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Foucault Blackboard

Foucault Blackboard - Michel Foucault(1926-84 I Some...

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Michel Foucault (1926-84) I. Some Fundamental Concepts Among other things, Foucault aimed to historicize the history of ideas. He saw the development of ideas as socially and historically situated. Thus, in contrast to Levi- Straussian structuralism, which seeks to discover universal unconscious structures, Foucault sought specific, historically and geographically localized, configurations of knowledge which he called epistemes . A key concept for Foucault is that of the episteme, an underlying matrix of presuppositions which, in a given period, confines and directs the mind, making only certain kinds of thoughts thinkable. Somewhat like Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm , Foucault presents the episteme as a common structure within which the various, sometimes conflicting, ideas of individual thinkers, schools and disciplines are formed. How does the following example illustrate Foucault’s conception of the historicism of the episteme ? [In] a certain old Chinese encyclopedia ... it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a very long way off look like flies.’ In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend . . . as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that . (Foucault, 1966, Les mots et les choses [translated as The Order of Things ].) In line with his historicism , Foucault divests the development of ideas of any notion of either (1) progressive movement, or (2) necessary, predestined development. How does the following quotation assert these points? I am not concerned ... to describe the progress of knowledge towards an objectivity in which today's science can finally be recognized; what I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the episteme in which knowledge, apart from all criteria having reference to its rational value or to its objective forms, grounds its positivity and thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility; in this account, what should appear are those configurations within the space of knowledge which have given rise to the diverse forms of empirical science. Such an enterprise is not so much a history, in the traditional meaning of that word, as an ‘ archaeology .’ ( Les mots et les choses .) As the preceding quotation indicates, in his early works Foucault can be seen as pursuing an archaeology of knowledge in order to dig up the buried layers of 1
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preconceptions underlying particular discourses. Another key concept for Foucault was thus the discourse , which he saw as a way of speaking/writing/thinking that operates according to rules connected to socio-historical arrangements and circumstances.
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