Review of two chapters from a handbook in my field of research. I selected chapters 33 and 38 of the “SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research,” 3rd Edition, because they best aligned with my research interest in the philosophy of curriculum.
Foucault’s Methodologies: Archaeology and Genealogy
The authors of the 33th chapter are James Joseph Scheurich and Kathryn Bell McKenzie. They are professors at the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development of the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
It is interesting to notice that the authors started their chapter about Foucault with the disclaimer “This chapter is not a true or accurate representation of Foucault’s work.” However, this is not really a surprise for those acquainted with post-structural thought.
It should be noted that the authors did not read Foucault’s books in original, but used English translations. Even though I am sure that the translators were scholars and did their best to produce a faithful translation, we should always remember the Italian saying “traduttore traditore.”1
The authors state that their essay “is divided into four parts.” (p. 842), however then they list only three: “First, we discuss Foucault’s archaeological method…” “Second, we discuss a particular important essay …” “Third, we present his genealogical method.”
Due to space constraints I would like to limit myself to offering my understanding of Foucault’s main concepts.
The authors give, among others, the following description:
…archaeology is focused on the study of savoir, which is “the condition of possibility of [formal] knowledge [connaissance]” …
…formal knowledges emerge, substantially, from a broad array of complex irrational sources or conditions, and this more complex, messier, more ambiguous “condition[s] of possibility” undermines the modernist rational “story” or “meta-narrative” of formal knowledges. (p. 847)
The authors gave an extensive exposition of this term. They note that this term was created by Nietzsche (p. 850). One description of genealogy is:
pursuit, largely in philosophy, history, and the social sciences, of the beginning of some phenomena or categories such as “values, morality, asceticism, and knowledge” (p. 851)
Another interesting description is that the purpose of genealogy is “to expose a body totally imprinted by history.” (p. 851).
I would like to point out that their last section ‘conclusion’ spans almost five pages. Here, among many other statements, the authors try to point to aspects of Foucault that usually are not acknowledged by scholars. They criticize “the dominance of our modernist romanticized view of ourselves as the center of our lives and our society” and “our deep ontological and epistemological attachment to this romanticized view …” (p. 858).
Writing: A Method of Inquiry
The 38th chapter of the handbook was authored by Laurel Richardson and Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre. The first author is professor of sociology at Ohio State University and the second one is professor of language education at the University of Georgia.
The authors have written a lively, action inspiring chapter. Even though I am not really interested in their field of study, ethnography, I found this an irresistible reading. In this chapter I read an exposition of poststructuralism with a lucidity that I had never encountered previously. The two authors have divided the chapter content among them. Richardson wrote the first part “Qualitative writing” and St. Pierre wrote the second part “Writing as a method of nomadic inquiry.”
The first part is full of significant statements, such as “Since the 17th century, the world of writing has been divided into two separate kinds: literary and scientific.” (p. 960), “a postmodern position does allow us to know ‘something’ without claiming to know everything.” (p. 961) and “Qualitative writers …can eschew the questionable metanarrative of scientific objectivity and still have plenty to say as situated speakers, subjectivities engaged in knowing/telling about the world as they perceive it.” (p. 961).
The authors give a very interesting description of the centrality of language. They state that “What something means to individuals is dependent on the discourses available to them.” (p. 961) Richardson and St. Pierre also discuss the objectivity, or the lack of it, of the social researchers (p. 962). Equally interesting is their appraisal of “triangulation” and “crystallization” (p. 963).
The second part is similarly interesting. St. Pierre stated that “every foundational concept of conventional interpretative qualitative inquiry …is contingent.” (p. 967-968) and that postmodernists have deconstucted the concepts of data, validity, interviewing, the field, experience, voice, reflexivity, narrative, and ethnography. However, we should not confuse deconstruction with rejection.
1meaning “translator traitor”