29 June 2012
The overlapping space of archaeology and genealogy
As is widely acknowledged (see, for example, Veyne, 1997), Foucault’s early work displays diverse events and practices spatially in order to free himself from various orthodox approaches to the history of ideas, particularly those grounded in terms of ‘genesis, continuity, totalisation’ (Foucault, 1972: 138). However, if Foucault deliberately suspends all notions of causal analysis, it is not in order to ‘guarantee the sovereign, sole independence of discourse; it is to discover the domain of existence and functioning of a discursive practice’ (164). Moreover, institutions and practices, as well as ideas and discourse, are displayed or described spatially in order to trace regular and common features. There is no simple dichotomy between what is commonly called his archaeological (to do with discourse) and genealogical (to do with power and practice) approaches.
Although The Order of Things deliberately concentrates on the discursive field, neutralising the ‘whole practical and institutional side’ (2000: 6) the intimate link between archaeology and genealogy, can be found in The History of Madness and The Birth of a Clinic and is spelt out in The Archaeology of Knowledge where ‘material documentation includes: ‘books, texts, accounts, registers, acts, buildings, institutions, laws, techniques, objects, customs etc.’ (1972: 7). Such an inclusive approach is made more explicit in his later notion of a dispositif, a concept that perhaps most thoroughly integrates the archaeological and genealogical methods (Deleuze, 1992). As Foucault says in an interview following the publication of the first volume of the History of Sexuality, a dispositif is:
‘a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions’ (1980a: 194).
A dispositif facilitates the tracing of the connections, modifications, intensifications and shifts that occur through this ensemble of discursive and non-discursive elements. Foucault goes on to say that these sets of relations respond to an ‘urgent need’, taking on a specific ‘strategic function’ which in turn is continuously readjusted or elaborated according to the effects it produces (195). Examples here would be the policing of a disruptive population in the context of the delineation of madness in the seventeenth century and the policing of health matters in the context of the delineation of disease in the late eighteenth century.
Another application of ‘strategy’ perhaps provides the clearest example of how his spatial archaeology is embedded in his later work, particularly around questions of governmentality. In The Archaeology of Knowledge we find a key passage that reflects on spatial strategies that replace a history of ideas based on time:
Rather than seeking the permanence of themes, images, and opinions through time, rather than retracing the dialectic of their conflicts …… Could one not rather mark out the dispersion of the points of choice, and define prior to any option, to any thematic preference, a field of strategic possibilities (1972: 36-37).
Here is an explicit explanation of why he endorses space over time in his introduction to heterotopia. As he says later in answer to ‘questions on geography’ in the journal Hérodote, to analyse discourse solely in terms of ‘temporal continuity’ inevitably leads to postulating some form of explanation based on the ‘internal transformation of an individual consciousness’ (1980b: 69). Space, as in Blanchot’s literature, critically refuses moves towards uncovering a unified or foundational explanation; it offers a way to display a neutral dispersion of possibilities (Johnson, 2008).
This spatial framing of questions continues as a working method throughout his studies. As an example here, I will take his 1978-1979 lectures at the Collège de France, entitled ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’ (2008). He starts his course by underscoring his constant methodological rejection of any attempt to treat an object as something primary, original or already given (2-3). However, his approach is more radical than merely questioning these ‘universal’ conceptions; he rejects them in the first place and concentrates on what he terms ‘concrete practices’ (3).
He is not suggesting that something like madness, disease, delinquency or sexuality are mere illusions or the stuff of ideology that can be exposed by reason, but he shows by ‘what conjunctions a whole set of practices’ construct or mark out a particular reality or effect. These ‘transactional realities’ (297) do not have a single cause; they stem from multiple connections at a particular moment in history. He persists in his rejection of temporal concepts and embraces a spatial method of analysis, or archaeology. For instance, he argues for ‘heterogeneity’ but insists that this is ‘never a principle of exclusion; it never prevents coexistence, conjunction, or connection’ (42). Reiterating themes in The Archaeology of Knowledge, he proposes a ‘non-dialectical logic’ or a ‘strategic’ logic. Dialectical logic puts to play contradictory elements within the homogenous; whereas strategic logic attempts to ‘establish the possible connections between disparate terms which remain disparate’ or a ‘whole series of bridges, transits, and joints’ (42-43).
Deleuze, G. (1992) ‘What is a Dispositif?’ in T. Armstrong (eds.), Michel Foucault, Philosopher, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 159-168.
Foucault, M. (1972)  The Archaeology of Knowledge, Andover, Hants: Tavistock.
Foucault, M. (1980a)  ‘The Confession of the Flesh’ in C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge, Brighton: The Harvester Press, 194-228.
Foucault, M. (1980b)  ‘Questions on Geography’ in C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge, Brighton: The Harvester Press, 63-77.
Foucault M, (2000)  ‘Candidacy Presentation; Collège de France 1969’ in J. D. Faubion (ed.), Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume 1, London: Penguin, 5-10.
Foucault, M. (2008)  The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Johnson, P. (2008) ‘Foucault’s Spatial Combat’ Society and Space, Environment and Planning D, 28 (4): 611-626.
Veyne, P. (1997) ‘Foucault Revolutionizes History’ in A. I. Davidson (ed.), Foucault and His Interlocutors, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 146-182.