Part II: The Discursive Regularities


Chapter 6: The Formation of Strategies

Certain discursive organizations of objects, concepts, and enunciative modalities give rise to "themes" or "theories" (the former denoting less "coherence, rigour, and stability" than the latter). Foucault calls these themes and theories "strategies." He cannot say as much about the analysis of the formation of strategies in history as he was able to about the analysis of the first three formations, because his attention in his three previous books was directed primarily toward these first three. He will, however, indicate some directions for research.

First, we must determine the "points of diffraction" of a discourse. These points occur when two incompatible objects, concepts, or types of enunciation have the same conditions of emergence and try to occupy the same discursive space (an "either ... or" situation). Often, whole discursive "sub-groups" are attached to these incompatible elements. Second, the factors that determine which these conflicting possibilities actually becomes part of the discourse often exist outside of the discourse in question. One must therefore look for these factors in the functioning of the "economy of the discursive constellation" to which the discourse belongs, examining modifications in principles of exclusion and choice. Finally, the determination of these theoretical choices is also made possible by a "field of non-discursive practices," a field of authority governed in part by restrictions on who can say what where, who can spend what where, etc. This field of authority is also determined partly by the place of desire in relation to the discourse, which may serve as a location for fantasy, the forbidden, satisfaction, etc. These are not factors hidden within the discourse or external to it; they serve as some of its "formative elements."

Just as objects, enunciated statements, and concepts each had a realm to which they must not be related (things and words, knowledge and the psychological subject, and pure ideas, respectively), so theoretical choices must not be related to the development of a fundamental 'project' of the discourse.

Chapter 7: Remarks and Consequences

Foucault now pauses to consider what he's done in the foregoing chapters. The most urgent issue concerns the replacement of the traditional, obvious unities of discourse with these much more complex, even "dubious" regroupings he has called "formations." Where does this get us? Do formations really allow us to perceive any kind of individualized wholes of discourse? Or are we always left with what we started with, a dispersion of elements, an "irreducible multiplicity"?

First of all, we should consider that the four levels of formation described here are not independent; each limits the possible relations of the others. Thus, we are already dealing with a restricted discursive field, where not just anything is possible in each level. Second, the discursive formation exists nowhere except in the discourse itself. Therefore, it is a formation bound up in time, a "schema of correspondence between several temporal series." The rules that individualize a given formation (like psychiatry) can remain constant even as new objects, enunicative modes, concepts, and strategies appear according to that rule. On the other hand, the whole formation is slowly being affected by its relations with other discursive formations.

Finally, the analysis of the discursive formation remains anterior to the ultimate, detailed level of the "texts as they appear." Even though it does not have recourse to speculations about "the silent work of thought" or to historical teleologies, neither does it consider the details of the text at the level or its individual sentences or calculations. This analysis "leaves the final placing of the text in dotted outline," refusing to direct its attention to the great, silent, unordered chaos that lies at the terminal level of the text or beneath it. This method seeks neither the terminal state of discourse, nor the secret "source" of discourse, but the relations of discourse that lie between them.


Foucault's three previous historical works are rigorous analyses with important implications for historical practice, but the Archeology seeks to put practice into theory, and to establish a reproducible historical methodology. It would be easy, having read the chapters on the discursive regularities, to accuse Foucault of eliminating every possible regularity or unity, thus leaving his methodology with no place to start and nowhere to aim.

The chapter on strategies might seem all the more damning, since Foucault allows the analysis of discursive formations (in its consideration of themes and theories) to consider "non-discursive" elements (the very elements he seemed to be demolishing). In fact, this remarkable allowance has not had much of a life in Foucault's previous work, and it will not play a significant role in the Archeology. However, the allowance made for the function of desire (in many ways a code word for the realm of psychoanalysis) in discourse marks the emergence of a new element in Foucault, prior to his writing of the History of Sexuality.

Though neither we nor Foucault can do much more than note the striking inclusion of "non-discursive" elements in this most rigorously discursive methodology, we can see the point of stopping to assuage his readers with a few "remarks and consequences." The concerns that our unsettled historian (or anyone) is likely to have with the foregoing chapters are twofold: first, we might feel that the world of history is being utterly atomized, until we are left with nothing but piles of Foucauldian lists of possible relations within a galaxy of statements; second, and consequently, we might feel that Foucault's strategy of demolishing the four "unity" hypotheses and then appearing to somehow reconstruct more responsible, altered versions of them is just a gesture. Can this endlessly complex method really ever say anything about history?

Foucault's previous work might offer us some consolation, even though Foucault admits that it doesn't fully stand up to the rigor of this methodology; at least those books seemed to say something illuminating and coherent about history. But here Foucault also reminds us that what he's done here is not just about fragmentation, but also about relation. The discursive field is not just a field of infinite possibilities on four levels. Each level relates to the others, drastically limiting the possibilities of its formation; when we find something out about the functioning of one area of discourse, we are well on our way to describing the other areas. In addition, Foucault reminds us that discursive formations are real things with specific life spans: the discourse of a certain kind of psychiatry exists just as long as the rules that govern its statements (and its relations to other discourses) remain relatively stable. Things change, but discursive formations change more slowly.

Finally, Foucault reminds us that his enterprise is not a relentless suicide mission toward increasingly minute fragments of history. The smallest element in his investigation is the statement, the document, and not the internal rhetoric or procedures of the text. In his method, no time is lost eking out obscure readings of hidden textual meaning: we're always aiming at the level of discourse proper, with statements as our evidence. It is, in fact, the statement that Foucault will turn to next.


Popular pages: The Archaeology of Knowledge