• Foucault’s question here is simple: how do we produce knowledge, how do we construe relations internal to and between bodies of knowledge?


  • DISCOURSE BABYYYYYYYY: “Lastly, instead of gradually reducing the rather fluctuating meaning of the word ‘discourse’, I believe that I have in fact added to its meanings: treating it sometimes as the general domain of all statements, sometimes as an individualizable group of statements, and sometimes as a regulated practice that accounts for a certain number of statements” (80).
  • Archive: “in the density of discursive practices, systems that establish statements as events . . . and things” (128); Foucault isn’t interested in “the sum of all the texts that a culture has kept” nor “institutions,” but rather: “The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass” (129). The archive defines “the system of its enunciability” (129).


1. Introduction

  • Away from vast unary history and toward phenomena of “rupture” and “discontinuity” organized underneath unary history as “strata” (3–4).
  • But we must resist this easy dichotomy by framing instead “the questioning of the document” (6): “But each of these questions, and all this critical concern, pointed to one and the same end: the reconstitution, on the basis of what the documents say, and sometimes merely hint at, of the past from which they emanate and which has now disappeared far behind them; the document was always treated as the language of a voice since reduced to silence, its fragile, but possibly decipherable trace.”
  • Is the work of archaeology contrary to the work of theory? “Or, to be more precise, as if we found it difficult to construct a theory, to draw general conclusions, and even to derive all the possible implications of these concepts of thresholds, mutations, independent systems, and limited series—in the way in which they had been used in fact by historians” (12).

2. The Discursive Regularities

  • We begin by ridding ourselves of unities: cultural, generic, even material (i.e., the book) (21–23): “The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences : it is a node within a network” (23).
  • How do we constitute discourses?: after rejecting a number of hypotheses, Foucault comes to “systems of dispersion” between statements, which constitute together a discursive formation (38).
  • What makes the discursive analytical method “archaeological” is its insistence that: “This dispersion itself—with its gaps, its discontinuities, its entanglements, its incompatibilities, its replacements, and its substitutions—can be described in its uniqueness if one is able to determine the specific rules in accordance with which its objects, statements, concepts, and theoretical options have been formed” anterior to their formation, within strata (72).

3. The Statement and the Archive

  • Here’s where the shit gets good on archives (79).
  • Foucault on data viz: “Lastly, a graph, a growth curve, an age pyramid, a distribution cloud are all statements: any sentences that may accompany them are merely interpretation or commentary; they are in no way an equivalent: this is proved by the fact that, in a great many cases, only an infinite number of sentences could equal all the elements that are explicitly formulated in this sort of statement” (82).
  • Statements are “that which enables such groups of signs to exist, and enables these rules or forms to become manifest” (88); Classic structuralist author-function stuff: “So the subject of the statement should not be regarded as identical with the author of the formulation—either in substance, or in function. He is not in fact the cause, origin, or starting-point of the phenomenon of the written or spoken articulation of a sentence; nor is it that meaningful intention which, silently anticipating words, orders them like the visible body of its intuition; it is not the constant, motionless, unchanging focus of a series of operations that are manifested, in turn, on the surface of discourse through the statements” (95).
  • “Lastly, for a sequence of linguistic elements to be regarded and analysed as a statement, it must fulfil a fourth condition: it must have a material existence” (100); “The statement is always given through some material medium, even if that medium is concealed, even if it is doomed to vanish as soon as it appears. And the statement not only needs this materiality; its materiality is not given to it, in addition, once all its determinations have been fixed: it is partly made up of this materiality” (100). Of course, Foucault blurs this: “The rule of materiality that statements necessarily obey is therefore of the order of the institution rather than of the spatio-temporal localization; it define possibilities of reinscription and transcription (but also thresholds and limits), rather than limited and perishable individualities” (103). The important thing about statements is that they have a repeatable materiality that enters into memory institutions and circulates, gets used, and disappears (105). It is in this formation that the archive appears as a concept.
  • Foucault arrives at a positivist analysis: the production of knowledge from the observation of natural phenomena (125). When we finally get to the concept of the archive (126), this positivity constitutes the unity of a discourse: “this form of positivity . . . defines a field in which formal identities, thematic continuities, translations of concepts, and polemical interchanges may be deployed” (127).
  • This positivity produces the historical a priori: “a condition of reality for statements,” the historical conditions that make statements possible, much less intelligible within a discourse (127).
  • See above for notes on archive: the archive differentiates, rather than unifies (129).
  • “On the other hand, it is not possible for us to describe our own archive, since it is from within these rules that we speak, since it is that which gives to what we can say—and to itself, the object of our discourse—its modes of appearance, its forms of existence and coexistence, its system of accumulation, historicity, and disappearance. The archive cannot be described in its totality; and in its presence it is unavoidable” (130).

4. Archaeological Description

  • This is Foucault’s methods section, as it were.
  • “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).
  • Distinction b/t original and regular: the rare and the common; this becomes, unsurprisingly, a useful mode for media archaeology’s interest in the quotidian and subsumed (141).
  • “Freezing” temporality once again: “Archaeology, however, seems to treat history only to freeze it. On the one hand, by describing discursive formations, it ignores the temporal relations that may be manifested in them; it seeks general rules that will be uniformly valid, in the same way, and at every point in time: does it not, therefore, impose the constricting figure of a synchrony on a development that may be slow and imperceptible?” (166); “Whether as a synchrony of positivities, or as an instantaneity of substitutions, time is avoided, and with it the possibility of a historical description disappears. Discourse is snatched from the law of development and established in a discontinuous atemporality. It is immobilized in fragments: precarious splinters of eternity” (166).
  • Foucault’s answer: “Archaeology does not set out to treat as simultaneous what is given as successive; it does not try to freeze time and to substitute for its flux of events correlations that outline a motionless figure. What it suspends is the theme that succession is an absolute: a primary, indissociable sequence to which discourse is subjected by the law of its finitude; it is also the theme that there is in discourse only one form and only one level of succession” (169).

5. Conclusion

Archive and Impact

  • Already Foucault seems to be moving away from structuralism (15–16), even as he’s making coy glances back at it. But the entirety of this analysis is of language first and foremost: how language structures discourse, how discourses are generated, etc.
  • According to our dear friend Wikipedia, this is Foucault’s only explicitly methodological work, i.e., it has no subject of its own. It shares this distinction on my list with Latour; I’m interested in these works less b/c I am applying their methods to my work and more b/c their methods have had material and theoretical consequences for the development for later work.