Why genealogy when thinking about the government of education and civil society?

Year: 2016

Author: Kelly, Stephen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Foucault has suggested that discourse, governmentality and dispositif are theoretical concepts that enable a critical history of transformations in systems of thought. Foucault’s use of the term genealogy is made up of several conceptual elements and suggestions for practice. In part, this accounts for Foucault’s integration of his archaeological tools, entailing a concern with the discursive production of forms of knowledge and genealogy’s concern for the ontological status of claims to truth within historically situated struggles for power. Genealogy has been characterised for its interlocking modes of historical method, critique and interpretive style and the relationship between these modes to subjectivity and forms of government. It is in how these three modes of practice combine that genealogy might best be defined as a methodology. In this paper I develop methodological principles that enable such a critique of how the government of education for a civil society can be conceptualised. I use as my case the utilisation of literacy and education in strategies of government that seek to secure the ‘circulation’ of human populations and the production of civil society. I begin the paper by discussing how genealogy can be understood as a critical and interpretive act. I then argue that genealogies of the politics and histories of education can be genealogical in design and archaeological in method. I follow this by discussing Foucault’s use of the terms descent and emergence that situate genealogy as a form of critical history. I complete my scoping of methodological principles by introducing the term problematization, a key concept in Foucault’s critical histories of thought. I conclude by suggesting that representations of being and experience in Foucauldian genealogy addresses concerns with genealogy’s capacity to (a) make normative statements (b) offer substantive truths and (c) suggest positive solutions. While genealogy may be regarded as a form of history, when concerned by the effects of the government of education, it is not concerned with the unveiling of historical truths or historical facts. Rather it can be seen as a form of historical philosophy, which inverts history’s interest in what knowledge is and what is true. The aim of genealogy is to question how particular rationalities of thought are connected to truth claims, forms of power and mechanisms of subjugation. In this sense genealogy as critique is suited to the examination of the politics and history of the government of educational thought and practice.