For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Archaeology of Knowledge

by Foucault, Michel (2002)


In France, a country that awards its intellectuals the status other countries give their rock stars, Michel Foucault was part of a glittering generation of thinkers, one which also included Sartre, de Beauvoir and Deleuze. One of the great intellectual heroes of the twentieth century, Foucault was a man whose passion and reason were at the service of nearly every progressive cause of his time. From law and order, to mental health, to power and knowledge, he spearheaded public awareness of the dynamics that hold us all in thrall to a few powerful ideologies and interests. Arguably his finest work, Archaeology of Knowledge is a challenging but fantastically rewarding introduction to his ideas.

Key Passage

Archaeology does not describe disciplines. At most, such disciplines may, in their manifestdeployment, serve as starting-points for the description of positivities;but they do not fix its limits: they do not impose definitive divisionsupon it; at the end of the analysis they do not re-emerge in the samestate in which they entered it; one cannot establish a bi-univocalrelation between established disciplines and discursive formations.Let us take an example of this distortion. The linch-pin of Madness andCivilization was the appearance at the beginning of the nineteenth centuryof a psychiatric discipline. This discipline had neither the samecontent, nor the same internal organization, nor the same place inmedicine, nor the same practical function, nor the same methods as thetraditional chapter on ‘diseases of the head’ or ‘nervous diseases’ to befound in eighteenth-century medical treatises. But on examining thisnew discipline, we discovered two things: what made it possible at thetime it appeared, what brought about this great change in the economyof concepts, analyses, and demonstrations, was a whole set of relationsbetween hospitalization, internment, the conditions and procedures ofsocial exclusion, the rules of jurisprudence, the norms of industriallabour and bourgeois morality, in short a whole group of relations thatcharacterized for this discursive practice the formation of its statements;but this practice is not only manifested in a discipline possessinga scientific status and scientific pretensions; it is also found inoperation in legal texts, in literature, in philosophy, in politicaldecisions, and in the statements made and the opinions expressed indaily life. The discursive formation whose existence was mapped bythe psychiatric discipline was not coextensive with it, far from it: itwent well beyond the boundaries of psychiatry. (p.197)


Foucault, Discourse, Discursive, Archaeology, Archaeology Of Knowledge, Mental Health, Power


Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault Citations

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