Statement Archaeology in practice

As set out above, the identification of moments of discontinuity' and the relative beginnings of certain practices arise from a relentless focus on the statement, so the practical outworking of Statement Archaeology' focuses primarily on ‘statements’. Here, there are two steps to set out: firstly, the selection of statements and secondly', the process of subjecting those statements to the three primary criteria mentioned above (that is, the ‘criteria of formation’, the ‘criteria of transformation’ (or ‘threshold’) and the ‘criteria of correlation’).45

Selecting appropriate starting points

In terms of selecting which statements to consider, it is important to consider those statements which are most relevant to the guiding question and are from the domain of discourse under examination. The approach does not prescribe an exhaustive list of sources at the outset but rather identifies ‘starting points’ within which key' statements can be identified. As we shall see shortly, these statements are then followed forwards and backwards in time, tracing their repetition and origin in documentary sources. Thus, it is impossible at the outset to predict where the investigation might lead.

Foucault suggests that we should ‘try to determine in advance which arc the most representative elements’ by reading, as far as possible, everything available for the domain of discourse under scrutiny.46 For example, it is claimed that for The Birth of the Clinic, Foucault read ‘every medical work of importance for the methodology of the period 1780-1820’.47 However, this requirement is balanced with the ‘establishment of a principle of choice’; Foucault suggests that ‘sampling a coherent and homogenous corpora of documents’ can be legitimate, providing there is openness about the sampling approach employed.48 Some items may then be removed from further consideration on the basis that they' arc not relevant to the problem or are not part of the domain of discourse. Where this is the case, decisions are made based on conscious and considered removal rather than conscious and considered inclusion.

The nature of the question will affect the choice of starting point. When we are asking, ‘How did x become possible?’, we will most often start off by searching for where x is first described or widely promulgated as an idea, practice, or policy. The nature of the statements relating to jv will determine where we begin the search for a starting point. Where the question relates directly to policy, the relevant local or national policy documents will be carefully scrutinized for the identification of where to begin. Similarly, where legislation is the sphere, the legal documents (both enacted and preparatory) will need to be considered. If the question relates to practice(s), then documents that describe or prescribe practices will be the initial focus of consideration.

Further, it is important to emphasize that, within the parameters set out already (relevance to the question; drawing from appropriate domains of discourse; searching in appropriate types of document, etc.) there is seldom only one correct starting point. One of the qualities of Statement Archaeology is that the process of interrogating statements, searching for moments of discontinuity, and identifying the relative beginnings of particular practices can be applied fruitfully to any appropriate starting point.

In the case of the four worked examples within this volume, the starting points have been selected based on the relevance and appropriateness of particular statements to our overall question. In Chapters 2 and 5, which interrogate the development of legal frameworks, the starting points are specific clauses from two specific Acts of Parliament. In Chapter 3, where the implementation of legislation is under scrutiny, a statement within a research report, considered authoritative and representative of practice provides the starting point. Chapter 4, which focuses on a significant change in practice in RE in the 1960s and 1970s takes as its starting point a statement from a publication that has—more recently at least—been positioned as being a document that ‘initiated’ the teaching of non-Christian religions in English RE.

Interrogating the statements selected

Once we have identified a starting point, we need then to begin the process of interrogating the selected statement. My close reading of Foucault exposes three specific criteria that he applies to the analysis of statements that provide the basis for Statement Archaeology.49 They are:

The ‘criteria of formation’. What are the circumstances under which statements were produced? Where, when, for and by whom were the statements produced? What is known about relevant institutions and their authoritative standing? (It is important to note that from time to time who produced a statement is important, but only in as far as it informs an understanding of the circumstances of its production.) What rules govern the ‘production of statements’, ‘that delimit the sayable’, ‘that create the spaces in which the new statements can be made’, and ‘that ensure that a practice is material and discursive at the same time’?50

The ‘criteria of transformation’. Where does the statement appear in relation to the wider context in which it appears (what is its position within a document, for example)? What is the nature of the statement? In particular, is it novel or original? Where a statement is novel, does it suggest a changed structure of rules in terms of what is thinkable and unthinkable?51 Is the statement a repetition of an earlier statement? If so, what are the rules that govern its repetition? What is the original statement on which the repetition is based? Where is the relative beginning of the idea located? Is it a full or partial repetition? Where repetition is partial, what remains and what is excluded?

Is the statement programmatic? Programmatic statements are those ‘writings that try to impose a vision or spell out most clearly a new way of conceptualizing a problem’.52 In what ways does the statement attempt to persuade?53 How does the statement seek to ‘reconcile conflicting ideas, to cope with contradictions or uncertainty, or to counter alternatives?’.54

The ‘criteria of correlation’. How does this statement relate to others within and beyond its own domain of discourse? Is there continuity within the statement’s own domain of discourse? Is there a correlation between the statement’s own domain of discourse and others? Docs it correlate with statements within its own domain but not with statements from other domains? What is die pattern of subsequent repetition? Is there a silcncing/absence of a discourse evident through the lack of and/or marginalization of statements? Is there discontinuity? (Does it stop being repeated altogether?) The repetition of statements is part of the process of‘normalizing’ the practices to which they refer and which they help to constitute. (The notion of normalization focuses on the processes and procedures through which particular practices become accepted as ‘normal’ and thus become taken-for-granted in everyday life; this often occurs through repeated programmatic statements.)55 The recurrent repetition of statements therefore tends to confer an authoritative status on them.56 Does the statement represent a point at which a practice becomes differentiated and, consequently, does it mark ‘the relative beginning’ of a practice?

By asking these questions of each starting point statement, Statement Archaeology makes it possible to identify points at which frameworks of thinking change and develop, and—related to these—to identify specifically, moments of discontinuity, most particularly points at which new practices separate from, and become identifiably distinct from, prevailing practices (that is, from the relative beginning of a practice). Ultimately, in relation to education policy and associated practices, Statement Archaeology facilitates a deep engagement with the question, ‘What were the changes that allowed x to become possible at that particular moment?’

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