In this chapter Econ 503 chp3 delineate the main features of Foucault's theory of history and assess its merits as a new general framework for historians. In the past few decades the discipline of history has been revolutionized by new methodologies and new objects of study which fall under the rubric of 'social history'.
Journals like the Annales in France and Past and Present in England have been the centers of the new concerns. Topics like population, the city, the family, women, classes, sports and psychobiography have risen to prominence over more traditional historical subjects.
Methodologies have been imported from every social science: Once a field in. Not since Ranke's time has history undergone such dramatic revisions.
Marxists have benefited from the new eclecticism as historical materialism has finally been accepted by the profession. Another index of the change is the new status of psycho-history.
Today there are courses on psycho-history, journals of psycho-history and conferences at major universities on psycho-history. It goes without saying that there is considerable confusion. A standard curriculum in history is a thing of the past. While there is much to be said for the intellectual vigor of the situation, it is also possible to conclude despairingly that the discipline is shattered into countless splinters and will never again take on a recognizable shape.
It may instead be absorbed by the individual social sciences as an ornament to their own concerns. A major reason for the incoherence of historical writing today is the absence of theoretical reflection by the practitioners of social history. Marxist historiographers are, one would think, an exception, since their writing derives from a well-articulated theoretical tradition.
|Brue, and David A. Macpherson, Contemporary Labor Economics, 5th ed.|
Yet that is not always the case. One of the most prominent Marxist historians, Edward Thompson, looks upon theory with no more understanding than does his cat, to judge from his recent revealingly titled polemic against Althusser, The Poverty of Theory While Thompson's anti-theoretical animus is not shared by all Marxist historians, a major tendency in their writing is to adopt empiricist positions only bolstered by a strong political commitment to socialism.
The non-Marxist social historians are for their part even more adamant in ignoring the theoretical presuppositions of their work. A large segment of them simply adopt a quantitative methodology and pursue the facts defined by the method, never examining the conceptual parameters of the field constituted by that method.
Thus in Peter Laslett's writing, family history is reduced to the number of blood relations residing in the same household. Since statistical precision is required, questions about family life that are not quantifiable become irrelevant and are suppressed.
In general, however, among social historians, methodological purity does not suppress intellectual 72 A New Kind of History curiosity and the new tendencies must be regarded with favor. Nevertheless, despite clear advances, the opportunity raised by social history to question the basic assumptions of the field constituted by historical investigation has gone unrecognized.
If family history, urban history, women's history and environmental history are all valid fields of investigation, what are the principles by which one chooses to do one or the other? How is the social field being constituted by each tendency?
Do the objects of investigation in each one bear any relation to those of the others? Are they in contradiction or can they somehow be collected together as a general history?
These questions are only the beginning of a theoretical examination of social history that is much needed today.
The virtue of the recent writings of Foucault is that by their very difference from social history they raise the important theoretical questions in the most forceful way. The flow of Foucault's texts, the way one thing is put after another, disturbs the expectations of the reader familiar with social history.
There appear to be huge gaps in the narrative, silences that scream at the reader. Topics are annoyingly placed out of the normal order, disrupting one's sense of logical sequence.
Levels of analysis are mixed together in irritating confusion: Simple questions of causality are ignored or appear in reverse order. The writing is thick and metaphoric and the point of view of the narrative line is often lost. The object of investigation is never quite clarified and appears to be neither individuals, nor groups, nor institutions.
What is worse, things seem to shift in the course of the writing; at the beginning one issue is at stake, by the end we seem to be reading about something else. Worst of all, the author's attitude toward the topic of study 73 A New Kind of History never emerges clearly.
He seems to take a perverse pleasure in shifting his stance, or simply in adopting provocatively an unorthodox attitude toward a topic. Finally, while much research has contributed to Foucault's studies, a great deal of material has not been looked at.
The evidential basis of the texts is odd and incomplete. No wonder historians are skeptical about the value of his efforts.Just under 10 million children under 5 years of age continue to die unnecessarily in countries of the developing world (1,2). Undernutrition is the direct cause of at least a third of these deaths.
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Chapter Three: The Themes of Art CHAPTER OVERVIEW • • • • • • Representing Nature Representing Everyday Life Making Things and Creating Space Representing the Spiritual Representing the Mind Representing the Beautiful.