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The Critical Philosophy of Michel Foucault


Zachary Fouchard

An honours thesis submitted in partial

fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of

Bachelor in Ethics

Saint Paul University

April 2008

Table of Contents.............................................................................................2
Archaeology and the Order of Things..........................................................7
Historical Systems of Thought and Regimes of Truth...............................13
Man and the Human Sciences....................................................................18
Genealogy and the Subjugation of Knowledge.........................................26
Power, Knowledge, and the Sciences of the Individual.............................32
The Question of the Human Subject..........................................................38


It was during the 1970s that the influence of

philosopher/historian Michel Foucault, accomplished French
intellectual, was felt, in a large way, outside of Europe. In
1970, the same year he was awarded a professorship at the
Collège de France under the infamous title “history of systems
of thought,” Foucault took a step into the English speaking
world with key lectures and interviews conducted at various
American institutions, including the University of Buffalo and
the University of California, Berkley. By the 1980s, Foucault’s
reputation as a major academic figure had broken out in the
United States – with English translations of Discipline and
Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality, as well
as reissues of the famous Order of Things – and by this time, a
particularly interesting interview was held during a seminar at
the University of Vermont,1 where Foucault introduced himself
anew to a North American audience with a clear statement of
his intentions as an intellectual:

I came to try to explain more precisely…what kind

of work I am doing… I am not a writer, a
philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life… I
don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly
what I am. The main interest in my life and work
is to become someone else that you were not in
the beginning (Foucault 1988, 9).

Michel Foucault, “Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault, October
25, 1982,” in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. L.H.
Martin, H. Gutman and P.H. Hutton (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts
Press, 1988).

The main interest of this essay is to present the life and
work of Michel Foucault – whether or not literary,
philosophical, or intellectual – from its beginnings in
psychiatry, medicine, and a critical analysis of the human
sciences, through its development in the history and critique
of juridical and penal institutions, to arrive at Foucault’s “turn
towards subjectivity” (Cook 1993, 121) and the impulse his
thought takes towards ethics. It shall therefore be posited that
three incremental breaks map the development of Foucault’s
thought; of his oeuvre. First, from Foucault’s work in the 1960s
leading up to the publication of Madness and Civilization
(1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Order of Things
(1966), there is the project of an “archaeology of knowledge”
within which the idea of truth is analysed in terms of historical
systems of knowledge. This first chapter retraces in the
oeuvre of Foucault the human experience of “the order of
things” and posits a set of historical conditions for the
possibilities of objective human knowledge and scientific
discourse. Here, the development of history as a
discontinuous and fragmentary archaeology of knowledge
represents an investigation into the objectivity and truth value
of systematically ordered discourse, and is therefore
concerned with the rules of formation for the production of
statements understood within society as “valid” and
“scientific,” which Foucault uses to map the radically
anthropological limits of human knowledge grounding our
modern understanding of ourselves in the notion of “man.”

Then, Foucault’s work shifts away from its archaeological
tendencies towards a genealogical methodology akin to the
work of Friedrich Nietzsche, with the publication of Discipline
and Punish (1975) and the appearance of the first volume to
The History of Sexuality (1976). This second chapter engages
within the oeuvre of Foucault the critical vulnerability of
things, institutions, practices and discourses, which most
intimately characterize our individual selves, our bodies, and
on everyday behaviour. A “genealogy of power” is therefore
developed out of these studies, where Foucault reproduces a
body of subjugated knowledge, of historical struggles, and of
the force of power relations. And in returning to themes
treated previously within the archaeological chapter – namely
that of man as the object of the human sciences –, Foucault
outlines the modern “technologies of the self”, where the
production of truth is governed by a coercion of power and the
question of the human subject emerges in the production of a
certain kind of moral agency.

In the end, then, it is upon this governmentality of the

individual self as a moral agent that this essay endeavours to
build its account of the critical philosophy of Michel Foucault.
Detailing Foucault’s concern with truth and scientific thought
in The Order of Things and his concern with power, social
principles, and institutions in Discipline and Punish, the
objective is to arrive at an understanding of ethics – the final
chapter to Foucault’s work – as a critical philosophy engaged
with the development of a model for the understanding of

ourselves that has become normative, self-evident, and has
been supposed as universal (Foucault 1988, 15). Thus,
beginning with an account of Foucault’s archaeological
method for the history of truth, on through an account of his
genealogical method for the historical coercion of the human
subject, this essay will ultimately lead up to a description of
Foucault’s ethics as an deep understanding of the various
ways in which the human self is defined as a historical product
of ethical “problematizations.” And in those areas where
developments and technologies of the self have determined
the morality of the human subject, three question emerge,
pertinent to the basic framework of Foucault’s intellectual

(1) What are the relations we have to truth

through scientific knowledge, to those ‘games of
truth’ which are so important in civilization and in
which we are both subject and object? (2) What
are the relationships we have to others through
those strange strategies and power relationships?
And (3) what are the relationships between truth,
power, and the self (Foucault 1988, 15).

Chapter 1


An Analysis of Systems of Historical Knowledge

Archaeology and the Order of Things

The term “archaeology” appears three times within the
titles of Michel Foucault’s published works – The Birth of the
Clinic: an Archaeology of Medical Perception2, The Order of
Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences3 and The
Archaeology of Knowledge4. Thus, as that
historical/philosophical method which characterized Foucault’s
work up until the 1970s, “archaeology” was what enabled
Foucault to trace the historical contingency of the human
experience of knowledge; that is to say, the relationship
shared between objective knowledge (most notably, the
foundational knowledge of the empirical sciences) and the a
priori structures that determine their objectivity (Sabot 2006,
4). Archaeology, however, is neither a philosophical method
nor a mode of historical investigation in any traditional sense
of the term; its strategy is one of reconstructing the events of
Michel Foucault, Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical
Perception, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1973);
originally published under the title Naissance de la clinique: une
archéologie du regard medical (1963).
Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human
Sciences, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1970); originally
published under the title Les mots et les choses: une archéologie des
sciences humaines (1966).
Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan (New
York: Pantheon, 1972); originally published under the title
L’archéologie du savoir (1969).

a certain period and analyzing them with regard to their many
different dimensions (philosophical, economic, scientific or
political, among others), in order to finally arrive at the
emergent conditions of discourse particular to the history of
objective knowledge and thought (Revel 2007, 13).

Such a procedure does not operate at the level of a

‘history of ideas’. A philosophy of knowledge or a history of
thought traditionally traces the process of rational discovery
in a continuous mode of the formulation and evolution of
rational problems; “in short, it describes the processes and
products of the scientific consciousness” (Foucault 1970, xi).
Conversely, it also endeavours to restore what eludes the
scientific consciousness: hidden influences, implicit world-
views, unformulated themes, “unseen obstacles,” – the
scientific unconscious. But contrary to this last negative side
to the history of scientific knowledge as it is traditionally
formulated, Foucault’s archaeology seeks to reveal what could
be called a positive unconscious of knowledge; “a level that
eludes the consciousness of the scientists and yet is part of
scientific discourse, instead of disputing its validity and
seeking to diminish its scientific nature” (1970, xi).

The fact is that the history of Western thought gives great

pride of place to mathematics, cosmology and physics –
rigorous sciences of the necessary. Theirs is a history of
almost uninterrupted truth and pure reason. Disciplines
belonging to that vague science of ‘man’, however – those

concerned with living beings, languages and economic facts –
are tinged with empirical thought, wrought with imagery and
metaphor. Their history, from the Renaissance to the present,
is supposed to be anything but regular (Foucault 1970, ix).
Yet, Foucault’s Archaeology of the Human Sciences challenges
this traditional hypothesis, in attempting to map the positive
unconscious common the natural history, economics and
grammar over the periods of the Renaissance, threw the
Classical Age, to the Modern Age. Says Foucault, albeit
unknown to the naturalists, the economists and the
grammarians of these periods, scientific knowledge pertaining
to “life, labour and language” operated under very similar
rules of restriction within each domain of definition of each
study’s objects of knowledge:

It is these rules of formation, which were never

formulated in their own right, but are to be found only
in widely differing theories, concepts and objects of
study, that I have tried to reveal, by isolating, as their
locus, a level that I have called…archaeology (Foucault
1970, xi).

In this respect, archaeology represents the analysis of

scientific discourse, seen not from the point of view of the
individuals who are speaking, nor from that of the formal,
logical structures of discourse itself, but from the point of view
of the rules that govern the very existence of discourse, in the
first place (Foucault 1970, xiv).

In its most basic formulation, then, “archaeology” is the

study of archē (αρχη): beginnings, first principles, original

emergences (Revel 2007, 14). The emergent conditions of
discourse particular to the history of knowledge represent the
object and archē of Foucault’s archaeological projects – the
tabula upon which objective knowledge is authorized to
identify, classify and hypothesize (Foucault 1970, xxiii). The
epistemological conditions of knowledge represent the
coherence of epistemic objectivity. Yet, at the same time, such
conditions are “neither determined by an a priori and
necessary concatenation, nor imposed on us by immediately
perceptible contents”; they are a matter of groupings,
isolations and analyses of the contents of knowledge; a
matter of order (Foucault 1970, xix-xx). Knowledge, in this
respect, is understood as a “system of elements” – or, rather,
a systematization of various objects of knowledge. And
conversely, the emergent conditions for the very possibility of
knowledge are then understood as that which is indispensable
for the establishment of even the simplest “system of
elements.” In other words, the human capacity for knowledge
is dependent, in part, on the necessary connection shared
between knowledge and the possibility of a certain order
among things. In turn, Foucault’s archaeology endeavours to
outline the possibility of order, in its relation to knowledge, by
describing the conditions whereby such epistemological
ordering becomes manifest in time.

However, does this mean that ‘order’ is somehow

previous to knowledge and that knowledge is made manifest
in its coherent objectivity only in its relation to ‘order’? Such a

scenario brings to mind the philosophy of Heidegger and the
relation of Dasein to Being. Or is it the case that ‘order’ is
simply a construct of human knowledge in its search to
articulate reality in terms of the contents of the human mind?
This scenario brings to mind the philosophy of Nietzsche, in its
nihilistic tendencies. Foucault, of course, bypasses this
dilemma and proposes an intermediary solution that more
succinctly exemplifies the archaeological propensity towards a
certain experience of order:

Order is, at one and the same time, that which is given
in things as their inner law, the hidden network that
determines the way they confront one another, and
also that which has no existence except in the grid
created by a glance, an examination, a language
(Foucault 1970, xx).

‘Order’ is therefore neither totally “natural,” despite its

relation to knowledge of natural things, nor totally arbitrary,
despite its characterization as a “grid” whereby knowledge is
understood as “a glance, an examination, a language” (Sabot
2006, 14). Distanced only slightly from Heidegger and
Nietzsche, Foucault’s ‘order’ is at the same time subjective
and objective. More specifically, order is what enables human
thought to oscillate between the subjective and objective
poles of knowledge. For on the one hand, there exist
fundamental codes which establish for different cultures at
different moments in history what Foucault calls the
“empirical order” which color knowledge and discourse –
“those governing [that culture’s] language, its schemas of
perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the

hierarchy of practices” (Foucault 1970, xx). On the other
hand, there are also scientific theories and philosophical
interpretations, which explain “why order exists in general,
what universal law it obeys, what principle can account for it,
and why this particular order has been established and not
some other” (Foucault 1970, xx). Foucault’s archaeology is
thus able to articulate the experience of order at two distinct
levels; the practical and the theoretical. Its main objective,
however, – the archē of order – is that domain which hides
imperceptibly between these two regions, the intermediary
domain of the empirical and the rational: that by which things
are, in themselves, capable of being ordered; that which
belongs to a certain unspoken order; the order of order; “the
fact, in short, that order exists” (Foucault 1970, xx). It is in this
middle region that order appears anterior to words,
perceptions and gestures, but at the same time according to a
given culture and historical period as more or less exact and
more or less “true”:

[I]n every culture, between the use of what one might

call the ordering codes and reflections upon order
itself, there is the pure experience of order and of its
modes of being (Foucault 1970, xxi).

In sum, Foucault’s archaeology is an attempt to retrace

that “pure experience of order” as that which makes possible
human knowledge and scientific discourse. Yet, the
archaeological method is neither preoccupied with historically
documented codes governing language, schematizing
perception and hierarchizing practices, nor scientific theories

of universal laws or meta-philosophical systems for the
interpretation the order of things. The archaeological analysis
of the “modes of being” of order lay no claim to atemporal or
transhistorical essences, but rather situates such modes of
being in their contingent, historical manifestations as
fundamental experiences of the practical and theoretical poles
of knowledge (Sabot 2006, 15). Its attempt is one of bringing
to light the “epistemological field” within which knowledge,
distanced from its rational value and objective form, is
grounded in a “positivity” which is not its history of growing
perfection, but rather its conditions of possibility (Foucault
1970, xxii).

Historical Systems of Thought and Regimes of

Perhaps the most common assumption about human
history is that it progresses in an almost uninterrupted
manner – both in knowledge and in human well-being. Yet, as
Foucault’s archaeological method endeavours – “against the
current, as it were” – to make manifest the modalities of the
very existence of order in their emergence as laws, constants,
sequences and values, it is understood at once that
archaeological analysis does not belong within the tradition of
‘histories of ideas’, since its aim is to rediscover upon what
basis knowledge was possible in the first place, within a
historical period (Foucault 1970, xxi). Thus, it proceeds
against the tendency to reconstruct history as a solid
continuity by excavating the “epistemological fields” within

which knowledge is grounded; against the description of
knowledge as the process of “an objectivity in which today’s
science can finally be recognized,” towards an analysis of the
epistemological field,

…in which knowledge, envisaged 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 (Foucault
1970, xxii).

Such epistemological fields Foucault terms ‘episteme’:

the ensemble of relations grouping the objective knowledge
and scientific discourse of a particular historical period (Revel
2007, 45). The episteme is the archaeological tool whereby
Foucault introduces into historical analysis, as against “the
conception of history organized on the narrative model as a
great sequence of events caught up in a hierarchy of
determinations,” in opposition to totalities of knowledge and
historical continuities, the very difficult problem of
periodization (Foucault 1989, 12-13). The novelty of Foucault’s
historical work consists in acceding to a complex methodology
of “discontinuity,” where various levels of events in history
call for different delimitations of period, and the object of
historical analysis changes from the traditional opposition
between the human sciences and history (“the first studying
the synchronic and the non-evolutionary, the second
analyzing the dimension of ceaseless great changes”) to types
of relationship and modes on linkage determined by
“structure” and “historical discourse,” different from the

universal relation of causality (Foucault 1989, 13). And here,
Foucault’s periodization of historical events as levels of
discontinuity, as episteme, bear upon the analysis of history
as historical research into “systems of thought.” As he
explains in The Archaeology of Knowledge, the problem now
constitutes the proliferation of discontinuities at every and all
levels of historical events, so as “to define the elements
proper to each series, to fix its boundaries, to reveal its own
specific type of relations, to formulate its laws, and, beyond
this, to describe the relations between different series”
(Foucault 1972, 7-8).

The central question for traditional historians had been

that of explaining the occurrence of events at the level of the
continuous. But for Foucault, discontinuity reverses this
perspective in demanding why some events are studied
rather than others. The response, then, is an analysis of
historical events from a “structural” point of view, where an
event takes the shape of a complex occurrence through which
“bodies of discourse” – groups of statements and relations
produced from objective knowledge – acquire the
characteristic of either truth or falsehood (Rajchman 1991,
123-4). Historical analysis takes on the characteristic of
research into “systems of thought,” where the study of
theoretical discourses concerning various domains of
objective knowledge reveals the structural form of the body or
regime of discourse, establishing “a priori the possibilities or
impossibilities of such knoweldges,” as well as the

“simultaneous functioning of these discourses and the
transformations which accounted for their historical changes”
(Foucault 1989, 29). The object of historical analysis therefore
becomes one of accounting for historical change through the
function of a given “system of thought” or episteme as that
which is “capable of uniting, within a given period, the
discursive practices which give rise to epistemological figures”
(Foucault 1972, 250).

Such accounts of function and structural form reveal the

more “philosophical” concern for truth motivating the
historical analysis of systems of thought and theoretical
discourses. As Foucault himself purported in a 1978 debate
with a group of French social historians, what distinguishes his
historical project is a particular concern for “true/false

I mean the correlative formation of domains, of objects

and of the verifiable and falsifiable discourses that are
connected to them; and it is not just this formation
that interests me, but the effects of reality that are
linked to it.5

Then, what contemporary commentators such as Arnold

Davidson6 point out is that “the working hypothesis” of the
method of archaeology advances a notion of truth understood
Michel Foucault, L’impossible prison (Paris: Seuil, 1980), 46; quoted
and translated J. Rajchman in Truth and Eros: Foucault, Lacan, and
the Question of Ethics (London: Routledge, 1991), 122-3.
Arnold Davidson, “Archaeology, Genealogy, Ethics,” in Foucault: A
Critical Reader (New York: Blackwell, 1986), 221-233. See also Ian
Hacking, “The Archaeology of Foucault,” in Foucault: A Critical
Reader, 27-40 and Philipe Sabot, Lire “Les mots et les choses” de
Michel Foucault (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2006).

by Foucault as “a system of ordered procedures for the
production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation
of statements” (Davidson 1986, 221; Foucault 1984, 74).
Thus, as much as a philosophical dimension of inquiry
motivates the intensity of Foucault’s historical analysis, that
which is understood as properly historical remains
nonetheless a philosophical problem. By and large, Foucault’s
historical concerns undertake a history of statements,
relations and ordered procedures that claim the status of
truth. And as a system of ordered discourse, truth is
methodologically isolated in discursive practices – practices
for the production of statements –, which Foucault
characterizes “by the delimitation of a field of objects, the
definition of a legitimate perspective for the agent of
knowledge, and the fixing of norms for the elaboration of
concepts and theories” (Foucault 1977b, 199).

History itself becomes analysable in its fundamental

relation to truth from the standpoint of an archaeology of
discursive practices, for the latter endeavours to map onto the
analyses of history “the coming into being of new objects of
thought for which new truth and falsehoods are to be uttered”
(Hacking 1986, 31-2). The conditions for the possibility of
knowledge are arrived at in terms of the circumstances under
which the statements of theoretical discourse retain a certain
truth value; the conditions for the objectivity of historically
contingent knowledge analysed at the level at which
statements are capable of being uttered (Hacking 1986, 32).

Thus, where the objectivity and truth value of a body of
systematically ordered discourse is concerned, the rules of
formation and production of statements delimit the function of
objective knowledge and the transformations that account for
its process throughout history. In sum,

Archaeology…must examine each event in terms of its

own evident arrangement; it will recount how the
configurations proper to each positivity were
modified…; it will analyse the alteration of the
empirical entities which inhabit the positivities…; it will
study the displacement of the positivities each in
relation to the others…; lastly, and above all, it will
show that the general area of knowledge is…an area
made up of organic structures, that is, of internal
relations between elements whose totality performs a
function (Foucault 1970, 218).

Man and the Human Sciences

In a 1969 interview bearing the title “Archaeology of
Knowledge”7 – the same given to that great methodological
treatise to follow The Order of Things – Foucault attempts to
explain the irony behind the chosen title “Les mots et les
choses.” Like many modern philosophers, Foucault regarded
philosophical thought from Descartes, onwards, to be
centered on the problem of knowledge; and consistent with
his Nietzschean and Heideggerian influences, Foucault saw
the problem of representation as at the heart of the question
of knowledge. The French title, “Words and Things,” therefore
sought to display certain philosophical problem:

Michel Foucault, “The Archeology of Knowledge,” in Foucault Live:
Interviews 1966-84, trans. J. Johnston, ed. S. Lotringer (New York:
Semiotext, 1989), 45-56.

H]ow can it happen that real things, things that are
perceived, can come to be articulated by words within
a discourse. Is it that words impose on us the outline of
things, or it that things, through some operation of the
subject, come to be transcribed on the surface of
words (Foucault 1989, 51).

The irony of the matter, however, resides in the fact that

Foucault’s text in no way sought to treat this philosophical
problem. In fact, the text sidesteps the problem, displaces it,
so as “to analyse the discourses themselves” in terms of the
discursive practices that – ironically – are located at the
intermediary point between words and things. This move
attempts to show that, within discourse, there are rules of
formation for objects distinct from the rules conducting the
use of words, rules of formation for concepts distinct from the
laws of linguistic syntax, and finally, rules of formation for
theories distinct from the rules of deduction and rhetoric
(Foucault 1989, 52). These are the rules – or, rather, the
orders – that govern discourse at the level of discursive
practices for which a certain thing is seen, or omitted, and a
certain word is employed with a certain meaning and in a
certain sentence.

As Gary Gutting explains in his analysis of Foucault’s

connection to the notion of representation in modern
philosophy8, Foucault maintains that an important claim is
made within the history of modern philosophy, when Kant

Gary Gutting, “Michel Foucault,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. Stanford University. (accessed
March 1st, 2008).

raises the explicit question of whether or not ideas of the
mind do, in fact, “represent” objects in the world. Taken as
somewhat of the crux of Foucault’s archaeological period, the
order of knowledge belonging to the Classical age – that early
modern period beginning with Descartes and ending with Kant
– was abruptly shifted at the end of the eighteenth century
with Kant’s critique of Classical representation. For during the
Classical age, the complex question of human knowledge was
grounded in a philosophy of representation; to think was to
employ ideas in their representation of object of thought
(Gutting 2003). The representation of objects in seventeenth
and eighteenth century science in no way concerned itself
with the scientist’s own role in the process of representation –
it was simply assumed that objects could be represented in
human language (Cook 1993, 54).

The basis for this assumption, Foucault argues, is that

knowledge was referentially equated with representation.
Classical thinkers could disagree about the ontological form of
the mind’s representation of an object, but Foucault points out
that they were all bound to the idea that representation were
“non-physical” and “non-historical,” in the sense that the
mental representation itself could not be conceived as playing
a role in the cause networks shared between words and
objects (Gutting 2003). When it came, then, to the paradoxical
equation – exemplified in Kant – of the very idea of an
objective representation, Classical thought was bound to its
understanding of knowledge as representation and unable to

understanding the idea of representation outside the
epistemological paradigm of representation itself. For
Foucault, Kant’s critical philosophy clearly outlined this self-
referential characteristic of Classical representation, which led
to important and distinctively modern philosophical systems
of knowledge. Kant himself developed the notion that
representations were a product of the mind and the
transcendental dimension of human subjectivity, thus
maintaining the Classical insistence that knowledge was
neither a physical or historical reality, but nonetheless
locating the grounds of knowledge in a novel domain – the
transcendental – more fundamental than the ideas it enclosed
(Gutting 2003). Others posited a radical historicity to the
grounds of knowledge and representation, developing, as for
instance in Herder, the historical reality of ideas in terms of
their essential tie to language. For Foucault, this linguistic
approach to the reality of ideas, in conjunction with Kant’s
transcendental approach, inaugurated a break within late
Western culture, in which representation loses “the power to
provide a foundation…for the links that can join its various
elements together”: the epistemological condition for these
links resided henceforth “outside representation, beyond its
immediate visibility, in a sort of behind-the-scenes world even
deeper and more dense than representation itself” (Foucault
1970, 238-9). And at the archaeological level, an epistemic
“system of positivity” – a particular condition of the possibility
of objective knowledge – reveals a certain “mode of being” of
human knowledge in which the order of things was divided up

and presented to the understanding (Foucault 1970, xxii).

For Foucault, it was specifically the coherence that existed between

Classical theories of representation and theories of language that were
completely reoriented at this epistemic break occurring at the beginning of the
nineteenth century:

…the theory of representation disappears as the

universal foundation of all possible orders; language as
the spontaneous tabula, the primary grid of all things,
as an indispensable link between representation and
things, is eclipsed in its turn; a profound historicity
penetrates into the heart of things, …imposes upon
them the forms of order implied by the continuity of
time; …and, above all, language loses its privileged
position and becomes, in its turn, a historical form
coherent with the density of its own past (Foucault
1970, xxiii).

Consequently, though, it is with these new problems of

knowledge and representation that “man” arises as a
discursive event. For as the objectivity of knowledge in the
nineteenth century becomes “increasingly reflexive,” seeking
the intelligibility of objects by the principle of their own
development and abandoning “the space of representation,”
man emerges – and that, for the first time within the field of
Western knowledge (Foucault 1970, xxiii).

But as outrageous a claim as this might at first appear, it

must be understood that Foucault meant by the notion of
“man” the emergence of a concept, a theme, and an object of
scientific inquiry that emerged within a particular episteme
(Cook 1993, 53). “Man,” say Foucault, “– the study of whom is

supposed by the naïve to be the oldest investigation since
Socrates – is probably no more than a kind of rift in the order
of things” (Foucault 1970 xxiii); as a product of certain
conditions that govern the objectivity of knowledge, “he is a
quite recent creature, which the demiurge of knowledge
fabricated with its own hands less than two hundred years
ago” (Foucault 1970, 308). The discursive event inaugurating
the Modern age, characterized primarily by the emergence of
a radical historicity within the objectivity of knowledge, sees
the abandonment of the space of representation within which
words take up their place in the specific depths of language
(Foucault 1970, 345). And at that, the sciences exemplifying
nineteenth century knowledge – biology, economics, and
philology – begin to study the internal laws of life, labour, and
language which make objective knowledge of these objects

It was therefore necessary, argues Foucault, that, given

these conditions, the object of man emerges as the living,
working, and speaking foundation for the representation of all
the positivities studied by the sciences of biology, economics,
and philology (Cook 1993, 55). For, at a time when the
Classical theory of representation was deteriorating, “the
necessity of interrogating man’s being as the foundation of all
positivities was imposing itself in its place” (Foucault 1970,
345). Thus, man was born of this need to replace the basis
upon which knowledge is constituted as immediate and
evidential. At a same time, man problematically became both

“the condition for the possibility of all knowledge about man
and the object of that knowledge” (Cook 1993, 55); “he
became, a fortiori, that which justified the calling into question
of all knowledge of man” (Foucault 1970, 345). In turn, this
conditioning of man as both ground and object of knowledge
brought about a set of anthropological and historical concerns
that remain today, late in the Modern age. For when
knowledge acquired the general character of being a
knowledge of man, there arose the modern controversy
between the natural sciences and the sciences of man, as well
as the controversy between philosophy and the human
sciences. In a first instance, the conditioning of the ground of
knowledge as anthropological – as based in man – forces the
natural sciences of mathematics and physics to question,
reformulate and justify the ground of their methods in a
similarly anthropological fashion – “in the teeth of
‘psychologism’, ‘sociologism’ and ‘historicism’,” as Foucault
describes it (1970, 345-6). And in a second instance, the
hostility on behalf of philosophy towards what Foucault
describes as “the naïveté with which the human sciences try
to provide their own foundation” protests the use – and more
to the point, the misuse – of man as that object formerly
constituted within the domain of philosophy (1970, 346).

At any rate, of this Foucault is certain: “man is neither

the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed
by human knowledge” (1970, 386). As the work of Foucault’s
archaeological period outlines certain transformations within

sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century European
culture affecting the knowledge of things and their order – the
discursive practices emphatically located between language
and objective knowledge –, the emergence of a radically
historicised, anthropologically driven foundation for the
possibility of knowledge takes its place at the heart of the
Modern era, governing the epistemological conditions of the
human sciences. It is in this sense that man and his science,
the grounding representation of objective knowledge today, is
a no more than the product of certain epistemological
conditions, certain historical systems of thought and regimes
of truth. His appearance is no “transition into luminous
consciousness of an age-old concern” as much as his
historical entry into objectivity as a discursive event is
“something that had long remained trapped within beliefs and
philosophies” (Foucault 1970, 387). Man did not exist between
before the transparency of Classical representation was called
into question at the end of the eighteenth century. And as
Foucault famously concludes his piece The Order of Things:

If those arrangements were to disappear as they

appeared, …then one can certainly wager that man
would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge
of the sea (1970, 387).

Chapter 2


An Analysis of Modalities of Power and Knowledge

Genealogy and the Subjugation of Knowledge

Shortly after the 1966 publication of The Order of
Things, Foucault responded to the general public’s labelling of
his work as “structuralist” by describing it, rather, as a
“Nietzschean genealogy” (Revel 2007, 63). It is therefore no
surprise that, as the philosophical/historical method most
notably applied in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish9 and
History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction10, genealogy
has no recourse to traditional metaphysics. It is not
teleological, is neither understood as a search for origins, and
in no way does it seek to establish singular meanings and
essential truths from within history (Barker 1993, 65).

Genealogy does not oppose itself to history as the lofty

and profound gaze of the philosopher might compare
to the mole-like perspective of the scholar; on the
contrary, it rejects the meta-historical deployment of
ideal significations and indefinite teleologies. It
opposes itself to the search for ‘origins’ (Foucault
1977b, 140).

Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, translated by A.
M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977); originally published under the
title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (1975).
Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, translated
by A. M. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1978); originally published under
the title La volonté de savoir, Vol. 1 of Histoire de la sexualité (1976).

Foucault’s genealogy refuses to engage in the pursuit of
origins for, as explained above, such a pursuit presupposes
some idyllic initiation in the past which the present attempts
to recapture. In opposition to a “metaphysics of the return,”
the genealogical method makes a return to the past by
revealing strategic historical connections that have become
invisible with the passing of time instead of describing what
would amount to a kind of hermeneutics (Barker 1993, 65).
And in conjunction with Foucault’s archaeological method,
genealogy takes hold of discontinuity and dispersion,
improbable beginnings and accidental developments, in order
to “record the singularity of events outside of any monotonous
finality” (Foucault 1977b, 139). It therefore less a movement
away from an archaeology of the discursive as it is an
illumination of the non-discursive in its various arrays of
visibility, of novel connections and relations, and of revealed
and renewed objects placed in relation to each other
throughout the entire field (discursive and non-discursive) of
human thought. “Gray, meticulous, and patently
documentary” (1977b, 139), Foucault’s genealogy is a method
for the analysis of a history with no essential continuity or
unity; a history, in fact, which produced and induces certain
effects on the things it encompasses – developments,
accidents, coincidences, historical events placed in relation to
each other in particular ways (Barker 1993, 66). For it is using
the method of genealogy that Foucault argues for a function
of history hitherto concealed: history as a struggle for

Arguing for the critical vulnerability of things,
institutions, practices and discourses, Foucault’s
archaeological method discovered the fragility which grounds
“the very bedrock of existence” – in particular, “those aspects
of it that are most familiar, most solid and most intimately
related to our bodies and to our everyday behaviour” (1980,
80). This sense of instability within history – archaeologically
described as discontinuous, genealogically analyzed as
without teleological origin – had the effect of further inhibiting
recourse to global totalitarian theories within Foucault’s
thought. As Foucault himself outlined in two key lectures given
at the Collège de France in 197611, the reactionary effect that
the archaeological method and other similarly critical tools
have had on the local character of theoretical research
translates into “an autonomous, non centralised kind of
theoretical production” – a condition for both theoretical and
practical research which curtails, overthrows and caricaturizes
the singular truths and absolute unities determining those
historical developments posited as the traditional objects of
theoretical and practical analysis (1980, 80-1). What is meant
by local in this context is that differential mode of human
knowledge incapable of unanimity and absolute coherence, a
knowledge “which owes its force only to the harshness with
which it is opposed by everything surrounding it” (Foucault
1980, 82). Thus, the non-centralized and discontinuous
theorizing Foucault sees as the novel character of local
Foucault, “Two Lectures,” in Power/Knowledge, transcribed by A.
Fontana and P. Pasquino, translated by K. Soper (New York: Pantheon,
1980), 78-108.

research is truly autonomous in the sense that its validity is
wholly free of the approval of pre-established systems of
thought and regimes of truth (1980, 81). And arising out of
this thematic is one of the grounding features constituting
Foucault’s later method of historical/philosophical analysis:
genealogy as witness to the insurrection of subjugated

By subjugated knowledge is meant two things. On the

one hand, knowledge is subjugated and dominated when
buried and disguised in the functionalist coherence or formal
systemisation of history as teleologically continuous and
essentially unitary (Foucault 1980, 80-1). Here, a genealogy of
subjugated knowledge reveals “the immediate emergence of
historical contents”; that is to say, a rediscovery of “ruptural
effects of conflict and struggle” imposed upon the historical
contents of knowledge as functionalist or systematized order
(Foucault 1980, 81-2). On the other hand, by subjugated
knowledge is also meant the historical contents of knowledge
disqualified as inadequate or leading nowhere: “naïve
knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the
required level of cognition or scientificity” (Foucault 1980, 82).
Here, then, a genealogy of subjugated knowledge moves
beyond the archaeological analysis of knowledge in its
contingency and historically constructed dimensions, to the
production of a reconstructed historical dimension of
knowledge that shatters the unity of the former (Barker 1993,
66). And as such, genealogy is characterized as the furthest

thing from an empiricism or positivism in the ordinary sense of
these terms: it has nothing at all to do with the “opposition
between the abstract unity of theory and the concrete
multiplicity of facts”:

What it really does is to entertain the claims to

attention of local, discontinuous, disqualified,
illegitimate knowledge against the claims of a unitary
body of theory which would filter, hierarchies and
order them in the name of some true knowledge and
some arbitrary idea of what constitutes and science
and its objects (Foucault 1980, 83).

Genealogy is described by Foucault as an anti-science

(1980, 83). It is a counter-attack to historical systems of
thought and regimes of truth, in the sense that its goal is to
utilize such systems and regimes against and in opposition to
the order of scientific discourse as such (Revel 2007, 63). It
attempts to reinscribe subjugated knowledge – “the buried
knowledges of erudition and those disqualified from the
hierarchy of knowledges and sciences” (Foucault 1980, 82) –
into the historical contents of human knowledge by making
tactical use of the subjugation, domination and struggle of
historical knowledge.

Releasing historical knowledges of struggle, Foucault’s

genealogy produces a knowledge that falls back on its
historical place of emergence, and by this recoils away from
the power of scientific discourse and the hierarchizing that
orders governs the order of things (Scott 1990, 58). For as
Foucault instructs, “what is at stake in all these genealogies is

the nature of this power” (1980, 87) – the nature of historical
mutations and disruptions that are ignored by the functionalist
tradition of the history of knowledge and disqualified by the
systematizations and hierarchizations of human thought. An
investigation into the power of ordered discourse therefore
creates a “genealogical recoil,” in the sense of a falling back
onto the discontinuous structure of history and knowledge,
that forms a springing, self-overcoming movement whereby
the truth of historical knowledge is consigned to a discursive
order that can be critically interrogated (Scott 1990, 58-9).
Foucault’s genealogical project is, at this point, preoccupied
with a dramatic reversal of traditional discursive, epistemic
analysis. For the springing, self-overcoming movement of
genealogy produces within historical knowledge an inversion
of the docile nature of knowledge, bringing forth and exposing
“its latent nature and its brutality” (Foucault 1980, 95). It is
motivated by a need to show how, and in what ways, truth is
an instrument of domination in its relation to knowledge; how
truth is a power put into motion through relations of
domination. Therefore, contrary to the tendency to inscribe
knowledge into “the hierarchical order of power associated
with science,” genealogy endeavours to emancipate
knowledge from this subjugation, rendering it capable of
emancipation from “the coercion of theoretical, unitary, formal
and scientific discourse” (Foucault 1980, 85). Based on a
reactivation of local knowledge against the scientific
hierarchisation of knowledge and its intrinsic power to
dominate and subjugate. For where knowledge is a

fundamental device for the production of relations of
domination, a fundamental struggle emerges around terms of
meaning, unity, interpretation, and truth:

The history which bears and determines us has the

form of a war rather than that of a language: relations
of power, not relations of meaning. History has no
‘meaning’, though this is not to say that it is absurd or
incoherent. On the contrary, it is intelligible and should
be susceptible of analysis down to the smallest detail –
but this is in accordance with the intelligibility of
struggles of strategies and tactics (Foucault_______).

Foucault’s genealogy therefore asserts that fundamental

principles of strategy and tactic proceed through knowledge in
participation with struggles that produce coherence, unity,
continuity and meaning out of the accidental and coincidental
within history (Barker 1993, 66). And as such, it exposes and
specifies the issues of power at stake in knowledge, as well as
the oppositions, struggles and insurrections produced through
the institution of hierarchical, scientific knowledge and the
relation of knowledge to power that invests such discourse
(Foucault 1980, 87).

Power, Knowledge, and the Sciences of the

Says Foucault, the traditional question of political
philosophy is formulated in the following terms: “How is the
discourse of truth, or quite simply, philosophy as that
discourse which par excellence is concerned with truth, able
to fix limits to the rights of power?” (1980, 93). Yet Foucault’s
own question is one, rather, of the right of power in its

historical relation to truth – the relation of power to knowledge
in the production of epistemic discourse. The studies forming
Foucault’s genealogical period concern themselves therefore
with power and its formal delineation, on the one hand, but
also the production of truth this power transmits in
knowledge. Describing the genealogy of power, Foucault

[I]n a society such as ours, but basically in any

society, there are manifold relations of power
which permeate, characterise and constitute the
social body, and these relations of power cannot
themselves be established, consolidated nor
implemented without the production,
accumulation, circulation and functioning of a
discourse (Foucault 1980, 93).

There is thus an inseparable relation between truth and

power in which knowledge is the subject of a production of
truth, but is thereby subjected to a power of the production of
truth. But as archaeology reveals human knowledge to be
fundamentally grounded in historical systems of thought and
the production of truth, genealogy reveals knowledge in its
inseparability with power – detailing the subjugation of
knowledge to power in discourse, and the historical
hierarchizations of knowledge. We produce truth as we
produce wealth, we are subjected to truth as we produce laws,
and we are judged, condemned, classified and determined by
truth in all areas of discourse of which none escape the effects
of power and domination (Foucault 1980, 93-4). Such effects
are studied by Foucault at the historical level within which

power invests itself in institutions – where it “becomes
embodied in techniques and equips itself with instruments
and eventually even violent means of material intervention”
(1980, 96). Foucault is thus less concerned with power at the
individual level of intention or decision than with the
investment of its intention at the level of “effective practices”
– where power is advanced immediately and directly in its
object and field of application (1980, 97). On the one hand,
then, power is studied in its pervasiveness, not as a
phenomenon of an individual’s domination over another but of
subjugated knowledge employed and exercised in circulation
between individuals. Simultaneously positioned to undergo
and exercise this power, individuals are conceived as the
vehicles of power, not its points of application (Foucault 1980,
98). On the other hand, though, power is studied in its
infinitesimal mechanisms, each with their own history of
techniques and procedures, invested within more general
mechanisms and forms of domination (Foucault 1980, 99).
Foucault’s genealogical examination of the nature of power is
therefore directed towards “domination and the material
operators of power, towards forms of subjection and the
inflection and utilisations of their localised systems, and
towards strategic apparatuses” (1980, 102).

Discipline and Punish represents the initial localization of

this genealogical examination of power: Foucault’s influential
work within which modern society, from the nineteenth
century to today, is characterized by the discourse of public

right – “whose principle of articulation is the social body and
the delegative status of each citizen” – as well as the
discourse of disciplinary power, whose purpose is to “assure
the cohesion of this same social body” (1980, 106). Moreover,
the genealogy of this social body and the discourses of public
right and disciplinary power are held at the same level as the
archaeology of the human sciences, within which man
emerges as the object of knowledge for a discourse claiming
scientific status (Foucault 1977a, 24). Foucault’s study then,
within Discipline and Punish, examines at the genealogical
level of criticism the insertion of man into the scientific
complex of social institutions from which power derives its
basis, its justifications, and its rules. More concretely, it is “a
genealogy of the present scientifico-legal complex from
which…power extends its effects and by which it masks its
exorbitant singularity”; and its aim is “to study the
metamorphosis of punitive methods…in which might be read
a common history of power relations and object relations”
(Foucault 1977a, 23-24).

In modern society, the social apparatuses of punishment

are theoretically situated in what Foucault calls a “political
economy” of the body: in all measures of penalty and
reprimand, it is the body of the individual self that is at issue.
Power relations therefore have a direct and immediate hold
upon the individual through a certain knowledge of the body
that is not the biology of its functioning, but the calculation,
organization and technical investment of its power to be

productive, but also to be subjected to production (Foucault
1977a, 25-26). But at the same time, power exercised on the
body is not a property of the individual, but a force acted upon
it – the analyzable effects of domination are attributable to
dispositions, functionings, tactics, and techniques located at a
level where “power and knowledge directly imply one
another” (Foucault 1977a, 27). For where “power-knowledge
relations” are analysed on the basis of the individual as an
object of scientific discourse, historical transformation in
knowledge are at all times a function and modality of power.
The political economy of the body, then, as an analysis of the
“body politic” of the self, is elaborated as a set of techniques
through which the social body of society is divided into “cells”
of individual selves, made objects of power-knowledge.

According to Foucault, it was the Classical age which

discovered the body as an object and target of power-
knowledge: the anatomico-metaphysical doctrines of man, the
knowing subject of scientific study, were elaborated in
connection with technico-political principles calculating and
regulating the various institutions used for controlling and
correcting the “operations” of the body (1977a, 136). Of
course, it was certainly not the first time the human body had
become the object of constraints, prohibitions, or obligations;
but as particular techniques of coercion over the movements,
gestures and attitudes of the body, the mechanisms of power
and domination had themselves developed in new ways. And
by the eighteenth century, the political domination of the

body had achieved a power so subtle that the “signifying
elements of behaviour” and “language of the body” that
grounded the human sciences of the seventeenth century
were replaced outright by a political economy of the body
governing the efficiency of bodily movement and the internal
organization of bodily exercise at an infinitesimal level
(Foucault 1977a, 137).

These meticulous techniques of control over the

operations of the body assured a constant subjection of its
forces upon the body of the individual self, imposing on them
“a relation of docility-utility” which grew out of the emerging
ideology of “discipline” in the social make-up of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Foucault 1977a, 137).
In fact, a novel form of discipline emerged at this time as an
all-pervasive formula for domination in which a modern “art of
the human body” was born, “directed not only at the growth
of its skills, or at the intensification of its subjection, but at the
formation of a relation that in the mechanisms itself makes it
more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely”
(Foucault 1977a, 138). Thus, the political economy of the
body born out of the Classical age led in turn to a “mechanics
of power” over the individual self fundamental to the political
society of the Modern age. And out of the disciplinary
discourse that engenders the various apparatuses of power-
knowledge which sanctify the disciplinary practices of a
mechanics of power is displayed the global functioning of a
society of normalization (Foucault 1980, 107). Here, Foucault’s

work in genealogy leads back to themes previously
encountered in the archaeological period, in particular that of
the modern discourse of the human sciences and the fixation
of the individual self in the subject, man. For the scientific,
calculated, technical domination of human behaviour is not
the product of an advancement in the rationality of the
sciences of man, but a complexification of scientific discourse
at the level of the relationship shared between power and
knowledge: the mechanics of coercive forces present within
the human sciences take on a novel, disciplinary form,
situating man, the modern object of scientific knowledge, in a
complex web of disciplinary normalisation.

The Question of the Human Subject

In summary fashion, it may be said that the foundation of
Foucault’s archaeological and genealogical work culminates in
the question of the human subject: both the archaeological
analysis of history and historical systems of knowledge, and
the genealogical analysis of power-knowledge and mechanics
of domination over the individual self, share a common
ground as an analysis and history of the different modes in
which human beings are made subjects (Foucault 1983, 208).
The first mode of inquiry took on the question of the
objectification of the individual self through which the human
subject gains the status of a science:

The objectivizing of the speaking subject in…
philology and linguistics…; the objectivizing of the
productive subject…in the analysis of wealth and
of economics…; the objectivizing of the sheer fact
of being alive in natural history or biology
(Foucault 1983, 208).

The second mode of inquiry took on the question of the

objectification of the individual self through the pervasive
disciplinary power of social institutions: the objectivizing of
the socio-political subject in a political economy of the body
representing the modern lineage of constraint, control and
punishment within which scientific knowledge of the human
subject is objectivized in a first place. Thus, it is not historical
truth or power which constitutes the general theme of
Foucault’s critical philosophy, but that of the human subject
(1983, 209).

The main objective of Foucault’s genealogical analysis of

power-knowledge and the scientific disciplines of the
individual is the description of historically subjugated
knowledge and its reintegration into the local and critical
dimensions of political philosophy, with a focus not on
particular institutions, groups or classes of power, but on
techniques and forms of power. The form of power which
applies itself to the immediate everyday life of the individual
self – that which “characterizes the individual, marks him by
his own individuality, attaches him to his identity, imposes a
law of truth on which he must recognize and which others
have to recognize in him” – is a form of power which

determines individuals as concrete subjects (Foucault 1983,
212). Says Foucault, “There are two meanings of the word
subject: subject to someone else by control and dependence,
and tied his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge”
(1983, 212), and both take the form of subjugating power.
Foucault’s work therefore takes on many descriptions of those
struggles which illuminate the effects of power as such, those
“immediate” struggles of the individual against the instances
of power closest to them (1983, 211). And genealogy
responds in opposition to the effects of power liked with
knowledge, the “struggles against the privileges of
knowledge” (Foucault 1983, 212), through critical analysis of
history as a production of truth governed by modalities of
power relations.

Putting into question the validity of the rules of law and

techniques for the management and production of human
subjects, Foucault is led to question the very basis upon which
the self-knowing, self-realizing character of the human subject
is valued (Scott 1990, 87). The genealogical analyses of
power-knowledge therefore culminate in a freedom from
certain exposed modalities of domination, where the
production of truth is governed by the coercion of power. His
later work, found within the second and third volumes to The
History of Sexuality12, consequently develops an analysis of
governmentality and explores the limits “beyond the scope of

Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, volume II of The History of Sexuality (New York:
Random House, 1985); The Care of the Self, volume III of The History of Sexuality
(New York: Random House, 1986).

individual rights and self-relation” (Scott 1990, 87). In
Foucault’s own words, governmentality is defined as,

…the totality of practices by which one can

constitute, define, organize, instrumentalize the
strategies which individuals in their liberty can
have with regard to each other (Foucault 1987,

The question of the subject is therefore a problem residing

within the interplay of the production of truth and the coercion
of power, where the human subject emerges as a product “of
liberty, of strategy, and of governmentality,” and Foucault’s
understanding of ethics begins to take shape (Foucault 1987,

Despite belonging to The History of Sexuality, Foucault

himself characterized his final work as more about techniques
of the self than about sex, since the idea of sexual ethics
presupposed a certain technology of the self (1983, 229-31).
But in keeping with his previous analyses, the question of
ethics elaborated out of the techniques of the self took the
form, not a history of solutions, but of “a genealogy of
problems, of problématiques” (Foucault 1983, 231). The Use
of Pleasure, for example, examined Ancient Greek sexual
ethics as grounded in a techne tou biou – an “art of life” –
within which the economy of pleasure played a large role
(Foucault 1983, 240). Thus, out of this Greek techne of the art
of life grew the Christian hermeneutics of the self, which

Foucault describes as a new elaboration of the same ethical

Sexual austerity in Greek society was a trend or

movement, a philosophical movement coming
from the very cultivated people in order to give to
their life much more intensity, much more beauty.
In a way it’s the same in the twentieth century
when people, in order to get a more beautiful life,
tried to get rid of all the sexual repression of their
society, of their childhood (Foucault 1983, 241).

In other words, the ethical theme of sexual austerity is

governed by a historical movement of problematizations of
the self, present within the thought of the Ancient Greeks, on
through early and medieval Christianity, up until the present
day. The question of the human subject, in turn, emerges
within “the treasury of devices, techniques, ideas, [and]
procedures” that constitute the individual self as a subject of
historical problematizations (Foucault 1983, 241-2). Foucault’s
archaeological period sought to describe the individual self in
his and her relation to truth, as a subject of knowledge. The
first half of his genealogical period described the individual
self in relation to fields of power, whereby the self is
constituted as a subject governing itself and others. Finally,
then, the latter half of the genealogical period arrives at a
description of the individual self in relation to Foucault’s
understanding of ethics as those problematizations through
which the subject situates him and herself as a moral agent
(1983, 246).

In conclusion, it may be said that Foucault’s ethics is
genealogical in design and archaeological in method. Its
critical mode of analysis centers on “a historical investigation
into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to
recognize ourselves as subjects” (Foucault 1984, 46). It does
no endeavour to outline universal structures of moral
knowledge, but rather the instances of discourse, belonging to
a given historical period, which articulate that manner within
which the individual self is problematized as an object of
scientific studies governed by modalities of power. This
historical/critical attitude puts the individual self to the test of
a historically situated experiential reality, and reorients the
ways in which that self is determined as a product of moral
problematizations. Foucault’s ethics are, in this sense,
grounded in a study of “practical systems” for the production
of truth and the coercion or power, centered on the human
self (1984, 48-9). His ethics answer to a series of open
questions and make an indefinite numbers of inquiries which
address the ethical problematization of the self in connection
with the previous archaeological and genealogical studies.
Thus, Foucault asks:

How are we constituted as subjects of our own

knowledge? How are we constituted as subjects
who exercise or submit to power relations? How
are constituted as moral subjects of our own
actions? (Foucault 1984, 49).

And through a historical/critical investigation of the
materials, epochs, and bodies of determined practices and
discourses grounding the ethical problematization of the
human subject, the very heart of human subjectivity is
grasped “to the extent to which what we know of it, the forms
of power that are exercised in it, and the experience that we
have in it of ourselves” as human beings. Here, the
philosophical domain of ethics is determined by historical
figures that define certain objects, certain actions, and certain
modes of relation to one’s self (Foucault 1984, 49).


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Pantheon Books.
———. 1977b. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice:
Selected Essays and Interviews. Edited by Donald F.
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“History of Systems of Thought,” 199-204. Translated
by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon.
“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 139-64. Translated by
Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon.
———. 1977c. The Political function of the Intellectual.
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———. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An
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———. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews
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“Truth and Power,” 109-33. Translated by Colin Gordon.
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“Two Lectures,” 78-108. Two lectures given at the
Collège de France on January 7 and 14, 1976.
Transcribed by Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale
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———. 1983. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism
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Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
“On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in
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“The Subject and Power,” 208-26. Edited by Hubert L.
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———. 1984. The Foucault Reader. Edited by Paul
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“What is Enlightenment?,” 32-50. Edited by Paul
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———. 1985. The Use of Pleasure. Volume II of The
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———. 1986. The Care of the Self. Volume III of The
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———. 1987. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a
Practice of Freedom: An Interview with Michel Foucault
on January 20, 1984.” Conducted by Raúl Fornet-
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———. 1988. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with
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of Massachusetts Press.
“Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault,”
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———. 1989. Foucault Live: Interview 1966-84.
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“The Order of Things,” 1-10. Interview by Raymond
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“The Discourse of History,” 11-34. Interview by
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“The Archeology of Knowledge,” 45-56. Interview by J.J.
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