Foucault and the Problems of History: A Critique of the Concept of Historicization

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Feldman, Alex J
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Leonard Lawlor, Dissertation Advisor
  • Leonard Lawlor, Committee Chair
  • Robert Bernasconi, Committee Member
  • Nancy Tuana, Committee Member
  • Greg Eghigian, Outside Member
  • Amy Allen, Committee Member
  • Foucault
  • history
  • continental philosophy
  • French philosophy
  • politics of history
The publication of Foucault’s lecture courses and a wave of ground-breaking scholarship in France have forced a re-examination of his historical philosophy. This re-examination leads in two directions. First, the relationship between Foucault’s engagement with history-writing (Historie) and his philosophical reflection must be made more precise. It is sometimes suggested that Foucault historicizes the Kantian project of transcendental philosophy; rather than repeat the usual objections made to such a project, I will instead argue that what is needed is a properly critical investigation of the concept and practice of historicization itself. The seeds of such an investigation can already be found, however, in the reflections of the French Historical School (the Annales) on the problem of the multiplicity of historical durations, as well as in the contribution of French historical epistemology (especially Georges Canguilhem) to a historical philosophy of concepts. Foucault was familiar deeply familiar with both tendencies and with the larger 1960s French debate on historical time and the philosophy of history (Lévi-Strauss, Sartre, Althusser). Placed back into this context, his 1970s discussion of the event and eventalization (événementialisation) takes on new clarity. Indeed, I will argue that Foucault’s decisive philosophical statements are often worked out in dialogue with historians rather than with philosophers. Finally, by following the thematic of the relationship between philosophy and history, I propose a reconsideration of the standard periodizations of Foucault and a new focus on the shifts in his thought that occur in 1978. This first direction, however, is inseparable from the second side of my dissertation: an investigation, via Foucault, of the concept of history itself. In this respect, Foucault might fruitfully be compared to other historico-philosophical treatments of the concept of history, such as those of Reinhart Koselleck or Jacques Rancière. A truly critical understanding of historicization will only be won through a virtuous back-and-forth between Foucault’s genealogy of the concept of history and a clarification of his practice of historicization.