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Beyond Discipline(s): The Thought of the Archive in Foucault and Derrida

posted on 31.05.2017, 23:52 by ADINA CAMELIA ARVATU
The backdrop of the thesis is the ‘archival turn’ in the humanities and social sciences (ca. late 1970s- early 1980s until the first decade of the 21st century, with its peak period in the 1990s). This turn mandated certain preferential objects of study (e.g. archives), a thematic emphasis on memory, certain discursive methodologies for deciphering cultural artefacts, etc. The field being too vast and diversified to be surveyed, this thesis takes a narrower yet deeper focus and attends to the emergence of the archive (singular) as a figure of thought in the works of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. This figure, and the writings in which the two French thinkers critically- philosophically deployed it, are essential to an understanding of the methodological significance of the archival turn, insofar as they offer the first full articulations of the ‘thought of the archive’ as a corrective and alternative to the tradition of the philosophical Encyclopaedia (Kant and Hegel especially). Though different in each case, the archive serves a similar theoretical and critical function—i.e. to enable an account of concept formation in the human and social sciences and the articulation of a logic of inter- or transdisciplinarity that governs these sciences’ emergence and continued proliferation.

But to succeed as a corrective, the thought of the archive needs not only depart from but also remain conversant with this philsophical tradition. Thus, I argue, in both cases, however different otherwise, ‘the archive’ marks a critical transformation of Kantian boundary conceptuality (Grenzbegriff) from a tool for the necessary (architectonic) integration of natural scientific orders, into a paradoxical logic of transdisciplinarity. My argument proceeds in two main steps: a brief reconstruction of Kant’s doctrine of boundary conceptuality and its post-Kantian fates, followed by an exposition of Foucault’s early, archaeological concept of ‘archive’ as a Neo-Kantian (methodological and anti-metaphysical) transformation of boundary conceptuality, more specifically as an ideal-typical concept in the style of Weber. It concludes with a discussion of Derrida’s concept of ‘archive’ (especially in Archive Fever) as a transformation of Kant’s Grenzbegriff in the opposite direction (‘transcendental yet speculative'), which—I show—occurs through an aporetic ‘raising of the stakes’ that implicitly problematizes Foucault’s ideal-typical concept. Superficially, everything separates the two concepts: Foucault’s names the historically contingent (yet non-arbitrary) organization of an ideal-typical space of knowledge and the sedimentation of relatively stable and stultifying epistemic orders; while Derrida’s questions the very form of the ‘problem’ (or ‘task’ for thought) which is at the heart of Kant’s boundary conceptuality and Foucault’s transformation thereof. The only thought, I argue, capacious enough to let us think this difference, which is nevertheless not a differend, is Kant’s Grenzbegriff.


Principal supervisor

Alison Ross

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts