Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 October 2009
The Order of Things has been severely criticized by both historians and philosophers. Since its publication, the philosophical criticism has centred around two themes. Firstly, a common charge is that Foucault does not problematize his own position, but assumes it to be situated outside of the epistemic orders he studies. This means that he ends up reiterating the problem of empirical/transcendental circularity of which phenomenology stands accused. Secondly, it has been claimed that Foucault's alternative to the subject-centred approach of phenomenology leads to serious difficulties in conceiving change and consequently also freedom. Archaeology is therefore a step backwards rather than a step forwards from phenomenology: it does not manage to solve the problems with which phenomenology is riddled, but rather adds to them by creating a host of new ones.
Both strands of the criticism are connected to the question of the subject. On the one hand it raises questions about the subject as the writer of its own history. Who is the writer of archaeology? To what extent was Foucault himself determined by the discursive structures under study? The other strand concerns the subject as the agent of change. How can we understand change if we do not study the intentions and motives of the subject? Does freedom not become an impossible idea?
My aim in this chapter is to explicate the question of the subject in connection with the criticism of OT. I will not attempt to clear up all the ambiguities in Foucault's archaeology, however.