Critical and Effective Histories: Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology

Critical and Effective Histories: Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology

Critical and Effective Histories: Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology

Critical and Effective Histories: Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology

Synopsis

Critical and Effective Historiescontrasts Foucault's methodologies with central currents in social theory and philosophy. It provides a guide to doing historical sociology, and an original position on the condition of social science today.

Excerpt

This book addresses the uses of history in sociology from a position informed by the methods of Michel Foucault and his project for a ‘history of the present’. the prominent names here, Max Weber, Norbert Elias, Anthony Giddens, Jurgen Habermas, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Fernand Braudel, as well as Foucault himself, suggest the terrain investigated is somewhat larger than a sub-discipline of sociology or a hybrid of sociology and history. I hope the reader will grant me the liberty of calling this terrain ‘historical sociology’. As she or he will find, however, it is marked out here not only by sociology and history, but also by social philosophy and political thought, by cultural and intellectual history as much as the history of ‘economies, societies and civilisations’ (to quote the title of the journal, Annales) and by pursuits and projects that seem to ignore all of these divisions and pursue an unexpected path not mapped out in advance within disciplinary territories.

The latter is true of the elusive work of Foucault himself. Reading a recent biography (Eribon 1991) one gains the impression of a thinker, so concerned with the regularities of thought and so integrated within the institutional hierarchy of the French academy, who somehow escaped the maze of disciplines and specialisms and the compulsive siting of intellectual endeavour within a science, school, or tradition. This does not mean Foucault was without intellectual affiliation or that his thought evaded social and discursive constraints to trace an original arc. It does mean he refused not only the mantle of science but even the conceptual terminology of a scholarly discipline. He preferred instead to address a broad learned public in a language that, while replete with brilliant conceptual innovation, was most decidedly not of the specialist.

To describe the style of Foucault’s writings and other public communications, I am tempted to cite Norbert Elias’ observations (1978:36-7) on the integration of the intelligentsia into aristocratic circles in seventeenth and eighteenth century France. This, suggests Elias, left a distinctive non-specialist mark on intellectual activity that endured the Revolution and was adopted by universal enlightenment intellectuals. Here, writing follows from the courtly ‘law of right speaking’ that ‘the technical term and everything that betrays the

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