Latour on Foucault

In a footnote in Reassembling the Social Latour writes of Foucault:

No one was more precise in his analytical decomposition of the tiny ingredients from which power is made and no one was more critical of social explanations. And yet, as soon as Foucault as translated, he was immediately turned into the one who had ‘revealed’ power relations behind every innocuous activity: madness, natural history, sex, administration, etc. This proves again with what energy the notion of social explanation should be fought: even the genius of Foucault could not prevent such a total inversion.

Power relations are not behind anything, but constituted in things. This analytical Foucault appeals to me, and it’s why The Archaeology of Knowledge remains my favourite of his books (that I’ve read). Cousins and Hussein remark that the book, essentially a methodological treatise, “is a curiously underexploited text, not least by Foucault himself.” I would guess this is because of the inversion that Latour notes.

Sorry this has all been just words recently. I’ll find some pretty pictures to post.


6 thoughts on “Latour on Foucault

  1. Yeah i remember reading it in a grad seminar. People talk a lot (of good and bad) about French critical theory. What I read impressed me.

  2. Also, Power relations are not behind anything, but constituted in things. i think sometimes the difference between the two is lost “in translation”. Or really shorthand as i never read it in French.

  3. Quite a bit of Latour’s writing, including Reassembling the Social is actually in English, and most of the rest is translated. He doesn’t have a ‘critical theory’ flavour at all, and in fact is openly hostile to it at points. Very readable, even funny.

  4. Yeah, almost the entire Foucault is underexploited, unfortunately. Colin Gordon writed: Histoire de la Folie, an unknown book. The Archeologie du Savoir too, and also, and also… Maybe even Latour has underestimed Foucault. In We never have been modern, Foucault isnt quoted anywhere, even cited at bibliography, but there is several passages wen we could think that Latour is criticising Foucault. Even the “materiality” of the ANT could be compared with the materialité de l’énoncé foucauldien, and with the care of Foucault for do not fall in anthropological preconcepts. But sometimes Latour seems to not have the same care with the concepts (for example, in using modern therms like “unveal”, “to be the conscience of the modern Constitution turn us non moderns” etc.

  5. Thanks for your comment catatau. I definitely think there are parallels between the ANT view of a population of actors and Foucault’s idea of a population of statements (although they’re clearly different propositions in terms of their scope). It would be interesting to hear Latour’s thoughts on that connection. I should go back and look at Foucault’s materialité de l’énoncé.


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