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Foucault - The Archaeology of Knowledge


  • traditional history / history of ideas
  • history: looks for continuities of long unities of time: centuries, periods
  • history of ideas: looks for discontinuities, ruptures in history.
      • epistemological acts and thresholds: "they suspend the continuous accumulation of knowledge, interrupt its slow development, and force it to enter a new time, cut it off from its empirical origin and its original motivations, cleanse it of imaginary complicities
      • displacement and transformation of concepts: "the history of a concept is not wholly and entirely that of its progressive refinement, its continuously increasing rationality, its validity"
      • microscopic and macroscopic scales of history
      • recurrent redistributions:
      • architectonic unities:

"In short, the history of thought ... seems to be seeking and discovering, more and more discontinuities, whereas history itself appears to be abandoning the irruption of events in favor of stable structures"(p.6)

the questioning of the document

both disciplines (history and history of ideas) are questioning the document. history has altered is position in relation to the document: it is NOT its primary concern the interpretation of the document, but to work within and develop the document "history now organizes the document, divides it up, distributes it, orders its, distributes it in levels, ..."

"history is now trying to define within the documentary material itself units, totalities, series, relations" p.7

"history is one way in which a society recognizes and develops a mass of documentation with which it is inextricably linked"p.7 ¿ Is than history one way of making the archive ?

documents and monuments

  • in the past history aimed at memorizing the monuments of the past and transform them into documents (in order to give a speech to those silent monuments)
  • today's history transforms the documents into monuments

"in the past, history deciphered the traces left by men, it now deploys a mass of elements that have to be grouped, made relevant, place in relation to one another to form totalities"

andre: isn't history taking the position of the archive? that of organizing mass information and organize it. Is collecting and organizing the only functions of the archive? what else is it supposed to do?

¿what does it have to with the archive?

[Go back to pages 10-11]

The Historic a Priori and the Archive

in short: Foucault description of the archive

  • discursive practices: systems that establish statements as events and things. All these systems form the archive

The Archive:

  • "the archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events ... it is also that which determines that all these things ...are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities" p.145-146
  • "it is that which defines the mode of occurrence of the statement-thing
  • "it is the system of its functioning"
  • "it is that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies their multiple duration"
  • "it does not constitute the library of all libraries, outside time and space"
  • "nor is it the welcoming oblivion that opens up all new speech the operational field of its freedom"
  • "it reveals the rules of practice that enable statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification"
  • "It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements"


  • "The archive cannot be described in its totality ... It emerges in fragments, regions and levels"


  • "a description that questions the already said to the level of its existence"
  • "describe discourses as practices specified in the element of the archive"

andre: if we take an online archive, say youtube, will it hold up that status of an archive as described by Foucault?