According to Foucault, Archaeology Is a Method, Whereas Genealogy Is a Tactic. What Is the Difference?

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There are a number of continuities of themes and interests in Foucault’s work. There is also evidence of shifts of emphasis, changes of direction, developments and reformations, which have led to a number of critiques of Foucault’s work to talk about breaks, differences and discontinuities within his work. One moment least a shift of emphasis does appear to be present is in the writings which emerged after the Archaeology of Knowledge and after the brief cultural and political event known as May 68 in France.

Archaeology constitutes a way of doing historical analysis of systems of thought or discourse. To be more precise archaeology seeks to describe the archive, he term employed by Foucault to refer to “the general system of formation and transformation of statements’ existent at a given period within a particular society. The archive determines both the system of enunciability of a statement-event and its system of functioning in other words it constitutes the set of rules which define the limits and forms of expressibility, conservation, memory, reactivation and appropriation.

The object of archaeological analysis is then a description of the archive, literally what may be spoken of in discourse; what statements survive, disappear, get re-used etc. The ultimate objective of such an analysis of discourse is not to reveal a hidden meaning or deep truth, neither is to trace the origin of discourse to a particular mind or subject, but to document its conditions of existence and the field in which it is deployed.

Hence, if the object of archaeological analysis is a description of the archive, a description of systems of statements, of discursive formations, the question arises as to possible similarities with the history of ideas. Foucault’s archaeological analysis represents “an abandonment of the history of ideas, a systematic rejection of its postulates and procedures, an attempt to practise a quite different history of what men have said.”

Foucault’s archaeological analyses actually address a quite specific and limited range of discourses. Principally archaeology has been confined to the field of the human sciences.

Whereas Foucault’s works up to and including The Archaeology of Knowledge, his subsequent studies of punishment and imprisonment and sexuality introduced a conception of power and knowledge relations and addressed themselves more directly to the question of the relations between discursive formations and non-discursive domains. An indication of this shift in thematic emphasis appears in a summary of a course he gave at the College de France (1970-71) in which he commented that “Empirical studies relating to psychopathology, clinical medicine, natural history and so forth , have allowed us to isolate the distinctive level of discursive practices. Their general characteristics and the proper methods for their analysis were delineated under the heading of archaeology. Studies conducted in relation to the will to knowledge should now be able to supply the theoretical justification for these earlier investigations (“History of Systems of Thought” in Bouchard, p. 201).

The studies of the “will of knowledge” referred to in this passage are at the works which subsequently appeared on punishment and imprisonment (Discipline and Punish) and sexuality (The history of Sexuality). In the text cited above Foucault, spelt out in a concise way the transition in his work from The Archaeology of Knowledge to Discipline and Punish. There is an element of continuity in this transition, are linked to complex notions of discursive and non-discursive domains. These linkages that are present between non-discursive and discursive practices are depicted as “embodiments” of a will of knowledge. This takes the form of the introduction of a Nietzschean conception on of knowledge, as “an invention behind which lies something completely different from itself: the play of instincts, impulses, fears and the will to...
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