Using Foucault's Methods
Book

Using Foucault's Methods

Book
By: Gavin Kendall & Gary Wickham Published: 1999
Methods: Scepticism
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  • Copyright
  • Preface

    As is obvious from even a glance at the catalogue of any academic publisher, much recent research has been conducted in the shadow of Foucault. While researchers in this emerging tradition make use of some standard qualitative methods in the social sciences — including textual analysis, observation and historical inquiry — they also introduce into social interpretation an ‘extra dimension’: a new way of understanding the intersection of power and knowledge.

    In this book we set out the various ways in which Foucault's work has been taken up by social analysts to exploit this ‘extra dimension’ in such a way that postgraduate and undergraduate students can adapt it to their needs.

    Our book is organised around two themes:

    • History, archaeology, genealogy and discourse as the cornerstones of Foucault's methods.
    • Science and culture as important objects of analysis for those using Foucault's methods.

    The book's five main chapters are organised into two parts in line with these two themes. Chapters 1 and 2 form the first part, setting out Foucault's ‘extra dimension’ through discussions of his very particular use of each of history, archaeology, genealogy and discourse. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 form the second part, discussing various ways in which Foucault's methods have been used to analyse science (Chapters 3 and 4) and culture (Chapter 5). Chapter 6 is a summary conclusion. Each chapter has exercises built into it to illustrate its main methodological points.

    We employ a style which we hope encourages students' passion for Foucault but directs it to the many ways in which Foucault's methods (and those of his ‘friends’) have been used in the analysis of social order. This involves us adopting the perspective of various quizzical students as they attempt to make sense of the material in terms of their own ambitions as scholars.

    Some cautionary remarks are necessary before we begin the book proper. First of all, it may be suggested that there are no such persons as ‘Foucaultians’ and that there is no such thing as a ‘Foucaultian method’ (for example, Megill [1985] argues that Foucault's approach was so ‘unmethodological’ that his only apparently methodological text, The Archaeology of Knowledge, was really a spoof). As we discuss in Chapter 1, we have some sympathy with this scepticism, but still believe there is a place for a text which tries to introduce some basic themes in research of this type; the alternative is, perhaps, to suggest that there is something mystical or inexplicable about Foucault's approach. Maybe it's only possible to get across something of the ‘spirit’ of Foucault's inquiries, but, even if we can only go that far, we think it's worth trying to give as straightforward an introduction as possible.

    Second, our book has its origins in a certain disquiet about Foucault's reception in the academic world. Too often he is presented as one of the ‘postmoderns’, which has meant that many hastily write him off as one of those wild, slightly mad French theorists. To the contrary, we regard Foucault as a most careful investigator. His work is not the product of idle speculation or groundless grand theorising, but emerged from a huge amount of very careful research. It is also the case that Foucault's work does not fit very well into either the camp of ‘critical’ research — we do not think Marxism or feminism, for example, can be easily added on to Foucault's insights — or the camp of ‘liberal’ research — by which we mean that Foucault's thoroughgoing scepticism about such notions as ‘truth’, ‘progress’ or ‘values’ means that it is difficult to see his work as building on other work in similar areas. This curious position that Foucault occupies means that while he is frequently name-checked, his approach is rarely taken seriously.

    Third, a great deal of the book concerns itself with science studies, especially with the work of Bruno Latour. We are not sure whether Latour would mind being included in a book of Foucaultian methods; while Foucault's name crops up fairly regularly in Latour's early work, it seems to have slowly disappeared from his intellectual horizon (judging by whom he cites, at any rate). We are not dogmatic about this: we see Latour's approach as broadly reconcilable with Foucault's, and it is important for our purposes because it demonstrates a way of doing ‘Foucaultian’ research which is not necessarily historical.

  • Acknowledgements

    Although we take full responsibility for any solecisms contained within this book, we thank the following for their help with anything that is good about it: James Butterfield, Jo Goodie, Jeremy Kendall, Kate Kendall, Trisha Kendall, Ivan Krisjansen, Jeff Malpas, Mike Michael, Clare O'Farrell, Clifford Shearing, Katherine Sheehan, and especially our encouraging series editor, David Silverman. We also thank the staff at Sage for making working on this book such a pleasant experience.

  • Guide to further reading

    While our students have been struggling with Foucault's methods, at least some of them have also been doing their reading. Here are some suggestions from their lists:

    Foucault on his methods

    Foucault, M. (1981a) ‘Questions of Method’. I&C 8, 3–14. This is reprinted in Burchell, G., Gordon, C. and Miller, P. (eds) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.

    Foucault, M. (1981b) The Order of Discourse'. In Young, R. (ed.)Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    Florence, M. (1998) ‘Foucault’. In Foucault, M. Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984. New York: New Press.

    Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock, especially Introduction (pp. 3–17), Part I Chapter 1 (pp. 21–30), and Part IV Chapter 1 (pp. 135–140).

    Foucault, M. (1977) ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’. In Bouchard, D.F. (ed.)Michel Foucault. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. This is reprinted in Rabinow, P. (ed.)The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

    Foucault, M. (1991) ‘Politics ana the Study of Discourse’. In Burchell, G., Gordon, C. and Miller, P. (eds)The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

    Foucault, M. (1998) ‘On the Ways of Writing History’. In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984. New York: New Press.

    Foucault, M. (1998) ‘On the Archaeology of the Sciences: Response to the Epistemology Circle’. In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984. New York: New Press.

    We suggest you read these pieces in the order we have set out above.

    Other writers on Foucault's methods

    Dean, M. (1994) Critical and Effective Histories: Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology. London: Routledge, especially Chapters 1 and 2. This book is an indispensable guide to Foucault's idiosyncratic view of history, and situates Foucault's work among other approaches to history.

    Deleuze, G. (1986) Foucault. London: Athlone. This book is hard-going, but it presents a view of Foucault by a great philosopher in his own right, a man who was very close to Foucault. You might notice that Deleuze traces Foucault's methodological innovations to his philosophical considerations — even the emphasis on power is understood in this way, rather than as a response to political problems.

    Veyne, P. (1997) ‘Foucault Revolutionizes History’. In Davidson, A. (ed.)Foucault and his Interlocutors. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Paul Veyne is another writer who was very close to Foucault. This piece deals carefully with the notion of ‘rarity’ in Foucault's method. It also expands on the materiality of discourse that we discussed in relation to Ian Hunter in Chapter 2 and to John Law in Chapter 3.

    Macey, D. (1993) The Lives of Michel Foucault. London: Random House. This is one of the biographies of Foucault (there were three at the last count). It includes many useful points about methodology.

    More general guides to method

    Silverman, D. (1993) Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction. London: Sage.

    Silverman, D. (ed.) (1997) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. London: Sage (particularly the chapter by Lindsay Prior — ‘Following in Foucault's Footsteps: Texts and Context in Qualitative Research’).

    These texts deal with a variety of approaches besides the Foucaultian, but are very useful in helping you to think through specific methods you will need for specific research problems.

    Uses of Foucault

    As you will no doubt be aware, there are many books and articles claiming to be inspired by Foucault. The following are perhaps the most instructive:

    Hacking, I. (1991) ‘How Should We Do the History of Statistics?’ In Burchell, G., Gordon, C. and Miller, P. (eds)The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. This provides a close reading of Foucault's methods and then shows the reader, in quick time, how they can be used to analyse Hacking's own area of interest.

    Rose, N. (1985) The Psychological Complex: Psychology, Politics and Society in England 1869–1939. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. The methodology of this book is not really foregrounded. However, it is an excellent example of how Foucault's methods can be put to use to transform accepted histories (in this case, of the psychology of individual differences and of psychology more generally).

    On methods for studying science

    Latour, B. (1992) ‘Where are the Missing Masses?’ In Bijker, W. and Law, J. (eds)Shaping Technology/Building Society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

    Latour, B. (1986) The Powers of Association'. In Law, J. (ed.)Power, Action and Belief. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    Latour, B. (1991) Technology is Society Made Durable'. In Law, J. (ed.)A Sociology of Monsters. London: Routledge.

    Callon, M. (1986b) ‘Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay’. In Law, J. (ed.)Power, Action, and Belief. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    Callon, M. (1986a) The Sociology of an Actor-Network: The Case of the Electric Vehicle'. In Callon, M., Law, J. and Rip, A. (eds)Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology. London: Macmillan.

    Law, J. (1994) Organizing Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell, especially pp. 1–30.

    These pieces may only be familiar to you from our discussions in Chapters 3 and 4. If so, we suggest you read them in the order we have set out above.

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