archaeology A term associated explicitly with the earlier works of Michel Foucault (1926-84): The Birth of The Clinic, An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1973), The Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1970) and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972). Foucault was concerned in these works to make key assumptions, ways of knowing and establishing truth problematic, to ask how ideas and ways of speaking of 'madness' or 'illness', for example, came about and came to prevail. In so doing he aimed to track and uncover the archive, the rules by which the kind of statements or 'discursive practices' characterizing a domain of knowledge were assembled and modified. These discourses constituted what was accepted as knowledge within a discipline, a science or, collectively, an intellectual epoch, or episteme. It follows too that they play a major part in defining the terms comprising social and individual identities and directing people's lives.

Foucault's own work is not easy to place in terms of intellectual traditions or disciplines. His early work is thought to represent a break with existentialism and Marxism and to share certain assumptions with poststructuralism. The idea that knowledge, and in later work, power and knowledge, are constituted in and by discourse certainly suggests affinities with poststructuralist thinking. However, the assumption of depth and of a stable set of discursive practices implied by the terms 'archaeology' and 'archive' would distinguish his ideas from the poststructuralist notion of textuality. In fact, these terms give his work a historical breadth and totalizing description evident in some Marxist traditions although, at the same time, his archaeological analysis clearly does not employ the terms of classanalysis and political critique associated with Marxism.

Archaeology derives straightforwardly from neither of these traditions therefore. It connotes rather a philosophical history of modes of thought, concerned to trace and reveal the archive of internal connections, the system and dispersal of discursive statements, without either abandoning ideas of order or directly opposing the way ideas order lives.

See also genealogy. [from: Brooker, 1999]