READING GUIDE TO: Kendall, G and Wickham, G.  (1999) Using Foucault’s Methods, London: Sage (NB part of a series introducing qualitative methods).

[An intriguing piece of work, quite good on Foucault's 'negative' criticism, of other approaches,  but hopeless as an example of any positive contributions he might make, as we shall see. It is a strange contradiction that sees the authors as not being content with Foucault as a pure critic, but wanting him to have some positive analysis to offer as well -- this is a contradiction in Foucault too, in my view, and in many another French 'post' critic as my 1996 book argues. This is also a modern textbook, with irritating exercises for 'us' readers to do, and imaginary dialogues with and between fictional students.  I dislike the technique intensely, but I can see that it actually has a role in the argument here—briefly, likely opponents of Foucault and complexity are rendered as idiots, which saves a lot of argument].

Foucault has developed special methods, using concepts such as history, archaeology, genealogy and discourse, and there are special ways of applying them to debates about science and culture.  Unlike other commentators, the authors think there was a definite method in Foucault, and that Archaeology of Knowledge was not a spoof.  Anyway, the alternative to identifying a method in Foucault is to see him simply as a commentator driven by personal or mystical motives and intentions.  Foucault is easily labelled, for example as a speculative poetical postmodernist, or sometimes as a Marxist.  He is reconcilable with Latour on actor network theory although Latour is not explicit in his links with Foucault.

Chapter one

[The chapter begins with an awful narrative about three inquiring students struggling to come to terms with Foucault]. There is no conventional coherent theoretical approach in Foucault, so that, for example, he is not just against Victorian repressive notions of sexuality.  Instead, ‘his histories never stop’ (4) [compare this with the notion that textuality goes ‘all the way down’].  The present ‘is just as strange as the past’ (4).  The point of history is to diagnose the present, and to use it to disturb our taken for granted notions.  Current attitudes are just as influenced by discourses, for example, including feminist criticisms of Foucault [ try this one while we are here, or this one] .  What Foucault asks us to do is to pursue a constant search for contingency rather than causes, and to embrace a permanent scepticism when it comes to politics. [Obvious point really -- is his work purely contingent and must we be equally sceptical about it?]

Contingency means that we value historical accidents, and never see historical developments as necessary.  However, historical events are shaped by certain pressures [otherwise they would be completely relative and arbitrary of course—the old dilemma for French intellectuals who want to play with relativism and yet not be sidelined as commentators on great events]. History progresses through a series of unintended consequences as in Weber.  Historical investigation is required rather than assigning priorities in advance [although some commentators think that Foucault is a theorist of historical movement, towards alienation, for example].  There is no straightforward progression: rather, history reveals a rhizomatic structure.  [Then there is an appalling student exercise for us on page nine].

Scepticism was developed as an investigative technique by the Greeks, and took both Academic and Pyrrhonic forms. The latter version insists that we cannot know even that Scepticism itself is the correct stance.  It requires a suspension of judgment and continuous investigation rather than dogmatic assertions of the truth, even a belief in the truthfulness of relativism.  Somebody called Hunter is cited [see reference below] on the tension in education between the social and individual, which is to be reconciled as the unity of control and freedom [old Durkheimian themes here].  There can be no easy progress away from historical naivety.  It is impossible to suspend all judgment, however, although this should be at least attempted, at least when it comes to assigning causes to things.  Foucault’s stance is seen best in his work on care, which offers an unsorted compilation of self management techniques, not the story of progress towards better ones.  Many rival social theories do try to impose some order, however, but Foucault insists on a methodological separation between investigation and prescription of this kind.  For example, Marx is responsible for the view that there must be some political process lying beneath historical development.  The surface/depth  model, and the search for hidden meaning, is the approach which Foucault refuses to adopt.  This is the first stage of proper Scepticism.  However, it is not simply a licence to rely on personal judgments either.  Instead, all and every reading is to be admitted via a general ‘sceptical respect’ (18).  Anglo theorists find this approach particularly difficult, and tend to see it as a rhetorical flourish as in ‘French theory’ [my own view, for what it’s worth, is that such radical Scepticism is impossible to sustain, and it tends to let hidden meanings creep back in in order to justify the approach as more than just an academic game].

Chapter two

We still need to be able to give some order to history [otherwise we would be left with an interesting list], and Foucault proposes to do this through his special concepts of archaeology, genealogy, and discourse.  The first necessity is to identify problems throughout, rather than periods in, history.  Then we need to develop a radical historicism, but we should avoid academicism [if we want to be serious social commentators].  This should lead to simply better investigation.

Archaeology [the authors have to refer to a series of quotes from Foucault himself in order to explain the full beauty of this concept].  It is about developing a general rather than a total history, emphasizing ‘differences, transformations, continuities, mutations’ (24) [on solid French ground here then, with Bachelard, Canguilhem and Althusser – the last one seems to have been omitted, strangely, from the legacy].  For example when discussing the emergence of the prison, we study the new possibilities to make statements about criminality which emerged and how these led to greater visibility of the modern criminal, and modern criminology.  Archaeology examines the archive of discourses.  It is to be non interpretative and non anthropological (that is, without nominating human authors).  The specific goals of archaeology are outlined, and they include seeing how the sayable becomes visible, as in the prison example above, how relations emerge between statements and subjects, how institutions emerge.  Archaeology examines the ‘”surfaces of emergence”, the places within which objects are designated and acted upon’ (26).  The school is to be the example here [and later].  The antihumanist bits at least show the structuralist legacy of Foucault’s work.

Genealogy follows a similar strategy to archaeology, but it now focuses on power.  So the origins of psychology are found in the original [rather nasty] tendency to label people as outcasts, not some pure mission to help people.  Foucault opposes the idea that the Enlightenment produced new and liberating sciences, as in Habermas.  He offers instead criticism without judgments [without judgments?  A mere neutral account of medicine and psychology?].  The approach is aimed at liberating oneself from past judgments.  But this is the goal at the end—what about the method itself?  Genealogy is about processes relative to archaeology, the tactics needed to bring knowledge into play (31) [but doesn’t Foucault have a particular interest in subjugated knowledges, not just a technical one in seeing how knowledges emerge?] Genealogy is about strategy.

Discourse.  The point is to remember that discourses are productive, for example that penology produces the criminal [careful, though, because linguistic reductionism is going to emerge soon].  For example, modern notions of sexuality emerge as a label for precursor activities [which are things outside of discourse].  However, Foucault does not head towards a fully nondiscursive reality either (34).  There is no crude materialism [is this the only available option though?].  Discourse is not just about language, but about knowledges and their material conditions.  It is thus about neither just language, nor just things [the usual weasels then]. It is impossible to think before language: for example the work on the confessional shows the effects on thinking about sin, especially sexual sin.  For such knowledge to emerge, certain conditions of possibility need to be met, although these are not to be seen as necessary.  Thought is not just a private matter but the result of ‘the operation of public apparatuses’ (37).  There are no simple direct referents for language either—objects need to appear first, for example trade unions appear in the spaces provided by industrial law [either ludicrous idealism or a fancy way of arguing for the necessity to look at how actual organizations come to be incorporated into the State and given legal status]. There are disputes about the reality of objects in different discourses, but no independent reality.  [And then just in time to avoid the implications…] There are elements of the nondiscursive, however, although this is ambiguous in Foucault [!].  Nevertheless bodies, for example have a material existence outside of discourse and are not just discourse, but their qualities involve discourse, and body practices do so as well, for example like physical punishment [pretty banal I would have thought, and seems to involve a common limitation of philosophy, that it doesn’t actually understand the biology of bodies, but treats them as black boxes—see below].  What else might be included as nondiscursive?  Some people think nature is, but Latour argues this is misleading [he appears later, but presumably this refers to his idea that only when something is constructed objectively and agreed does it receives the label ‘natural’, despite the fact that ‘Nature’ is also some have conceived as acting independently of all the scientific attempts to pin it down].  Sciences make objects visible.  However it is logically impossible to know whether objects have a nondiscursive element: discourses themselves might attempt some kind of closure [the full capturing of objects].  Discourses can also combine with the other discourses, according to particular rules, producing a discursive complex [which presumably increases the sense of facticity?] Overall then, discourses have: a collection of statements which are organized; rules for the production of statements; rules to delimit the sayable; rules to identify spaces for new statements; material practices and discursive practices (42) [The usual contradictions and hesitations, then—the last rule in particular is very weaselly].

The power knowledge relation.  Discursive relations are power relations, in the productive sense.  There is no underlying conspiracy, despite the versions of discourse offered in Hall, or Laclau and Mouffe.  [But then, the dilemma reassert itself: why should we be interested in some discourses and not others?  Why not pursue light technical analyses of the discourses of gardening?] A discourse is a strategy to render the sayable visible, and vice versa [the vice versa arrives just in time to prevent a linguistic reductionism].  It is productive and positive [always?  Must be? This is a Panglossian essentialism?].  There is however resistance [so we haven’t broken with Stuart Hall here], arising from embodiment, [which produces a kind of natural inertia?].  [This inertia is a major problem for Foucault's discourse analysis, though, according to critics as divers as Baudrillard & Lotringer, and DeCerteau]. It would not be right to promote resistance, of course, as some kind of inevitable occurrence.  [But seeing resistance in this way as a kind of deviance is almost functionalist?].  Knowledge differs from power in being hierarchical, formal and systematic, rather than strategic and anonymous.  Power operates at the micro physical level, and is concerned with doing rather than knowing, the local (not the miniature).  Is power the primary form?  It seems so because knowledge can only work on things which have been produced by power (51).  But doesn’t knowledge select power or inform power?  Power produces knowing subjects, and these subjects produce themselves, but are subject to power (53).  [Clear?  We have a fancy French witticism rather than analysis, and one that looks as if it’s borrowed from Althusser anyway on the paradoxes of the subject].  We must remember that the individual is a historically contingent object, produced by ‘technologies of self’ (53).  Subjects work through discourse too, however, and are produced by a discourse via a ‘doubling of self upon self’ (53), producing different subject positions rather than a coherent concrete individual as such.  However, all the terms discussed so far—knowledge, power and the subject—condition each other and there is no ‘last instance’ of determination.  This avoids discursive determinism, the authors think, because the ‘components of the triad must always be considered together’ (56).  [One of my favourite words is ‘must’.  We must do this because reality is like that?  Because we want to get on with some Foucaldian analysis?  Because we want to make sure there is no possible way to criticize us?].

Chapter three

Considering applying Foucault’s methods will lead us to Latour on science and technology.  Scientific knowledge used to be seen as exempt from sociological analysis, but not now.  Latour follows Foucault by pursuing a problem based approach, as in Law’s work on influential texts and technologies.  Science is not just a matter of human interactions and discoveries.  The founding fathers of sociology were rather uncritical about science and saw it as objective, at least in terms of its content and method [Marx?].  It wasn’t until Merton that we saw that science was also a matter of values or ethos, that it was linked with Puritanism, as a moral force.  Then Popper did useful work on falsificationism [but the authors have him as some kind of evolutionist!] Kuhn did marvellous work to see science as periods of normality punctuated by revolutions [usual dubious reading of Kuhn].  Paradigms were incommensurable, but this only mattered when there was a crisis.  Kuhn is some sort of precursor of Foucault (66) [I personally don’t think Foucault makes much of an improvement on Kuhn, even after rather fancy stuff about discourse before he gets round to considering science, if that’s what they mean].

Woolgar refutes scientific essentialism [scientism] and the Great Man theory. Representation is a crucial part of science not just simple discovery [back to the relativist side to stave off the special claims of science], and there would be no sense data without representation.  The notion of the episteme in Foucault is similar to the idea of a paradigm in Kuhn. Are scientific representations really more objective?  Scientist usually deal with the obviously subjective bits of science by suggesting that these will eventually be overcome as science progresses, or that they represent irrelevant philosophical problems.  But representations are prior to the emergence of all objects [a lengthy example then emerges, and not one based on anything obvious like the discovery of DNA.  Instead, the discovery of America by Columbus shows us that Columbus had to get authority for his adventures, that his claim emerged over time, and it was only eventually that he emerged as the true discoverer of the Americas].  We can insist that there was never a real object to be discovered.  [Getting back to natural science --dubiously? Are the objects of political geography like the objects of biology?] experimental realities have to be constructed in laboratories, experiments have to be defined, and agreement sought on when they have been replicated.  Even disconformation is a social act.  However these practices are unacknowledged in science's understanding of itself.

Another example turns on an attempt to measure the size and frequency of gravity waves.  A clever apparatus was designed to measure them, but gravity waves are so weak that it is impossible to eliminate noise.  Early claims to have discovered gravity waves were doubted, simply because more were discovered that could be predicted from theory.  Observational data was thus over ridden, showing there are social reasons for deciding if experimental findings are valuable: the authors think that these social reasons include estimates of ‘faith and honesty…  The size and prestige of the university’ (72).

For Latour, scientists are best seen as entrepreneurs.  Science involves a lot of black boxing, and this tends to lead to an underestimation of the importance of technology.  A successful theory refers to lots of black boxes [that is, it is not easily challenged or doubted].  Black boxing reduces complexity.  An assembly of black boxes can take on the force of being a ‘macro actor’.  There is an occasional struggle to open or close black boxes, but generally, they accumulate to produce a kind of scientific  inertia [which is often taken to be objective reality].

Alliances are crucial in science, to enlist support for projects.  This can be done by displacing the goals (persuading politicians not to develop a weapon but to win a war); establishing new goals (or establishing new markets, as Eastman did for amateur photography [I think Nike is a better example].  Alliances reveal a mixture of epistemological and material interests.  The picture is complex, with no determinism, either technical or political.  Further, technology is essentially social.  Technology affects science, and not always the other way around [the example given is how educational technology changes the notions of teaching and learning, 79].  Technologically inferior products sometimes win in the market.

Chapter four

Latour on We have Never Been Modern.  Modernism has unfortunately been defined in a particular way by the modernizers.  It is a strange projects that both creates [man machine] hybrids and yet insists on a separate ontology for human beings.  It tends to see history as a series of revolutions, driven by underlying progress, and punctuated by crisis.  It is obsessed with causes.  It has a humanist view of how discoveries arise, and a strange conception of the global as something separate from the local.  Marxists are particularly guilty of making these strange assumptions.  Nature is reified, but society is seen as negotiable.  God is denied, but he remains implicit in the teleological view of history: the Reformation in particular constructed a very convenient personal God who could be made into a private concern.  However, modernism has encouraged criticism, but of a rather odd kind—of the irrationality that defies nature and of the reification of social life [clever!  89].  Generally, modernism was contradictory, and never a unified project, always tactically nimble.

Serious challenges have emerged, arising from the diversity of society and from radical relativism.  However both anti modernism and postmodernism are equally flawed—both are simply too serious about modernism, and offer a mere swapping of plus and minus signs [here again, the argument is taken by lots of undigested quotes from Latour] (89).  Postmodernism is itself riddled with contradictions, for example in denying a temporal narrative and yet insisting that they are post something: again they want to keep the modernist framework while denying any cohesion.  Politics and science tend to be merged [the argument is carried here in terms of a strange debates between Hobbs and Boyle on the nature of scientific universals—beyond me I’m afraid 92].  Sociology is unable to grasp these complexities, with its insistence on a separate sphere for the social, and for its tactical maneuvering on issues such as social determinism [we have seen rather a lot of this with Foucault too!] [There is a peculiar discussion about the documentary method in Garfinkel as a kind of unmasking, together with a denial of the need to unmask – 93].  Anthropologists are unable to be anthropological about their own society, showing that they too are trapped in modernism and are willing to accept conventional boundaries between the natural, social and discursive.  What we need instead is a systematic study of networks without criticism, and including nonhumans.

Networks are therefore the unit of analysis.  They should not be concerned with unveiling, or prioritizing particular modernist categories.  We need to examine ‘reality, language, society and being’ (96), but not as necessarily contradictory.  We need not preserve conventional divisions of labour either, such as a sociology that cannot cope with objects or languages, or a humanism that separates us from objects.  Divisions between objects and subjects, nature and society are outcomes rather than causes.  We should be studying processes, pursuing ‘evidencing’ (97) at the local level [a number of incomprehensible quotes and French assertions ensue, and take us as far as page 98].  The old notion of the West as distinctive because it has developed science needs to be rejected: cultures differ more in terms of their size, the number of issues that they need to hold together [there’s a notion of cultural colonization connected to the ability to process information in his book on science in action].  It is more coherent to offer a full relativism where even cultural differences are seen as constructed – Latour calls this relationism [shades of Mannheim here?], which the authors see as Pyrrhonian scepticism again.  Even temporal sequences are ‘made’.

Overall, Latour proposes to preserve the best parts of each of the traditions he discusses in this book.  He likes the modernist notion of experiments, for example but not the division between things and signs.  He likes the premodern acceptance of hybrids, but not ethnocentrism.  He cannot take seriously postmodern irony which he sees as really modernist, and urges that it be preserved only if there are no illusions. 

[The authors offer a summary of this lengthy argument on page 100, which is good, rather similar to the one offered here, but splattered with lengthy quotes and the use of elegant language to gloss ambiguities.]

The social constructivist criticism of science is itself a construction, but this time from social science.  It is just as problematic and open to negotiation.  Instead, we need to be self critical, reflexive.  We do not need to adopt relativism, since this involves another false belief.  Instead, we should pursue Pyrrhonian scepticism and this will deliver a new realism, a full recognition of the impact objects can have, including their ability to act.  This is not to acknowledge the traditional scientific view of nature as an agent, however [goodness me no].

We finally turn to one of the more famously daft examples—Callon on the idea that scallops and fishermen both collaborate as actors in the fishing of scallops.  Critics find this absurd, and insist that this is already a ‘human-centred account’, for example.  At this point, the authors produce the actor network theory term ‘actant’ to make their point (103) [or does it avoid the point, by using the new term, in order not to have to come clean on whether scallops really are actors in the sense that humans are?].  [I’m really not sure about this argument –  is it just rhetoric, a way of reminding us that we classically objectify nature?] The point is that the old divisions between nature and humans are to be undermined, leading to the idea of a network as the primary unit.  For example, Callon uses his claim to argue that the decline of scallops in the French fishery was a combination of both natural and social events, including the activities of fishermen, environmental scientists, and the abilities of scallops to adapt to new surroundings [even the term ‘abilities’ is already humans centred or anthropomorphic.  Arguments about ‘capacities’ cannot avoid this slip either?].  A baffling definition of the French term ‘interressment’ is supposed to help clarify the argument (104), referring to a process which stabilizes ‘the identity of an actant by stabilizing one’s own links with that entity and weakening the links the entity has with other entities’ (104).  Translating this, it seems that the survival of these wretched scallops was the central issue, and the researchers tried to promote this by establishing parallels with other studies of shellfish, trying to get the fishermen interested in preservation and so on. [so it is the density of connections in a network that confers power on an actant?]  However, not all actants did enrol: ‘The scallops refused to anchor, and the fishermen could not resist fishing’ [we cannot take this seriously as an argument, surely – we’re using a playful anthropomorphism here, and not as serious argument, and just because we can stick scallops and fishermen in the same sentence does not mean to say that we should accord them the same status. Is there really no specificity in the notion of human choice?].  The whole episode is best seen as an example of how scientific controversies proceed and end [so again, it’s a playful example?  We could equally have talked about fairies and robots?].  Both society and nature have a role and either can refuse to corporate—the outcome, the truth of non survival, emerges from a network [well, this really is an awful lot of  rather fancy talk to express a banality—natural things can resist our intentions as well as human beings?].

Let us consider Latour’s paper on the missing masses.  We know that physics is currently facing a problem because there does not seem to be enough mass in the universe, but Latour’s point is that conventional social sciences also have missing actants—objects like door closers.  These have an important role -- in shutting doors [!].  Latour  insists it is a moral role as well, because it makes people adopt particular behaviours [it is the moral framework governing human behaviour that does this surely? Does the door closer continue to have a moral role of its own in a panicky exit? Maybe the door closer is panicking too?].  We should not understand this as anthropomorphic, however, because it is already invested with human actions [clever French trope -- but an argument?] , and the object itself embodies human acts and intentions [not very startling, rather like the old points that machines embody dead human labour in Marxism].  There is a ‘gradient of delegation’ involved, ranging from the designer to the machine itself, and this can be varied by engineers [not by the door closer though!] (106).  This offers a remarkable new way of understanding, claim the authors of this book, and it lets non humans in to social scientific study at last.  It avoids asymmetry [but this is defined as keeping non-humans out in the first place!] And it avoids determinism [this permanent commitment to non determinism is becoming a kind of moral or political leitmotif—complexity good , determinism bad, as an assertion rather than as something that might be researched].  At last,  nature is brought back in.

[The elaborate summary on page 108 and the exercise for student readers takes on an interesting dimension.  The exercise invites us to take a strategic, pedagogic role, in that we have to explain it all to someone, one of the wretched imaginary students.  Taking a pedagogic stance is actually quite convenient – we can dispense with some of the philosophical confusions and some of the criticisms and claim to be doing so in the name of clear communication. One of my highly sceptical imaginary students noticed that in my 'dialogue' about postmodernism here.Luckily K's & W's students are all very passive and patient].

Scientific facts are constructed so they clearly contain values.  The example is given of someone inventing a detergent and marketing it, only to face objections from the Greens, and the need to reconsider and remarket.  The issue turned on different views of the robustness or vulnerability of nature.  However, we should not see this example as a simple clash of interests, because technology itself played an important part in evolving towards green acceptability to overcome some of the objections [on its own? It would have done this without a market compulsion?].  The usual assumption of there just being two contending [human] parties is itself a construct.  We must remember that policy develops as a rhizome.  Another example charts the alliance of interests needed to get a museum started [I did all this years ago looking at the alliance of interests need to get the UK Open University started—but using critical theory not actor network theory].  A crucial role is played by ‘boundary objects’, which have different meanings in different social worlds, but which are not entirely socially constructed—they are ‘robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites’ (111).  [This is another tactic to manage the issue about whether things exist outside discourses or not, and have it both ways.  Here, it looks as if particular objects have been empirically discovered – and a study is cited on page 111 – which solves the problems of ambiguous philosophizing.  Luckily, there just happen to be these objects which are both objective and discursive].

Science develops policy not just from the implementation of true and accepted results.  Nor is policy entirely determined by politics.  Instead, we have a dynamic network, which propels scientific knowledge into the public sphere.  [ A rather good example is provided here about how scientific analysis of the effects of cholesterol became a policy dogma --but this account challenges the adequacy of actor-network theory]. Scientists take a risk in entering the sphere though, because it becomes possible for laymen to see the artifice that lies behind science.  This was why scientists in the old days carefully rehearsed their experiments before they had demonstrated than in public [and why scientific experiments on television do the same].  Even here, the editing and manipulation can be exposed afterwards.  Nevertheless, science achieves certainty by processes like this, tidying up and abstracting from the real picture of a complex network [here, popular television and journalism is singled out for criticism as being too simplistic, a bit like determinism and relativism before. Here, it is a nice simple example that we can all follow—but maybe a bit too simple: any media analyst would argue that it is not straightforward simplification, but the rather complex construction of a reality that is involved.  Come to think of it, that would probably make the authors’ arguments even stronger.]

Chapter five

Cultural studies.  Only an idiot would think that it would be simple and straightforward to apply Foucault to this field [and luckily there is one in the shape of a straw man Marxist imaginary student, Eric].  Cultural studies is set up for us first as a statement of the obvious riddled with jargon.  Stuart Hall, however, is accessible and sensible, but mistaken in his attempt to incorporate Foucault within the overall apparatus of hegemony and resistance.  Hall sees Foucault as limited in the usual way—he has no notion of class, and his notion of discourse goes too far and so on.  Hall wants to keep the notion of ideology: he acknowledges Foucault’s work on power and then promptly abandons it in favour of ideology (in his analysis of Thatcherism).  Is it permissible to borrow bits of people’s theories, to just borrow Foucault's idea of the disciplined subject?  No, because Foucault has his own approach to his own problems.  The work on discipline and punishment, for example cannot simply be applied to new objects [this reminds me of Hirst in his Althuserian pomp attacking Hall for wanting to apply Marxist science to new objects].  It is a matter of specificity.  We can easily rescue Foucault from claims that he avoids gender or class because they are not there in the specific objects he wants to analyse [what a  strange argument – the whole point is to debate whether class and gender are there or not] [so is Foucault analyzing specific cases as a kind of exercise rather than saying anything concrete?  Surely we are meant to get something concrete out of his work, aren’t we, such as the realization that mad or gay people have been oppressed?  If he’s not interested in concrete cases, we are reverting to seeing his work as a collection of lots of interesting technical analyses].

[To avoid that last possibility] Foucault can be used to do cultural analysis, as During demonstrates.  Apparently, Foucault’s analysis can be used to open up possibilities in texts.  This is better than Marxism with its confirmatory tendencies [but only if you prefer complexity as a good thing in itself, if you have some kind of 'aversion against the universal' --see Honneth]. Foucault’s work is very careful we are told [three times on page 120].  [So this again is supposed to rescue it?  The careful analysis of complexity—sounds like good old English Lit or analytic philosophy to me].

We can see what can be done by considering how Foucault might be used to understand English schooling.  Discipline and Punish was about individuality, and we can compare the analysis with those views that think that schooling develops from liberal ideas or from Marxist class rule [Willis is cited as an example, then Althusser on ISAs, and later Bowles and Gintis—these rather different variants of Marxism have been black boxed!] However, the development of schooling clearly links with ideas about crime, poverty, competitiveness, and a systematic gathering of statistics about these patterns.  This new knowledge means a new kind of intervention [a number of Foucaldian studies are cited here, and they look quite interesting, but citing them is hardly providing evidence for the superiority of the approach].  We need to be non reductionist and very careful [!] here.  Hunter [and the reference here is to an unpublished manuscript on Foucault, with no date] says that the combination of Christian pastoral techniques and bureaucratic training can be seen in the emergence of schooling.  Hoskin (1993) suggests that the combination of classrooms, laboratories, seminars, formal exams and other practices have combined to produce the enterprising and self disciplining subject in education.  The overall picture from these two authorities is that educational culture is unpredictable, that individuals combine limited resources ‘to deal with limited local problems’ (122), rather than following an overall logic [Salter and Tapper deal with this much better in their classic rejection of the idea of hegemony at work in educational policy, with far better examples of actual legislation].

‘Chance’ played a role, and the educational institutions that emerged were a ‘ragbag’ [a simple preference for complexity again?  The old English historian’s way of banishing nasty continental theory?].  [No, a trend is detectable…] the system was always bureaucratic, not based on the free development of an individual [so humanism is thwarted], but nor is there an underlying picture of class rule, because events depend on contingency [having it both ways again?].  Classrooms construct children, and produce modern subjectivity.  No deeper explanations are required: instead we should see education as ‘the modern production of a knowledge complex, simultaneously political, economic and psychological’ (124).

[The imaginary students play a very important role here in managing possible objections.  Eric, the unfortunate Marxist is both slow on the uptake and ‘Gung Ho’ with a problematic ego.  He doesn’t do very well in subsequent sections either!  No need to argue with him, then, since abuse will do to silence the poor soul].

The school is both a factory and a laboratory, both experimental and productive.  In support, the authors cite a study of a particular reading instruction scheme.  This is not simply determined by academic and educational/political discourses, because classrooms are relatively autonomous [here’s an old friend!  Relative autonomy!  Well developed in applied Marxist weaselling as in the Hall-Hirst debate again].  Apparently, a teacher, part of an empirical study undertaken by the authors, agrees with this.  Teachers act in an enmeshed complex of knowledge [denial of simple humanism], but they are never determined, and are only relatively autonomous [welcome again!  126], so there is no overarching logic [here, teacher views and teacher opinions and estimates are taken as some sort of solid evidence of the absence of any underlying class mechanisms!]

However, ‘educational and psychological knowledge have produced the teachers' understandings’ (126) [not ideology then?].  For example, the work of Piaget and Chomsky have been influential in producing the view of the teacher as a facilitator not just an instructor.  At the same time, educational theory reduces social factors to psychological ones [a really obscure section follows, about Kantian dualisms between the knower and the known—damned if I can see why 127].  Thus school pupils are constructs rather than real individuals.  They have certain psychological qualities that limit their understanding, which require efforts on the part of the teacher, and which limit those efforts.  Occasionally, teachers will try some experimental variation in their classroom, such as changing seating patterns, but these are seen as only external to the crucial inner development that is supposed to be going on.

Foucault  helps us to understand the contradictions at work in teaching: all pupils are to be loved equally in a detailed and pastoral way, but this can also produce anxiety in teachers when it  is seen to fail, and teachers are glad if they can discover a reason for this failure [the unfortunate Eric is simply rebuked again for wanting to see this as a classic example of the dominant culture, 128.  Then there is an exercise for ‘you’ to solve, involving applying Foucaldian insights.  Then the authors return to simply assert that Foucaldian approaches will work].  Classrooms produce autonomous citizens ‘we argue’ (129), as a combination of factory and laboratory.  Teachers’ love is a technique to produce citizens, to compensate for the family.  Teacher activities are more than just pedagogy.  Their attitudes are crucial, and they must be prepared to offer personal contact and love, often seen as a compensatory stand for omissions in the home [all this is confirmed by quotes from their empirical stuff].  The home is seen as a central factor, and is often used as an excuse or explanation to absolve teachers from full responsibility.  There are also particular qualities of children themselves, which are seen as ‘natural gifts’ (131).  [I am really puzzled by this section.  I assume it’s supposed to show us how complex and contradictory teachers’ professional ideologies are, but this is hardly new, and I can’t see it as a conclusive triumph for Foucault’s methods, as opposed to, say the Marxist methods of Sharp and Green, or the contradictions centred on assessment for symbolic interactionists or functionalists].

[Come to think of it, this whole couple of chapters look a bit odd.  The authors say that Hall is himself a bit pragmatic about the theoretical strands of cultural studies, which I agree with, but they then go on about schools as their example, not popular culture.  Again it looks as if they have a mere preference for complexity in cultural studies, rather than something concrete or productive to say about cultural studies.  The school stuff is also odd.  A number of studies using Foucault are cited as alternative approaches, but there is still no detailed discussion, apart from some rather general and secondhand stuff on the influence of Piaget or Chomsky.  This is very general, considering that we are urged to look at detail and complexity.  I’m not at all sure what to make of the empirical data which somehow supports the analysis.  It is the old dilemma again, I suppose – why isn’t teacher professional ideology another discourse?  How come it suddenly achieves some sort of objective status?]

What is really shown in this example is the process of knowledge management, and this is what we should be looking at.  It is historically specific.  Teachers do know some educational theory, but are able to translate it into their central concern for ‘meaningfulness’.  Teachers know this is eclectic, as is revealed by their teacher notes.  Teachers spend their time managing and coping.  Educational theories are black boxed and thus made commonsensical [but there is a real slippage here – it is not just that theory becomes accepted and unquestioned, as in natural science, but rather that it gets reduced to common sense in the usual meaning of the term—the practical ideologies of teachers].  Teaching is about the production of character, certainly not the technical business of transmitting skills [we knew this long ago—Parsons said it. Durkheim said it].  Apparently, a Victorian educator argued that state education should be seen as a kind of moral education [certainly, Coleridge did at St Mark’s].  Schools were created as a special apparatus, designed to mould the self.

Educationalists like Dewey realized this, and he wanted to design a learning environment that would shape the children, towards various occupations, but make it seem like a natural development [I have rendered this in too conspiratorial a way, no doubt].  His progressivism was always about fitting children into roles in society, making them part of a participatory democracy.  There was an easy transition to more Taylorist strategies afterwards [I like this bit, nice and sceptical,with hints of a marxist critique of the inevitable unreflected bits of liberal theory] (134).  The idea was to provide children with the necessary skills for life, and everything else in education was simply an instrument to lead to that end.  [Eric returns, with a pretty obvious point, one that I’ve been thinking of myself as I have indicated.  This account gets very close to operating with an idea of dominant culture after all, spotting some domestication project lurking underneath the management strategies.  The authors deal with this quite reasonable criticism by accusing Eric of being smug, and, without a trace of irony I swear, merely wanting to see schools like that, through the fictional speech of another imaginary student of course. It's English Lit again -- you are offering a merely subjective view whereas my view is learned, careful, supported by references to people you have never heard of].

Even reading schemes can be seen as a technique to produce the citizen.  For example, on a visit to the library, pupils are allowed to choose their books, but in practice, what happens in practice is that they are being ‘invited slowly to learn an entrepreneurial attitude to the world of books’ (135).  The visit to the library therefore becomes an exercise in the practice of freedom [this kind of limited freedom is incomprehensible without the background analysis of the development of consumerism in capitalism, in my view].  Teachers in effect manipulate pupil choice, using persuasion, and persuading them that some of their reasons for choice might be wrong.  This is self development, but within constraints, in that free choice has to be ‘acceptable to the teacher’ (136).  However, this is not a trick to hide a deeper agenda, but a ‘serious’ application of Foucault (136).  [It is also old hat again, shown long ago and quite often in critical analyses of progressive education, more or less dating since Plowden].  Children are produced as ‘authors of their own accounts’ (136) [could be Althusser].  There is a need for objective tests and the production of objective scores to assist in this process.  The authors insist again that this is not just nasty negative power, or normalization, however but a way of amplifying capacity [this is of course the official view, which is left entirely uncriticized, although empirical research is shown again and again that this has an extremely uneven effect on children from different social classes, ethnic origins or genders, without anybody actually intending for this to happen, and often without teachers being aware it is happening].  Teachers are sometimes uneasy and sceptical about testing, and about other policies, such as the additional language teaching which is given to ethnic minority children.  However, this is wholly helpful again for the authors.  Teachers can see the dangers, but simply urge each other to avoid discrimination, and enshrine this in policies.

So what we have going on is the active production of culture and not its mere deposition [who denies that?  Have the authors never heard of the Marxist concept of reproduction?].  Teachers themselves understand the problems and do not mean to discriminate [so where does all the discrimination come from then?  This is what happens when you operate at the level of discourses and ideas and not actual practices].  The authors end the chapter with the usual summary, and urge us to head for complexity, not to see theory as a set of recipes, and turn away from any deeper accounts [there is real dogma in the summaries by now, no argument, just a series of prescriptions, no doubt with an authoritarian stance towards any idiot who wants to disagree] (140).

There is resistance of course, for example the team noted that some pupils were able to play the game with tasks provided by the teacher, to pace themselves.  Somehow though order emerges [so it all ends in functionalism?] (142).

The conclusion (chapter six) is appalling: a long series of imagined conversations with students, who tend to be mostly idiots who misunderstand Foucault and deserve to be mocked.  Then there is a long exercise and then ‘you’ develop a pub quiz from points in the book [so we have reduced learning to this then?  The authors provide summaries and the students learn them?].  Then there is more imagined conversation, in which sceptics are routed [but I thought we liked sceptics].  A series of good little girls parrot the preferred approach, and the cool enigmatic intellectual gets the last word.

Overall, I think the book actually is quite a good demonstration of Foucault's method, according to DeCerteau -- obscure examples are selected so that the reader can never use them to test the argument (their own empirical studies in this case, or unpublished manuscripts, books in French, throwaways to Greek or German philosophers, lengthy detailed quotes). A view is then conjured from this mass of detail and defended tactically.

Selected references

Hoskin, K (1993) in Messer-Davidow, E., Shumacy, D., and Sylvan, D. (eds) Knowledge: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Jones, K and Williamson, K. (1979) The Birth of the Schoolroom, in I&C, 6: 59--110
Hunter, I ( n.d.) unpublished manuscript on Foucault