One historian, one narrative

Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge was one of the first books I read in graduate school. No fault of my supervisor or my school, I was convinced. From thereon “grand narratives” were horrid beasts that trampled historical detail.

Cherishing this obsession of mine, it seems that every other paper I read hand waves a grand narrative (to be replaced in the author’s next paper). As the dials of the kaleidoscope turn, we see variations of the same theme, familiar tales. It goes that: economist x was forgotten or misunderstood and from this capital sin economics never recovered. It is unfair to claim that all history of economics is of this “negative whiggish” kind, a history of missed progress. But there is enough of it to create the expectation that an historian is a steward of the present as past.

I have wanted to ignore this performative demand. But laboring small tales at my workshop doesn’t seem enough. In seminars and referee reports I am asked for grand ideas. So, I am issuing an open call for an all encompassing narrative. Candidates please apply.

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2 thoughts on “One historian, one narrative

  1. The Archeology of Knowledge as opposing “grand narratives”? I read it in the exact opposite way. As I understand the book, it sets out the historiographical position underlying for instance Surveillir et Punir and Histoire de la Folie, and those are “grand narratives” if ever there were two. And yes, history of missed progress sucks, but that in itself doesn’t make it grand narrativism. Put differently, what on earth do you mean by “grand narrative”?

  2. I am a reader of Foucault not an interpreter. What I got from the Archaeology was the search for discontinuity against the seamless grand narratives or metanarratives. I have fitted the Archaeology halfway between The Order of Things, which is heavy on periodization and this zeitgeist proxy he calls episteme, and the more organic story of Discipline and Punish. I don’t think the latter has a metanarrative and you probably need to read DeLeuze to be convinced that the book’s thesis is underlined by a structure of evolving societal types.

    I have liked small stories, illustrative, parcial and thick, clearly not Foucault history. I have disliked statements that sweep history into a flat surface of continuity, fully determined.

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