules led him to the notion of a discursive formation .There seemed to be 4 aspects of such a formation -- the formation of objects, concepts, subject positions and strategic choices. These correspond to the 4 domains of the enunciative function outlined above. Together they provide a number of possibilities to explain both continuity and dispersions, at both the general and individual level.
Another definition of discourse follows: 'a group of statements in so far as they belong to a discursive formation', and this is contrasted to some ideal form that mutates over time. Discursive practice now becomes a body of rules for the operation of the specific enunciative function (page 117).
The result is a triumph for his analysis of 'concentric circles', going out to discourse and in to statements. There are clear dangers of tautology, though.
Discourses refer both to some totality, some 'great, uniform text' expressed in lots of specific ones (including institutions), and to open possibilities of plural meanings, since 'each discourse has the power to say... other than what it actually says' (page 118). The real interest lies in how particular enunciations arise:
1. There is a ‘law of rarity' (page 118), which yields a 'distribution of gaps, voids leads, absences are, limits, divisions' (page 119).This does not depend on some hidden process of repression, however, there is no depth mechanism: we are describing a process of localisation. Rare statements are reworked, duplicated, extended, translated, and commented upon, and then those products themselves generate new meanings. There is an inherent political struggle here, since statements are seen as assets to be struggled over. This is in stark contrast to the idea that there is an infinite wealth of meaning available in cultural traditions, as in hermeneutics.
2. There is systematic exteriority, in contrast to the usual view of interpretation which tries to move from external traces to internal meanings. This involves a view of the 'practical domain' as autonomous rather than as a trace, as a configuration of anonymous fields rather than as the acts of the subject. There is no cogito, no speaking subject, and no collective consciousness behind the 'totality of things said' (122).
3. Accumulation of statements takes place not in a memory or in some primary collection of documents, both of which imply some notion of origin, but as the results of the history of how the statements were established, used, forgotten or destroyed, and how they have accumulated through specific forms and processes: subjective memory and the repression of it 'are merely unique figures' in this history (124)
So we must avoid any simple notions of a return to origins, and deny any teleology.Instead, we must establish a 'positivity'.[Foucault flirts with this term here, saying he will accept he is a positivist if that means abandoning the transcendental level of analysis -- page 125].
This is a descriptive task, focusing on concrete unities rather than underlying truths, operating somewhere between a science and an oeuvre. This leads to a necessary 'historical a priori' (127), as a 'condition of reality for statements' (128) [I think this means that we are going to privilege history, albeit specific histories, when we try to explain the generation of statements]. Discourses can relate to this condition of reality in different ways, and we need to tell the story of 'points of contact, places of insertion, irruption or emergence, domains or occasions of operation' (128). These events are not just contingent connections. Systems of statements,in all their dispersion, produce archives, and these in turn produce regularities.
Archives offer a 'law of what can be said' (129). They provide rules to group statements, systems to enable enunciation and preserve the differences between discourses which make them specific. Archives operate between some general system of language and the concrete corpus of actual works, and guide the practice that generates, forms and transforms statements. [We are talking about a kind of virtual archive here, not an actual collection of documents]. An archive can never be fully described, and it appears only in fragmentary form. It has a real effect, though, in limiting our activities and our analyses. The archive alludes to discontinuity and difference rather than underlying unity [because it is a mere collection of approaches?]. Thus difference is at the centre of reason, history, and ourselves. Archaeology is therefore the correct process to use, instead of some search for an origin. Archaeology is 'a description that questions the already-said at the level of its existence: of the enunciative function, of the discursive formation, and the general archive system to which it belongs. Archaeology describes discourses as practices specified in the elements of the archive' (131).
What can archaeology actually offer [Foucault offers some delightfully modest self doubt on pages 135-7]. It needs to separate itself from the history of ideas. This is far too sloppy, concerning itself with 'shapeless works' and 'unrelated themes'. Archaeology tries to show how the disciplines emerge, how their boundaries are constituted, and how concepts diffuse. It is also interested in 'interdiscursive configurations' too, which are usually called epistemological generalities.
Foucault admits that his own earlier work is limited. For example, he decided deliberately not to explore concepts such as zeitgeist [spirit of the age] or weltanschauung [collective world view], but admits that he did so on principle, rather than following an investigation. He denies that his concepts here are claiming some privilege, and insists that they represent only one possibility [so they are arbitrary?] (159). He asks his readers to undertake 'the test of analysis' [some naive pragmatism?].
Archaeology is 'not a science, a rationality a mentality a culture' [with 'a' emphasised each time] (159). It offers a comparative analysis designed to show diversity [But why is diversity so important?].'What archaeology wishes to uncover is primarily... the play of analogies and differences' (160), to show:
1. Archaeological isomorphisms [things of similar shape] between different discursive elements at the level of rules.
2. How these rules operate to produce different formations
3. How different concepts are endowed with significance and shaped by archives,and occupy similar positions (161)
4. How a single notion can cover two archaeologically distinct elements [to expose hidden contradictions?]
5. How 'relations of subordination or complementarity... [are] established' (161) The issue is to find what makes these possible rather than how they have actually occurred [some strange notion of practice without a subject?]
6. How ‘configurations of interpositivity' form, which is a fancy way of referring to the law of communication between discourses.
Exploring relations between discourses and formations, and non-discursive domains [But isn't everything discourse?] leads to an interest in 'institutions, political events, economic practices and processes' (162). This should be descriptive rather than an attempt to interpret or describe causality: 'symbolic analysis', or 'causal analysis' of things like medical discourse offers merely a series of ‘readings’. Foucault wants something more fundamental, how political or economic factors 'take part in the conditions of emergence, insertion and functioning' of a discourse (163). How might they delimit objects? For example, political developments led to new issues for medicine, such as the need to control conscript armies. Another issue concerns how the status of the doctor emerged, and what functions were ascribed to medical discourses in the managements of various conflicts among the professionals.It is not a matter of how politics influences medical concepts or theoretical structures, but more to do with how 'medical discourse as a practice... [was]...articulated on to practices that are external to it, and which are not themselves of a discursive order' (164). [OK,but this seems like a very abstract and scholastic project to me, despite all the emphasis on practice. The projec tof showing how politics influences medical concepts seems far more interesting and relevant!]
Does archaeology freeze history? Foucault denies the relevance of simple chronologies,but not the effects of time. He does describe articulations over time, such as how things become operationalised in to statements, or how the mobility of discourses takes place, but these are not just driven by events: on thecontrary, the relation to events varies according to particular discourses at work (168).. There is a sense of succession or development,but this is not always chronological. Time is never a simple determinant, according to some 'original calendar', usually based on linear speech and the stream of consciousness. There is a need to undo simple histories and expose all the glosses which cover over differences. There are different types of differences anyway, such as primary ones, localised versus general,or transforming.
Foucault wants to deny that transformations are authored or caused, both of which reduce specificity by deploying some single notion such as the'living force of change'. Transformations can be uneven, are seldom revolutionary and complete, and these continuities are also of interest [which denies the notion of a simple tradition]. The idea of an 'active continuousness' (174) is used to deny a view of history as a series of eras or watersheds. Discourses vary in their reactions to temporality [which leads to an interesting aside on the epistemological break in marxism. Foucault says there are different notions of epistemological breaks as well, and different effects -- compare the one inaugurated when Marx broke with Ricardo to the one identified by Althusser between the early and late works of Marx].
Archaeology seems to apply to Foucault's own limited examples, but what of any wider implications? What about natural science? Archaeology is not about specific disciplines as such, but about positivities, and discursive formations are not the same as established disciplines either. Discursive formations are ‘larger’ and more general than individual disciplines, and can be shared between them, as is psychiatry and law in Madness... Discursive practices also preceded disciplines, and are manifested in other sites as well. However positivities sometimes do turn into sciences, and discursive practices sometimes do act as proto-disciplines.
Positivities are not forms of knowledge nor just a collection of acceptable knowledges, but are the effects of discursive rules. They are not necessarily sciences. Rules are not just prototypes or some archaic stage of a discipline. They are best thought of as knowledge itself ['in general', one might think?], produced by a disciplinary practice, a space for subject positions, a ‘field of co-ordination and subordination of statements in which concepts appear' (182), a set of relations of use and appropriation [Do you find any of these stylish but flatulent metaphors of any use?]. These practices, spaces, fields or sets can be independent of specific sciences, but not of discourse.
It might be possible to see sciences as a selection from knowledge, operating with rather stricter criteria? Archaeology explores territories beyond scientific domains, such as those shared by literature and philosophy. So how does science emerge?
1. It is a selection from knowledge, a local region in knowledge. Its boundaries vary as an effective discursive formations. The function of science is the important issue rather than the science/ideology issue [which Althusser had made central]. Turning to that [rather hastily I thought], science and ideology share features as discursive practices. Thereis no sharp distinction between them, but the level of discursive formation is decisive. Whether one uses causal explanations is irrelevant, and it is not just a matter of rigour. [Having disposed of that], the ideological role of science is established by looking at 'the system of formation of its objects, its types of enunciation, its concepts, its theoretical choices' (186). [So a great deal of wriggling must take place here. Both science and ideology are discourses, but we do not want to let anyone say that therefore they are of equal value -- we have not yet got to post-modernism. So we assert some differences, and claim they are important. But this is really very near the end of the book, and we have not mentioned these crucial differences before but have stayed at a very general and abstract level indeed. By the time we have got to these crucial specific differences, we have done enough theorising, and there is time and space enough only to jot down a few remarks].
2. Discursive forms emerge first as positivities [practices become autonomous and systematised first?]. Then there is a stage on the 'threshold of epistemologisation', when norms are clarified and begin to function as a model. Then formal criteria and logical explicitness develop,on the 'threshold of scientificity'. Further definitions of axioms, propositions,and rules of transformation leave us on the threshold of 'formalisation' (187).The way these develop and interlock can vary: there are no neat periodisations,and stages 1 and 2 can be mixed, for example. Mathematics seems to have crossed all the thresholds at once, which is why it is often taken as a model for the development of a discipline.
3. So distinct histories are possible. There can be a history of formalisation, and one of scientificity. [Bachelard and Canguilhem are much admired here]. Such histories are often situated within science itself, and thus tend to be saturated with terms like truth and error, rational and non rational. A history can stop at the stage of epistemologisation -- not all discursive formations lead to sciences.
4. Analysing the dynamics within discursive formations and positivities leads to an analysis of the episteme itself, the ‘relations that unite... the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences and... formalised systems' (191). These affect the different thresholds and the paths between them. An episteme is more than a form of knowledge or type of rationality, but is best seen as an 'indefinite field of relations', including relations with other fields. This varies over time. It gives the right to be a science, not as a one-off gift, but as an historical practice again.
Is archaeology right to focus on this episteme? Other kindsof archaeology are possible: do we need, say, an archaeology of sexuality which would involve not only the science of sexuality, but also a field of possible enunciations in its own right? Should we not be oriented to ethical rather than epistemic issues? What about political knowledge? Foucault says that he is interested in the emergence of sciences in particular for several reasons -- because they are emerging strongly these days, because it is an important political task to criticise science, but principally because they demonstrate best the points about positivity.
This offers one of those dialogues, in which Foucault replies to some imaginary questions:
Do we need, concepts rather than structuralist analysis? Surely concepts like langue and parole would deal with the issue of how specific discourses arise? Discourses seem to be very context bound: surely they express the relations between real successive events?
Analysing discourses reveal their identity and diversity, and there are a number of ways to grasp them, as well as using structural and interpretative approaches. The intention here is to reveal [micropolitical] possibilities.
Surely we cannot do without teleology and subjectivity as unifying themes? Some discourses, such as structuralism,are already capable of generalising about other discourses. Surely current theoretical practice is immune from charges of historical specificity?
Some sort of break from ideology into science seems to be promised here,with an implicit view that new forms of reason are transcendental. I aimed to analyse the past to exhibit irreducible discontinuity and dispersion,the impossibility of transcendentalism. Attempts to deny this application to the present stem from a desire to defend the consciousness of the subject,and there are elements of special pleading [a number of attacks against his Archaeology are summarised, page 204], and a hint that this debate is all about boundary maintenance.
What legitimates Foucault's discourse? Is he offering a naively positivist description? Is it all subjective? 'Either [your discourse] does not reach us, or we claim it' (page 205). Is it history or philosophy?
There is no attempt to find some hidden law in discourses. There is a genuine attempt to describe dispersion and decentring, to make differences, constitute new theoretical objects. This is neither history nor philosophy.
It is not science either! The claims made are still in their infancy. The project tends to define what it is not, always postponing systematisation,always claiming to be a new research programme. Isn't it likely to die with its author?
This project is a survey of concrete research rather than a scientific plan, although it is related to science [via the reconstruction of the sciences it analyses?] It is scientific in that it is interested in performance [politics?] rather than mere linguistic competence. Sciences are seen as possibilities within this overall archaeology, 'correlative spaces' (page 207), although we might find a general theory of productions eventually. The project aims to occupy a specific domain, which could be unstable: the problems could be better grasped by some other discipline; it could be a false start; it could die with the author.
While arguing that all other discourses are constrained, are you not claiming a revolutionary freedom for yourself?
Positivities should not be seen as closed forms of determination. Instead they constitute a field, a set of rules, relations or supports. They describe pragmatics rather than logics. Discourses should be seen as practices rathert han just linguistic expressions. Discourses can change, but not only via subjects.Notions like evolution or essentialism deny the impact of political changes,and see discourses as transparent bearers of subjective meanings.This is a pleasurable view, and we like to think of ourselves as subjects.It is irritating to have to deconstruct instead. It is also nice to want to banish death via discourse (page 210) -- if there is no interior,is everything else indifferent? There is no real response to this except sympathy!