The Role of the Intellectual and the Archaeological Problematizing a Domain of Practice

We know that from the second half of the 1970s, Foucault made prob- lematization the rationale for the critical and political activity of the intellectual. If not at the time, today at any rate, an emphasis on problems—as opposed to solutions—makes it possible to distinguish between the work of intellectuals and that of experts, whose major failing is their inability to pose a problem. Obsessed by solutions, unembarrassed by questions, experts do not know how to construct a problem or make a diagnosis—the twofold ambition of a history of problematizations. Although Foucault’s 1978 course on security was not placed squarely under the sign of prob- lematization, Michel Senellart is right to say that what was at stake for Foucault was historical and political in as much as it concerned a diagnosis of the present.6 In Foucault’s intellectual and political trajectory, the connection between problematization and diagnosis is an extension of his analyses of Kant’s text “Was ist Aufklarung?” and of the role philosophy allocated to itself thereafter: pronouncing not on the eternal verities but on the nature of the present—an ontology of ourselves.

For intellectuals the point is not to arrive at a diagnosis authorizing them to state that a problematization is good or bad, desirable or undesirable, but to successfully spot the danger contained in the particular configuration of knowledge(s) (savoirs) and practices created in and by a new problematization: “My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.”7

Such is the intellectual’s positive, strategic intervention in the process of problematization: an intervention that will twist this process by turning into a problem what had come to be historically constructed as a solution— making a problem of psychiatric practice, of prison, of the dispositif of sexuality and so forth. Intellectuals do not occupy some over-arching position with respect to problematization. Always already situated in problematiza- tion, they work within it and, through their own (theoretical) practice, turn it against itself, conducting a critique of practice by practice, an immanent critique whose strategic objective is to counter the movement of problematization by making a problem of solutions that claim to be “self-evident.”

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