Friday, 13 July 2012

Archaeology & Genealogy in Foucault


What did Michel Foucault (1926-1984) mean by archaeology and genealogy? 

This is my simplified understanding: Foucault is interested in the production of truth, and how we are unaware of the subconscious assumptions that underlie this production. One way of discovering this hidden subconscious is through the use of history. 

In archaeology, we take a snapshot of rational discourse at some point in the past, when we had a very different way of thinking under different assumptions, and we look at these ideas as conditions of possibility for subsequent events.

Genealogy is more high-tech. We run a video over critical time periods to see how truth is produced and reproduced as our thinking shifts. It uncovers the unpalatable truths concealed by imaginary origins, thus exposing any rational explanations in terms of progress which might be made later in retrospect. But it also reveals how society enforces these changes.

It occurred to me today that this is brilliantly encapsulated in the following little video I came across on YouTube about the five monkeys. If we believe something, archaeology is like seeing how the monkeys lived before they were subjected to this experiment, and what made it possible for them to be so conditioned. Genealogy however, is interested not only in the moment of conditioning, but also in the historical process how this conditioned belief is institutionalised and so persists through time.


  1. Thinking outside the box is taboo! The video doesn't mention Foucault or genealogy and yet it really gets to the heart of what I think Foucault was saying. We are responsible right now for our beliefs, because although they might have been handed down to us, it's we who reproduce them.

  2. I'd like to share the video around.

  3. It's freely available :) interesting though how people in the comments interpret different things among "others" as like the monkeys in this video.

  4. So for the Christians, it's the dogmatic atheists, for the atheists it's the dogmatic Christians... and they're both right in a way. So it's both philosophically interesting yet also has a very broad appeal.

  5. See ... what crossed my mind, watching the video ... is ... why would water dissuade the monkey from reaching the banana?

    I can see the others not wanting to get wet for no reason.
    But if the one on the steps had just gone and gotten the banana ... the others would have learned a very different lesson.

    They would have learned that enduring a little discomfort and inconvenience might be worth the goal.

    Thinking ... lets the individual choose the degree of discomfort or inconvenience a goal is worth enduring .

    Getting a little wet, but having a meal ... worth it.

    Loosing one's right to decide for his or her self ... hmmm ??? I wonder.

  6. I think the others would have thought "I suffered from, so deserve a share of that banana!". The key was they all got sprayed, but only got conditioned themselves once they'd had a go at the banana. In that sense, humans are even more conditioned...not to even try in the first place. And you can understand why if banana is replaced by colorful cluster bomb for example. Also, this video doesn't say, but I was reading in more detail...this experiment was done in 1966 by someone called Stephenson, and it was ice-cold water, so they really didn't like it.

  7. It is revealing ... to say the least.

    However, ... in the bigger scope of things ... the one who endures a splash of cold water ... eats.

    The others will either die of starvation or from each other.

    The masses who allow themselves to succumb to this will ... "temporarily" ... be the majority.

    But, just like in nature ... such extreme fluxes are (relatively) short lived.

    lol ... humanity is such an "extreme flux" ... lol

  8. Fascinating info on Foucault..... great video.... enlightenment has been described as transcending our "monkey mind" and this explains WHY we need to, very clearly and simply... thanks Okei!

  9. yes, it would be an evolutionary advantage (one would think) to be enlightened...

    to be enlightened be free that is from "self-imposed immaturity" as Kant described it.

    "Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

    Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult..."

  10. Link to Kant's full essay, which many including Foucault were inspired by.

  11. Another example of the phenomenon of the five monkeys in nature…