The Order of Things  

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"This book first arose out of a passage in Borges [Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge], out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old definitions between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame,(d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the waterpitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (French: Les Mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines) is a 1966 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. It was translated into English and published by Pantheon Books in 1970. (Foucault had preferred L'Ordre des Choses for the original French title, but changed the title because it had been used by two structuralist works published immediately prior to Foucault's).

Foucault endeavours to excavate the origins of the human sciences, particularly but not exclusively psychology and sociology. The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sightlines, hiddenness, and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain underlying epistemological assumptions that determined what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse.

Foucault develops the notion of episteme, and argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, from one period's episteme to another. Foucault demonstrates parallels in the development of three fields: linguistics, biology, and economics.

Influence

Foucault's critique has been influential in the field of cultural history. The various shifts in consciousness that he points out in the first chapters of the book have led several scholars, such as Theodore Porter, to scrutinize the bases for knowledge in our present day as well as to critique the projection of modern categories of knowledge onto subjects that remain intrinsically unintelligible, in spite of historical knowledge.

Analysis

The Order of Things brought Foucault to prominence as an intellectual figure in France. A review by Jean-Paul Sartre attacked Foucault as "the last barricade of the bourgeoisie". Foucault responded, "Poor bourgeoisie; If they needed me as a 'barricade', then they had already lost power!"

Jean Piaget, in Structuralism, compared Foucault's episteme to Thomas Kuhn's notion of a paradigm.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Order of Things" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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