From Discourse to Dispositif : Michel Foucault's Two Histories

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Historical Reflections Reflexions Historiques Summer 2004 Vol. 30, no 2, p. 205-219

Title: From Discourse to Dispositif : Michel Foucault's Two Histories
Author: Peltonen, Matti
Date: 2004
Language: en
Abstract: I would argue that a problem lies in the way Foucault's texts were introduced in the mid to late 1980s. The problem is that most of the methodological work in the social sciences and cultural studies treats Foucault's method primarily as discourse analysis. This is, however, an excessively narrow view, especially when we take into account not just his methodological texts, but also his empirical works and in particular Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality. This failure holds the danger of forgetting what was most original and interesting in Foucault's thinking. In several of his more popular empirical studies Foucault was interested in a much wider phenomenon than discourse. He also studied practices and an abstraction that he called dispositifs, by which he meant historically specific totalities of discourses and practices. In English translations of Foucault's works dispositifis translated using various terms (apparatus, deployment, construct, alignment, positivities, etc.) which together make the central importance of the concept unnecessarily difficult to detect. Seeing Foucault only as a discourse theorist also gives the new cultural history an excessively narrow view of culture. This perhaps helps to explain why it has not led to the intellectual breakthrough expected in the late 1980s.
Subject: history
Foucault, Michel

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