9 July 2012
To conclude this set of posts, in The Archaeology of Knowledge, the task is to ‘make differences: to constitute them as objects’ (1972: 205 original emphasis). Heterotopology indicates an approach of diversification, decentring, a scattering but also a regrouping. It makes differences, unsettles spaces, sometimes exposing the extraordinary in the most ordinary of places. In this light, Foucault’s lecture to architects on the theme of heterotopia is perhaps a brief, marginal text that highlights how our world is full of spaces that fragment, punctuate, transform, split and govern. Life is full of different ‘worlds’: miniature, transient, accumulative, disturbing, paradoxical, contradictory, excessive, exaggerated. That’s it- nothing more or less.
The spaces Foucault describes are heterotopian to different degrees of intensity and are always changing. There is nothing primary about them; they are particularly adaptable and versatile; they seem to reflect or gather in other spaces and yet unsettle them at the same time. The concept of heterotopia is a form of attack, an overall strategy, but also heterotopian sites have a special strategic position.
As is well known, Foucault (1972: 138) uses space as a tool of analysis, as a way of looking at discursive and underlying non-discursive practices without relying upon conventional approaches to the history of ideas, particularly those grounded in terms of ‘genesis, continuity, totalisation’. In a sense, this is a very negative exercise, undermining a key aspect of the philosophical enterprise that runs from Hegel through to Marx and Sartre, an approach to history that implies a conscious, inevitable progression of humanity.
So, Foucault is well known for his ‘spatial obsessions’, but I wish to indicate the range, pervasiveness and complexity of his spatial thinking that runs through, for example, his history of madness, his reading of certain avant-garde literature, his history of the clinic and his archaeological approach generally.
Foucault, M. (1972)  The Archaeology of Knowledge, Andover, Hants: Tavistock.