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The Foucaultian framework

Kendall, G. and Wickham, G. (2004) The Foucaultian framework. In: Seale, C., Gobo, G., Gubrium, J.F. and Silverman, D., (eds.) Qualitative Research Practice. SAGE, London, pp. 141-150.


Michel Foucault (1926–1984) produced a body of work that is hard to fit within a singular discipline. His own sense of what he was – a philosopher who used fragments of history to examine and disturb the self-evidence of the human sciences – is a clue to the diagnosis of his work as multidisciplinary. A brief examination of his major works shows that a number of disciplines were objects of his inquiries: psychiatry, psychology, criminology, penology, linguistics, economics, biology, medicine and sexology all received major treatments. In addition, a number of themes – philosophical, historical, ethical and sociological – fascinated Foucault at different points in his life: for example, the nature of the relationship between power and knowledge, the status of the self, truth and truth-telling, and the logic surrounding self-mastery and the government of others. Foucault also found time to make forays into art, music and literature. It is difficult to distil from all this activity a singular Foucaultian framework. To most historians and philosophers, for example, Foucault appears an outsider, and his methods and questions alien. The disciplines that Foucault examined do not seem, in the main, to have reciprocated his interest in them. Foucault has more frequently found a home in the ‘meta-disciplines’ – the study of studies – and perhaps especially in that branch of sociology that is philosophically nervous about the status of knowledge.

That Foucault's work is diverse, then, we can take as read. What framework can we identify in this diversity, and extract to use as a model for future research? Our approach in this chapter is to do three things. Our first section glosses one of Foucault's areas of interest – the government of self and of others – to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Foucaultian framework. Our second section tries to reconstruct what Foucault was trying to do one of his major studies, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (Foucault, 1978a). The aim of this section is to uncover the sorts of research questions for which the Foucaultian framework might best be used. In our third section we discuss how, as a writing duo, we became part of an ‘intellectual community’ that deals in ‘Michel Foucault’. The emphasis here is very much on the personal: we offer an account of how this process appeared (and appears) to us. Our aim here is to discover to what sorts of intellectual communities Foucault's work belongs.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: SAGE
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