“In short, Foucault’s discourse is a mirror of the powers it describes. It is there that its strength and its seduction lie, and not at all in its ‘truth index,’ which is only its leitmotiv: these procedures of truth are of no importance, for Foucault’s discourse is no truer than any other. No, its strength and its seduction are in the analysis which unwinds the subtle meanderings of its object, describing it with a tactile and tactical exactness, where seduction feeds analytical force and where language itself gives birth to the operation of new powers. Such also is the operation of myth, right down to the symbolic effectiveness described by Levi-Strauss. Foucault’s is not therefore a discourse of truth but a mythic discourse in the strong sense of the word, and I secretly believe that it has no illusions about the effect of truth it produces. That, by the way, is what is missing in those who follow in Foucault’s footsteps and pass right by this mythic arrangement to end up with the truth, nothing but the truth” (Baudrillard, 29).
Introduction: Why Foucault in Network Analyses? Why not?
I’m not going to pretend that I dig Foucault. I dig when people overtly use Foucault, if only because I view it as a the keenest method of revealing that the speaker didn’t read Foucault – Foucault’s work itself teaching us that in those moments when we find something unassailable in its truth value and usefulness, those are precisely the moments when such a source of cultural knowledge should be dismantled, dissected, and explicated in terms of its applications of power against others and society.
That is to say, Foucauldian theory may be unassailably useful among certain segments of the intellectual (and rhetorical) left, but the applications of his theory within academic practice are frequently (purely) ideological – a scholarly “flash” which codifies progressive epistemology and values within argument. Critical interpretations of Foucault’s contribution, after all, tend towards the centering of the leftist ideology, as Daniel Zamora notes: “for [critical theorist and sociologist Geoffrey de] Lagasnerie, what Foucault has accomplished is to demolish the symbolic barriers between the left and neoliberalism” (Zamora, 2014). Foucault’s work is, at its core, the ideological exploration of dynamics of power and the social restrictions leveraged against the emancipatory impulse of the self.
That is to say, the representation of Foucault within academic discourse is traditional and symbolic: two of the primary targets of opposition present within Foucault’s own work. Foucauldian argumentation has become in no small part a contradiction – at least in practice. But you either agree with his conclusions, or you don’t. Methodologically, however, the epistemological territory is much more contingent and unclear.
Why, then, leverage Foucauldian methods in the study of rhetorical networks? I would argue they are valuable; that what Foucault does best is to problematize the Dialectic of Reason, to demonstrate and rhetorically explore the irreducible complexity of networks over time (“archaeology”) as the relationships and exchanges of definition, meaning, and conceptualization (“knowledge”), in the face of a transition to neutral subjectivity. If Foucault’s archaeology does anything, it is to defuse the notion of objective reason as the foundation of scientific or positivist knowledge – providing in its place a demonstrative framework for attempting to interrogate not only the individual and the moment (“history”), but systems (“archaeology of history”).
In Chapter 3: “The Formation of Objects,” Foucault lays out a sequence of consequences for archaeological study (44-46), as follows:
- Due to contexts and complexity, “one cannot speak of anything at any [given] time” (44).
- The relations which influence and inform the object are not inherently present within the object itself (45).
- These relations are segregated into various sets, a) real or primary relation systems, b) reflexive or secondary relation systems, and c) discursive relation systems (45-46).
- As we explore these systems, we recognize that they do not characterize the language we use to define relations, but rather the discourse practice itself (46).
Therefore, Foucault tells us, although “we sought the unity of discourse in the objects themselves, in their distribution, in the interplay of their differences,” it is necessary instead that we “analyze and specify” systems according to “the relation between the surfaces on which they appear, on which they can be delimited” (47).
These systems must, of course, be interrogated. However, in doing so we must be careful not to presume an ideology external to the system as valid – not our own ideology, not Foucault’s, not our audiences’, and not the cultural expectations – the “surfaces” – upon which these ideologies find purchase.
If Foucauldian argumentation has idiomatically “jumped the shark,” Foucualdian subject-power analysis (although rarely applied against post-structuralist arguments themselves) is still highly applicable in our pursuit of network comprehension. In the logic that it survives its own interrogation (perhaps unlike Foucault’s ideological argumentation), it is perhaps the strongest and most cross-applicable facet of Foucault’s methodological explorations in The Archaeology of Knowledge.
Before applying this method, though, it is worth noting that Foucault’s book-length texts, such as Archaeology, are perhaps not the most perfect specimens for investigating these concerns. Archaeology is, at least, a textual evidence of a mind at play, and may perhaps even be described as a work of apologetics for the founding of a post-Nietzschean genealogy which avoids the linearity of assumed historical truth (Foucault would argue, in his “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History,” that “a genealogy of values, morality, asceticism, and knowledge will never confuse itself with a quest for their ‘origins,’ will never neglect as inaccessible the vicissitudes of history” (80).)
As a text, Archaeology is perhaps too complete, too encompassing of its own epistemology. “To know a thing, do not look directly at the thing” seems to be a key element of its argument. Or, “to know a thing’s end, do not look at the end of a thing.” Why, then, would we look at Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge to know what it means to practice Foucault’s archaeology of Knowledge? Foucault would label this as the resolution of “contradictions” through the presumed security of a “coherent” discourse; in applying archaeology, “contradictions are netiher appearances to be overcome, nor secret principles to be uncovered. They are objects to be described for themselves, without any attempt being made to discover from what point of view they can be dissipated” (151).
These contradictions may best be cataloged and comprehended through the application of Use Cases, which I will aim to do in each reading response this semester.
Actors, Systems, and Contradictions: “Doing” Empiricism and Experience-based Epistemology within Foucault’s Archaeology
Perhaps the best way to apply Foucault to the current approaches to network theory and network analysis is through the deployment of “Use Cases” in order to study Foucault’s subject-power relations throughout the long-term analysis of the networks relating to one’s object of study.
Use cases are perhaps the ultimate Habermasian gedankenexperiment for post-structuralist archaeological explorations of networks, the visualized (or actualized) application of subject-power relationships within restricted definitions of instances of both being and not being (e.g. the moment when “Plato, at Syracuse, did not become Mohammed.”) How does Foucault’s Archaeology apply to use cases? How does it not? What contradictions are present in trying to locate “use value” in post-structuralist explorations of power under specific systems?
In order to examine an object specific to my own studies, over the coming weeks I hope to apply Foucault’s process of Object Formation within Archaeology in order to construct a series of interrogations to leverage against the platform of Blackboard Learn (BBL) as Object and product of socially discursive formations (31-39) in order to identify “enunciative periods” of the platform as a developing social, cultural, and economic process (148). Interrogating how students, instructors, and administrators have leveraged the platform over time may seem to be contra-indicated by Foucault’s opposition to a linearity of progress, except inasmuch as I reject the notion that BBL is moving towards a more perfect iteration of the object.
Arguing for Use Case Study: Emancipatory Responsiveness and the Fabricated Falsity of Actor-Network Theory (ANT)
What are the use cases and why? UCs must be designed with consideration to the ways that a specific actor achieves a specific goal by using and transiting a system which has been overtly and purpsefully designed (for more on use cases and their role in systems design, see Armour and Miller (2000), Advanced Use Case Modeling: Software Systems). Under Foucault, the UC is a particularly useful tool for studying networks such as Blackboard for several reasons:
- It synthesizes networks through the process of pathing, exploring how users (actors) navigate through a goal-oriented process, providing viable use data. BBL is inherently goal-oriented, and each iteration of use tends towards linear single uses.
- It is already attuned to the concerns of User Interfaces, with a foundation in software and systems design; clearly, this is well-reflected in BBL’s own structure and design.
- It is linguistic and discursive. Designed to consider precursor events and behaviors, stakeholders, and the role of technology within the sequence of actor choices, it can be analyzed through discourse analysis.
- Philosophically, use cases have ideological benefits in the face of post-structuralist criticisms of user-oriented systems: they are able to examine what Marcuse would label the “alienation” of systems, contextualize Habermas’ anti-postmodernity, or re-situate Walter Benjamin’s implications of the significance of non-neutral authorship in the modern network – which is in direct opposition to Foucault’s notion of “significant change” as a metric of authorship as stable and inherently less useful.
The question, then, is how we “archaeologically” investigate Objects of Study within networks – especially considering the reality that networks are so multiplicative and challenging to unfold – in order to provide empirical data points under postmodern restrictions? It seems the use case may resolve this concern.
Over the coming weeks, I will attempt to design research-centric use cases which might be used to study and delineate how Foucault’s “Archaeology” might be studied empirically.
ACTIVITY: Archaeologizing through Use Case Diagramming (10 minutes)
- Read a basic introduction to use case diagrams at WhatIs.com (link).
- Choose a specific goal typical to (or implied by) the use, implementation, or design of your own Object of Study.
- Considering your own Objects of Study, consider how you might diagram and delineate the boundaries, actors, roles, and relationships present within a specific use case.
- Sketch a brief UC diagram for a specific instance, and bring in the sketch to our next course meeting.
Foucault, M. (2010). The Archaeology of Knowledge (A. M. Sherridan Smith, Trans.). New York: Random House.
Fox, S. (2000). Communities Of Practice, Foucault And Actor‐Network Theory. Journal of management studies, 37(6), 853-868.