Foucault Reconfigured

Let me now present Foucault as I have reconfigured him to suit my scholarly concerns. Conversely, I present myself as reconfigured by the textual Foucault. My first exposure to the textual Foucault was in 1981 when I read The Order of Things and saw the modern world in a new light. I did not see any immediate relevance to my narrow field of study. After reading The Archaeology of Knowledge, I saw little advantage in studying discourse as Foucault recommended. Reading more and more Foucault, I was never quite sure about the methodological difference between fou- cauldian archaeology and genealogy. That most scholars speak of genealogy with no further ado may suggest that, in their opinion (however little considered), Foucault was no longer interested in large questions and great discontinuities, preferring instead to focus on local expressions of power and resistance. This seems right. Yet it is not so clear that this shift in his concerns required a shift in his method of inquiry.

I am convinced that the terms archaeology and genealogy are different metaphors for the same general method, which finds past and present in a stable relation. As a metaphor, archaeology suggests that whatever we excavate will be fragmentary—shards that resist assembly into recognizable objects. Foucault also talked about “genealogical fragments” that we “dig out of the sand.”11 The method is the same, the frame is fixed, the objects of inquiry are fragmentary. Yet there would seem to be a substantive discontinuity in Foucault’s thought. The fragments to be excavated were fragments even before they were buried. However paradoxically, it is modernity’s great discontinuities, and thus the piecing together of whole epochs, that secure the relation between method and substance.

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