Ways of Speaking: Michel Foucault and Other Archaeologies

I’ve just finished The Archeaology of Knowledge by Michel Foucault, and as methodical and ‘cautious’ as it is, I enjoyed its systematic approach to the subject and the accessible style of Foucault’s writing.

The following extended quote seems to encapsulate Foucault’s thinking (both in this book, and perhaps in his writing in general) quite nicely. In it he attempts to go beyond the regions of scientific discourse that he had previously been concerned with (here as well as in the previous works that this is somewhat of a summation and reassessment of: Madness and Civilization1, The Birth of the Clinic2 and The Order of Things3), to outline some archaeologies of other bodies of knowledge. In so doing, I can begin to see where this series of works sits in relation to Structuralism in general, and specifically the thorny issue of the position of the ‘producer’ in relation to their ‘productions’:

. . . I can also see another possible direction for analysis: instead of studying the sexual behaviour of men at a given period (by seeking its law in a social structure, in a collective unconscious, or in a certain moral attitude), instead of describing what men thought about sexuality (what religious interpretation they gave it, to what extent they approved or disapproved of it, what conflicts of opinion or morality it gave rise to), one would ask oneself whether, in this behaviour, as in these representations, a whole discursive practice is not at work; whether sexuality, quite apart from any orientation towards a scientific discourse, is not a group of objects that can be talked about (or that it is forbidden to talk about), a field of possible enunciations (whether in lyrical or legal language), a group of concepts (which can no doubt be presented in the elementary form of notions or themes), a set of choices (which may appear in the coherence of behaviour or in systems of prescription). Such an archaeology would show, if it succeeded in it’s task, how the prohibitions, exclusions, limitations, values, freedoms, and transgressions of sexuality, all its manifestations, verbal or otherwise, are linked to a particular discursive practice. It would reveal, not of course as the ultimate truth of sexuality, but as one of the dimensions in accordance with which one can describe it, a certain ‘way of speaking’; and one would show how this way of speaking is invested not in scientific discourses, but in a system of prohibitions and values. An analysis that would be carried out not in the direction of the episteme, but in that of what we might call the ethical.4

  1. FOUCAULT, Michel (1961). Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique – Folie et déraison. Paris: Plon. Translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa as: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. London: Routledge.
  2. FOUCAULT, Michel (1963). Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical. Paris: PUF. Translated as: The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. London: Routledge.
  3. FOUCAULT, Michel (1966). Les mots et les choses – une archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris: Gallimard. Translated as: The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge.
  4. FOUCAULT, Michel (1969). L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard. Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith as: The Archeaology of Knowledge. London: Routledge. pp. 212–213.
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2 thoughts on “Ways of Speaking: Michel Foucault and Other Archaeologies

  1. Hi! Congratulations, reading about Foucault’s Archaeology approach to knowledge broadens one’s comprehension to farther places. I find myself reading ‘The order of things’ right now.

    Well, see you. Best,

    Harold

  2. Hi Harold! thanks for the comment.

    I read Order of Things prior to this, but I’ll have to go back and read it again sometime. I found the second part of that book really hard going, but now, having read A of K it should be clearer and more rewarding.

    But first I want to read Roland Barthes Image, Music, Text – the conclusion of A of K really seems to parallel what Barthes was discussing in Death of the Author.