Genealogies, Foucault and Paris

Yay! This blog is the first few pages of THE ACTUAL PHD text. It will probably change over time but ‘IT IS WRITTEN’. It’s a final position on how Foucault will be conversing with this piece of work.

I have always had a love for roots and rhizomes. We are often taught to think in straight lines. We consider our life as a straight line: from birth to death. But when we dig up a little plant out of the dirt there we find a different pattern. Intricate, delicate tendrils that manoeuvre their way into a relationship with the soil. As the roots sit here in my hand, their trailing mass dangling beyond my fingers I contemplate how without the soil these roots are nothing. They will die. Not only that. They have no meaning. They are one with the soil. They belong in the soil. Roots without soil are a thing without a function.

And so is it with our ideas of life, the universe and everything (To quote my favourite, light hearted sci-fi book, The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy(Adams, 1995)). Our ideas have roots which are not linear. They reach out and draw deeply from the earth just as a plant roots do. They are bounded to a place and grow out of a space and what they are and their use in the world is linked to this very earth embodiment.

I think Foucault understood this deeply and his commitment to genealogical and historical work is because he did not see ideas and histories as free floating islands but as rooted into the very structures of what it means to be human. These structures are time –bound and space-bound. They have a `they grew just as plants do. We can’t see ideas but we can feel their impact on the world and we can see the manifestation of them in the way we structure socially, in what we do and believe and in how we practice the art of living on planet earth.

So it is worth spending a little time expressing what Foucault’s ideas are and why they are useful for investigating this new idea of trans-disciplinarity that has emerged into the world and that has taken root in the earth sciences.

My first introduction to Foucault was about 20 years ago. I was introduced to his ideas but they were difficult to grasp until I read a biography of Foucaults life. I find it interesting that this weaving of theoretical thought, linked to a living being made my mind open up to the ideas of Foucault. I also remember 10 years later, walking the streets of Paris and having a cup of dark Parisian coffee in a café in Saint Germain and feeling Foucault’s ideas. I understood how he could think the way he did in amongst the cobbled streets and carefully manicured gardens of Paris where nature itself was manipulated to suit the shapes of man. I remember sitting under a tree next to the Notre Dame and being overwhelmed by the fact that this tree had been here before the great cathedral had been painstakingly built on the site of the first settlements of Paris. A probably very Pagan settlement at that.

Foucault wrote many genealogies and kept referring to them but he refused to admit or commit to a method or methodology for his genealogical. Tamboukou, (1999) speaks of an ontology of Foucaultian genealogy she tries to illuminate this ontology of genealogy in an attempt to make it useable as a critical tool and for that I am grateful. I found her paper beautifully written and carefully constructed to present to someone who doesn’t have the time to read through all of Foucault’s published works a starting point from which to launch into genealogical work.

Foucault wrote histories but they were not any old histories, they were histories of ‘the nature and development of modern power’ (Tamboukou, 1999, p. 202) where truth cannot be separated from the way in which this truth has been produced. His genealogies were a process of unearthing the ‘processes, procedures and apparatuses’ (Tamboukou, 1999, p. 202) by which truth and knowledge is produced. This is why I have have turned to Foucault and his genealogical work for investigating trans-disciplinarity as the very idea of trans-disciplinarity is inevitably about the production of knowledge and truth and how this is appropriated and used for activity in a human world where humans are very much facing up to the way the application of knowledge in the past has lead to the environmental risks we face today.

A genealogy is guided by two questions:
What is happening now?
What is this ‘now’ within which all of us find ourselves?

The second question floats above the first. It is the question that is questioning what makes it possible for us to question. For Foucault it was the point where he situated himself as a philosopher and asked the question, what is it in the present that produces meaning for philosophical reflection? (Tamboukou, 1999, p. 204). What Foucault is interrogating here is the how a subject emerges in history – how a subject or person and idea becomes a possible reality because of the interweaving of certain historical and cultural practices and this is not a straightforward and gentle interweaving but a history of resistance, struggle and force. The present is a moment that rests uneasily on these struggles and genealogy is the history of what the present rests on. It is also an attempt to offer a counter memory (Tamboukou, 1999), of what we think the present rests on and in so doing attempts to offer a way of thinking differently, of challenging what is represented as present and offering alternative possible ways of understanding ‘what is happening now?’

For Foucault the very process of writing a genealogy is the process of working out the theoretical questions that face us when we question the present we find ourselves in. Deleuze wrote in his book on Foucault:

To write is to struggle and resist, to write is to become, to write is to draw a map.(Deleuze, 1992, p. 44)

This highlights that Foucault’s project of historical critique is at its heart discursive. Although Foucault would claim to have abandoned the dualism between the discursive and the non-discursive. This does not detract from the project of his critique which are not to criticise the past from the position of the present but to critique the present by highlighting ‘the way in which the discursive and institutional practices of the past still affect the constitution of the present.” (Tamboukou, 1999, p. 205) and the role of genealogy is to dig into these discursive and institutional practices and ask: how they relate, how they struggle and/or resist, how they are institutionalised and how they claim authority.

So what do I bring into this study out of Foucault’s depth of genealogical work:

That like the roots of a plant there is no one linear origin to ideas, situations and events. There is a map, a pattern of multiple beginnings and unearthing these with close attention to detail, to the small things highlights the not so well hidden discursive patterns of power, dominance, struggle and resistance. These discourses take root and veil their emergence with normative and disciplined practices that become institutionalised into the fabric of our presence. Is then trans-disciplinarity a disruption, a defence or a resistance. Is it itself taking root and if so what small unnoticed origins are creating its space and place in the present?

Genealogy is a descent and an emergence.

What does this mean? To cast a genealogy of trans-disciplinary thought is not a task of tracking down past events to this present moment but rather of turning to “what people do.. to strip away the veils that cover people’s practices by simply showing how they are, and where they come from, describing its complicated forms and exploring its countless historical transformations.”(Tamboukou, 1999, p. 209). This is the descent.

Emergence is grasping the moment of struggle. The events that led to a certain state of affairs.

So how to begin this descent and emergence? How to be methodological within a process that distinctively has no methodology. The first step is to re-read a Foucaultian genealogy because what is clear above anything else is that it is the genealogical questions that lead the way. The second is to be clear about the problem and to understand its historical dimensions, to trace the current practices that relate to the problem and to try and formulate the network of relations between the practices and their problems. Part of this work is continually posing genealogical questions. It is these questions that guide the writer into an exploratory territory. What methods or methodologies emerge, what data is needed to investigate these questions are varied and emerge or weave around the questions that are being asked. There is also no guarantee of finding any satisfactory answers as at the crux of genealogy is the questions ‘how have we become what we are?’ and ‘how can be become ‘other’? If knowing what we are is embedded in the Self as emerging out of history and practice, to know what we can become is unavoidably unknown and the journey to it is as unknown. Jolting ourselves through genealogical work, out of the patterns of our existence cannot hold certainties but, I believe, it can hold rigour.

How does this relate to the exploration of the lineages of trans-disciplinarity? These lineages are all attempts at jolting forward, of becoming something ‘other’. An investigation of their emerging presence in this space and time may bring to light what these ideas have brought with them and what whether there are spaces were new ways of becoming, being and acting in the world are indeed present. If so, how are these being practiced and how do we build on these moments. As Tamboukou declares (1999), genealogies are not about the past, they are about the future and whether we can jolt ourselves into a new way of being.

However much I would like to this study is not an in depth genealogical endeavors. I will draw on the ethos of Foucault’s work, his ethical project as it were but the depth and breadth of my investigation will be limited and more defined. To do this I will lean on the way in which Fairclough have taken Foucault’s great works forward into practicing critiques.

For a start and due to the time that Foucault emerged into our collective history there are some things we can contemplate and reconsider as we look back over Foucault’s work. We can learn from his struggles that were both personal and theoretical.

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