The Use of History and Social Critique in Foucault

It is widely accepted that Foucault’s work represents one of the most powerful philosophical enterprises of the second half of the 20th century, with a strong social-critical ambition. As it is also common practice, from the opposite perspective, to challenge it somewhat systematically for the lack of a genuine normative foundation. The present paper attempts to reconcile these two apparently mutually exclusive perspectives. I will endeavor to show, on the one hand, that Foucault’s “diagnostic critique” of the present embraces a use of history that is not determined by any teleological idea of development or progress, or by reference to social practices that might provide a framework for a direct normative grounding. His approach in this sense is opposed to most forms of Marxism and critical theory. On the other hand, I will argue that bringing historical indeterminacies into play does not exclude, but only transforms - limits, localizes, individualizes - the scope and force of the social critical approach. It is in this framework that I will analyze Foucault’s critical efforts to “liberate” subjected knowledge, and the related notion of “political subjectivation”, which is based on the awareness of those who engage actively in an actual social struggle.

Released: Replika 129, 147–163.