Philosophical Fragments

Q [Interviewer]: Why do you see the birth of the prison–and, in particular, this process you call “hurried substitution,” which in the early years of the nineteenth century establishes the prison at the center of the new penal system-as being so important? Aren’t you inclined to overstate the importance of the prison in penal history, given that other quite distinct modes of punishment (the death penalty, the penal colonies, deportation) remained in effect too? At the level of historical methods, you seem to scorn explanations in terms of causality or structure, and sometimes to prioritize a description of a process that is purely one of events. No doubt, it’s true that the preoccupation with “social history” has invaded historians’ work in an uncontrolled manner; but even if one does not accept the “social” as the only valid level of historical explanation, is it right for you to throw out social history altogether from your “interpretative diagram”?

A [Michel Foucault]: I wouldn’t want what I may have said or written to be seen as laying any claims to totality. I don’t try to universalize what I say; conversely, what I don’t say isn’t meant to be thereby disqualified as being of no importance. My work takes place between unfinished abutments and anticipatory strings of dots. I like to open up a space of research, try it out, and then if it doesn’t work, try again somewhere else. On many points–I am thinking especially of the relations between dialectics, genealogy, and strategy–I am still working and don’t yet know whether I am going to get anywhere. What I say ought to be taken as “propositions,” “game openings” where those who may be interested are invited to join in–they are not meant as dogmatic assertions that have to be taken or left en bloc. My books aren’t treatises in philosophy or studies of history; at most, they are philosophical fragments put to work in a historical field of problems.”

Foucault, Michel. 2000. Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984. Vol. 3, Power, edited by J. D. Faubion. New York: The New Press. [Pp. 223-223. Foucault pictured]


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