Foucault, Michel - The Archaeology of Knowledge

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 05 June 2006

General Thoughts

"The Archaeology of Knowledge" is a detailed description of Foucault's methodology that gives thorough thought to fundamental terms like discourse, enunciative modalities, concepts, strategies, statments, enunciative functions and the archive. After this groundwork is laid, he digs into his articulation of "archaeology", primarily placed in contrast to the discipline of "the history of ideas".

In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault's concept of archaeology is focused in discourse and an analysis of the "statement". He sees statements as important indicators of the rules and conditions in a larger field of discourse, institution, discipline, or "discursive formation". The conditions of a statement's existence points toward how claims of truth are constructed and valued within the positivity of a discipline: which statements are acknowledged as being significant or insignificant provide important insight into the mechanics and dynamics of a discipline or epoch. Instead of searching for homogeneity in a discursive entity, Foucault looks at ruptures, breaks, mutations, and transformations -- including marginal or forgotten discourses -- to understand the production of meaning and knowledge.

Foucault is not directly engaged with media per se: his emphasis is an analysis of statements and their surrounding institutions, not the mediating technologies that transmit them. Although he values the materiality of artifacts and the archive, he clearly views media as a subset of the larger framework discursive formations: media have no independent power to reinscribe or transcribe statements apart from the institutions that mobilize them.

I personally found the introduction (pages 3 to 17) and the last portion of the book (pages 126 through 195) to be the most insightful portions of the text.


NOTE: These citations are formatted with the following syntax:
[pagenumber] {keyword1, keyword2, keyword3} The citation text is here, directly from the text, with original emphasis and hopefully all "ƒåñçy" characters maintained. [And it sometimes includes some of my own comments.]

[3] {deep, depth, rhythm, historiography, archaeology} one descends to the deepest levels, the rhythms become broader.

[4] {archaeology, discontinuity, historiography} Beneath the great continuities of thought... one is now trying to detect the incidence of interruptions. Interruptions whose status and nature vary considerably... they suspend the continuous accumulation of knowledge, interrupt its slow development, and force it to enter a new time... they direct historical analysis away from the search for silent beginnings, and the never-ending tracing-back to the original precursors, towards the search for a new type of rationality and its various affects... ; they show that the history of a concept is not wholly and entirely that of its progressive refinement, its continuously increasing rationality, its abstraction gradient, but that of its various fields of constitution and validity, that of its successive rules of use, that of the many theoretical contexts in which it developed and matured.

[5] {transformation, change, foundation, historiography, archaeology} ...the problem is no longer one of tradition, of tracing a line, but one of division, of limits; it is no longer one of lasting foundations, but one of transformations that serve as new foundations, the rebuilding of foundations.

[5] {discontinuity, threshold, rupture, break, mutation, transformation, metadata} ...discontinuity (threshold, rupture, break, mutation, transformation)

[7] {archaeology, historiography, document, monument, memory} The document is not the fortunate tool of a history that is primarily and fundamentally memory... history, in its traditional form, undertook to 'memorize' the monuments of the past, [and] transform them into documents... In our time, history is that which transforms documents into monuments. In that area where, in the past, history deciphered the traces left by men, it now deploys a mass of elements that have to be grouped, made relevant, placed in relation to one another to form totalities; it might be said, to play on words a little, that in our time history aspires to the condition of archaeology, to the intrinsic description of the monument.

[8] {archaeology, historiography, discontinuity} Discontinuity was the stigma of temporal dislocation that it was the historian's task to remove from history. It has now become one of the basic elements of historical analysis.

[9-10] {total history, general history, historiography, archaeology} ...the theme and possiblity of a total history begin to disappear, and we see the emergence of something very different that might be called a general history. The project of a total history is one that seeks to reconstitute the overall form of a civilization... The problem that now presents itself -- and which defines the task of a general history -- is to determine what form of relation may be legitimately described between these different series... not only what series, but also what 'series of series' -- or, in other words, what 'tables' it is possible to draw up. A total description draws all phenomena around a single centre... a general history, on the contrary, would deploy the space of a dispersion.

[12] {historiography, subject, continuity} Continuous history is the indispensable correlative of the founding function of the subject...

[12-13] {Marx}

[13] {Nietzche, genealogy}

[14] {anthropology}

[15] {archaeology, historiography, discontinuity, subjectivity} In the proposed analysis, instead of referring back to the synthesis or the unifying function of a subject, the various enunciative modalities manifest his dispersion. To the various statuses, the various sites, the various positions that he can occupy or be given when making a discourse. To the discontinuity of the planes from which he speaks... similarly, it must now be recognized that it is neither by recourse to a transcendental subject nor by recourse to a psychological subjectivity that the regulation of its enunciation should be defined.

[17] {Foucault, same, consistency, identity} Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.

[21] {metadata, discontinuity, rupture, threshold, limit, series, transformation}

[25] {protohistory, prehistory, origin, history, historiography} is led inevitably, though the naivety of chronologies, towards an ever-receding point that is never itself present in any history; this point is merely its own void; and from that point all beginnings can never be more than recommencements or occultation...

[25] {discourse, origin, historiography} Discourse must not be referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and when it occurs.

[32-33] {discourse, unity of discourse, discontinuity} the unity of discourses on madness would not be based upon the existence of the object 'madness', or the constitution of a single horizon of objectivity; it would be the interplay of the rules that make possble the appearance of objects during a given period of time: objects are shaped by measures of discrimination and repression, objects that are differentiated in daily practice, in law, in religious casuitry, in medical diagnosis, objects that are manifested in pathological descriptions, objects that are circumscribed by medical codes, practices, treatment, and care. Moreover, ...the unity of the discourse on madness would be the interplay of the rules that define the transformations of these different objects, their non-identity through time, the break produced in them, the internal discontinuity that suspends their permanence.

[37] {structure, dispersion, chain, table, system, coherence, division} Such an analysis would not try to isolate small islands of coherence in order to describe their internal structure; it would not try to suspect and to reveal latent conflicts; it would study forms of division. Or again: instead of reconstituting chains of inference (as one often does in the history of the sciences or of philosophy), instead of drawing up tables of differences (as the linguists do), it would describe systems of dispersion.

[79] {discourse formation, historiography}

[86] {statement, typewriter, letter, media, materiality} ...the keyboard of a typewriter is not a statement; but the same series of letters, A, Z, E, R, T, listed in a typewriting manual, is the statement of the alphabetical order adopted by French typewriters.

[88] {statement, typewriter, letter, media, materiality} ...the keyboard of a typewriter, or a handful of printer's characters...

[89] {series, signs, statement, typewriter, letter, media, materiality} A series of signs will become a statement on the condition that it possesses 'something else'... a specific relation that concerns itself -- and not its cause or its elements.

[101] {spatiotemporal, individuality, materiality, media, media theory, statement} Yet the materiality plays a much more important role in the statement: it is not simply a principle of variation, a modification of the criteria of recognition, or a determination of linguistic sub-groups. It is constitutive of the statement itself: a statement must have a substance, a support, a place, and a date. And when these requisites change, it too changes identity.

[103] {media theory, media, statement, institution, spatiotemporal, localization, individuality, reinscription, transcription} The statement cannot be identified with a fragment of matter; but its identity varies with a complex set of institutions. For a statement may be the same, whether written on a sheet of paper or published in a book; it may be the same spoken, printed on a poster, or reproduced on a tape-recorder; on the other hand, when a novelist speaks a sentence in daily life, then reproduces the same sentence in the manuscript that he is writing, attributing it to one of his characters, or even allowing it to be spoken by that anonymous voice that passes for that of the author, one cannot say that it is the same statement in each case. The rule of materiality that statements necessarily obey is therefore of the order of the institution rather than of the spatio-temporal localization; it defines possiblities of reinscription and transcription (but also thresholds and limit), rather than limited and perishable individualities.

[104] {statement, media, media theory} The constancy of the statement, the preservation of its identity through the unique events of the enunciations, it duplications through the identity of the forms, constitute the function of the field of use in which it is placed.

[113] {anthropology}

[116-117] {discourse, statements, historiography} ...discourse a group of statements in so far as they belong to the same discursive formation; it does not form a rhetorical or formal unity, endlessly repeatable, whose appearance or use in history might be indicated (and, if necessary, explained); it is made up of a limited number of statements for which a group of conditions of existence can be defined.

[125] (positivity, historiography, a priori}

[127] {archive, definition} The general system of the formation and transformation of statements...

[129] {archive, definition} ...the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events

[131] {archaeology, discontinuity, historiography, a priori, discursive formations, archive} The never completed, never wholly achieved uncovering of the archive forms the general horizon to which the description of discursive formations, the analysis of positivities, the mapping of the enunciative field belong. The right of words - which is not that of the philologists - authorizes, therefore, the use of the term archaeology to describe all these searches. This term does not imply the search for a beginning; it does not relate analysis to geological excavation. It designates the general theme of a description that questions the already-said at the level of its existence: of the enunciative function that operates within it, of the discursive formation, and the general archive system to which it belongs. Archaeology describes discourses as practices specified in the element of the archive.

[138] {archaeology, historiography, discontinuity} Genesis, continuity, totalization: these are the great themes of the history of ideas, and that by which it is attached to a certain, now traditional form of historical analysis... But archaeological description is precisely such an abandonment of the history of ideas, a systematic rejection of its postulates and procedures, an attempt to practice quite a different history of what men have said.

[138] {history, ideas, history of ideas, innovation, contradiction, transformation, metadata} Between archaeological analysis and the history of ideas there are a great many points of divergence. I shall try shortly to establish four differences that seem to me to be of the utmost importance. They concern the attribution of innovation, the analysis of contradictions, comparative descriptions, and the mapping of transformations.

[138-139] {archaeology, discourse, historiography, allegory} Archaeology tries to define not the thoughts, representations, images, themes, preoccupations that are concealed or revealed in discourses; but those discourses themselves, those discourses as practices obeying certain rules. It does not treat discourse as document... it is concerned with discourse in its own volume, as a monument. It is not an interpretative discipline: it does not seek another, better-hidden discourse. It refuses to be 'allegorical'.

[139] {archaeology, discourse, specificity} Archaeology does not seek to rediscover the continuous, insensible transition that relates discourses, on a gentle slope, to what precedes them, surrounds them, or follows them... its problem is to define discourses in their specificity; to show in what way the set of rules that they put into operation is irreducible to any other... it is not a 'doxology'; but a differential analysis of the modalities of discourse.

[139] {archaeology, oeuvre, discourse} Archaeology is not ordered in accordance with teh sovereign figure of the oeuvres; it does not try to grasp the moment in which the oeuvre emerges on the anonymous horizon... It defines types of rules for discursive practices that run through individual oeuvres, sometimes govern them entirely, and dominate them to such an extent that nothing eludes them; but which sometimes, too, govern only part of it.

[139] {archaeology, discourse, restore, history} ...archaeology does not try to restore what has been though, wished, aimed at, experienced, desired by men in the very moment at which they expressed it in discourse... it does not try to repeat what has been said by reaching it in its very identity.

[147] {archaeology, tree, derivation, discourse, compare to technological development} Archaeology -- and this is one of its principal themes -- may thus constitute the tree of derivation of a discourse... It will place at the root, as governing statements, those that concern the definition of observable structures and the field of possible objects... And it will find, at the ends of the branches, or at various places in the whole, a burgeoning of 'discoveries'... the emergence of new formations... the emergence of new notions... technical improvements...

[151] {archaeology, contradiction} For archaeological analysis, contradictions are neighter appearances to be overcome, nor secret principles to be uncovered. They are objects to be described for themselves, without any attempt being made to discover from what point of view they can be dissipated, or at what level they can be radicalized and effects become causes.

[157] {archaeology, discursive formations} Archaeological analysis individualizes and describes discursive formations.

[157] {archaeology, comparison, scope, range} In archaeologogical analysis comparison is always limited and regional.

[160] {archaeology, diversity, unity} Archaeological comparison does not have a unifying, but a diversifying, effect.

[160] {archaeology, formation, analogies, differences, isomorphism, model, shift, correlation} What archaeology wishes to uncover is primarily -- in the specificity and distance maintained in various discursive formations -- the play of analogies and differences as they appear at the level of rules of formation.

[171] {archaeology, difference, obstacle, analysis} Archaeology, on the other hand, takes as the object of its description what is usually regarded as an obstacle: its aim is not to overcome differences, but to analyze them, to say what exactly they consist of, to differentiate them.

[171] {archaeology, statements, emergence, concepts, derivation, formation, discursive formation}

[173-174] {archaeology, recurrence, topoi, cycle} On the contrart, one can, on the basis of these new rules, describe and analyse phenomena of continuity, return, and repitition... The problem for for archaeology is not to deny such phenomena, nor to try to diminish their importance; but, on the contrary, to try to describe and measure them: how can such permanences or repititions, such long sequences or such curves projected through time exist?

[174-175] {archaeology, discontinuity, continuity} And to those who might be tempted to criticize archaeology for concerning itself primarily with the analysis of the discontinuous, to all those agoraphobics of history and time, to all those who confuse rupture and irrationality, I will reply: 'It is you who devalue the continuous by the use that you make of it. You treat it as the support-element to which everything else must be related; you treat it as the primary law, the essential weight of any discursive practice; you would like to analyse every modification in the field of this inertia, as one analyses every movement in the gravitational field.

[191] {episeme, archaeology, historiography, discursive formations} By episteme, we mean... the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems; the way in which, in each of these discursive formations, the transitions to epistemologization, scientificity, and formalization are situated and operate; the distribution of these thresholds, which may coincide, be subordinated to one another, or be separated by shifts in time; the lateral relations that may exist between epistemological figures or sciences in so far as they belong to neighbouring, but distinct, discursive practices. The episteme is not a form of knowledge (connaissance) or type of rationality which, crossing the boundaries of the most varied sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a subject, a spirit, or a period; it is the totality of relations that can be discovered, for a given period, between the sciences when one analyses them at the level of discursive regularities.

[192-193] {archaology, archaeologies, beyond science, media} But I can readily imagine -- subject to a great deal of further exploration and examination -- archaeologies that might develop in different directions [beyond history of the sciences].

[193-194] {archaeology, art, painting, paint, media} Archaeological analysis [of painting] would have another aim: it would try to discover whether space, distance, depth, color, light, proportions, volumes, and contours were not, at the periods in question, considered, named, enunciated, and conceptualized in a discursive practice; and whether the knowledge that this discursive practice gives rise to was not embodied perhaps in theories and speculations, in forms of teaching and codes of practice, but also in processes, techniques, and even in the very gesture of the painter. It would not set out to show that the painting is a certain way of 'meaning' or 'saying' that is peculiar in that it dispenses with words, It would try to show that, at least in one of its dimensions, it is discursive practice that is embodied in techniques and effects. In this sense, the painting is not a pure vision that must then be transcribed into the materiality of space; nor is it a naked gesture whose silent and eternally empty meanings must be freed from subsequent interpretations. It is shot through -- and independently of scientific knowledge (connaissance) and philosophical themes -- with the positivity of a knowledge (savoir).

[194-195] {archaeology, politics, media} It seems to me that one might also carry out an analysis of the same type on political knowledge... one would analyse it in the direction of behaviour, struggles, conflicts, decisions, and tactics... it would try to explain the formation of a discursive practice and a body of revolutionary knowledge that are expressed in behavior and strategies, which give rise to a theory of society, and which operate the interference and mutual transformation of that behaviour and those strategies.

[205-206] {discourse, historiography, archaeology, difference} ...far from determining the locus in which it speaks, is avoiding the ground on which it could find support... [it] is trying to operate a decentring that leaves no privilege to any centre... it does not set out to be a recollection of the original or a memory of the truth. On the contrary, its task is to make differences... it is continually making differentiations, it is a diagnosis.


Part I: Introduction
Part II: The Discursive Regularities
  1. The Unities of Discourse
  2. Discursive Formations
  3. The Formation of Objects
  4. The Formation of Enunciative Modalities
  5. The Formation of Concepts
  6. The Formation of Strategies
  7. Remarks and Cosequences
Part III The Statement and the Archive
  1. Defining the Statement
  2. The Enunciative Function
  3. The Description of Staements
  4. Rarity, Exteriority, Accumilation
  5. The Historical a priori and the Archive
Part IV Archeological Description
  1. Archeology and the History of Ideas
  2. The Original and the Regular
  3. Contradictions
  4. The Comparative Facts
  5. Change and Transformations
  6. Science and Knowledge
Part V: Conclusion

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