The Order of Things

October 13, 2011

Foucault seeks to expose the development of the human sciences, highlighting its unanswered questions and systems of change. Within his foreword to The Order of Things 1970, he argues that there is an underlying episteme that guides scientific discourse from one period to another, and that these conditions of discourse have changed over time. Foucault aims to determine the basis of a system common to a whole series of scientific ‘representations’ or ‘products’. He describes this system of revealing and isolating as an archaeological study, hence the book’s subtitle An Archaeology of the Human Sciences.

Foucault realises that many questions have been laid out and have not yet found answers, but raises three main problems within his work:

 – Change: It is noted that there has been a suddenness and thoroughness upon which certain sciences were sometimes reorganised, and that similar changes also occurred in apparently different disciplines during the same time. However, we should respect these differences and should not treat these changes at the same level, or be made to culminate at a single point.

– Causality: Questions of origin towards scientific thought are raised; what caused a specific change in science, why did a new concept appear, and what made it possible.

– Subject: The investigation of science and its history traced back to the scientist himself, of his work and particular form of his thought. The possibility of systems of regularities that have a decisive role in the history of sciences; a predisposition of the subject that may determine its outcome and the ‘rules’ that come in to play as a limit of it’s contextual influence.

It is acknowledged that discourse is so complex a reality that we not only can, but should, approach it at different levels and with different methods. Order, however, seems to be the underlying commonality amongst systems; a hidden network, an inner law.

Naomi Brennan

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