What is Foucault theory of discontinuity in history?

Jun 2019
51
Chicago Suburbs
#2
  • JPK

    JPK

Can any respected member kindly explain in simple terms as to what the Discontinuity theory in history in according to Michel Foucault?
It's pretty simple - people do not perceive historical events in the same way from one period to the next, making history discontinuous. An example: in 1863 no one looked upon the battle of Gettysburg as the "turning point" of the US Civil War and today, almost everybody does.
 
Jun 2017
2,771
Connecticut
#3
It's pretty simple - people do not perceive historical events in the same way from one period to the next, making history discontinuous. An example: in 1863 no one looked upon the battle of Gettysburg as the "turning point" of the US Civil War and today, almost everybody does.
I mean that is correct but I can this as a way of justifying the editing of history as we've seen promoted by the whole "where's there's power there's resistance" school of Foucalt. That's my main issue with Foucalt everything is ambigious and see it as a threat to the consistancy of the historical narrative. Also this mentality makes things vulnerable to agendas not just modern ones but future ones and am less bothered by the agendas individually than them over time twisting the narrative beyond recognition from what occurred.

There are times when more time provides clarity on passed events. For example in 1865 we know how the Civil War ends and we can better appreciate Gettysburg's importance than in 1862. My fear is going beyond that and using this sort of logic as pretext to edit general understandings for questionable reasoning.
 
Likes: JPK
Nov 2016
680
Germany
#5
Discontinuity theory in history in according to Michel Foucault
The above mentioned example with the battle of Gettysburg is not really suitable to illustrate what Foucault understands by discontinuity (of forms of knowledge). This concept goes much deeper. It refers to the basic principles of thinking (= epistemes) according to which things of the world are ordered in thinking. Foucault, for example, distinguishes the episteme of the Renaissance (until 1650) from the episteme of the so-called Classical Period (1650-1800).

In the Renaissance thinking arranged things according to the principle of similarity with the four subcategories convenientia (neighbourhood), aemulatio (imitation in distance), analogia (correspondence of ratios) and sympathia (mixing in distance).

An example for analogy: The stars are in the same relationship to heaven as the grass is to earth., they grow out of the sky, so to speak. It was typical for the similarity thinking of the Renaissance that certain plants, if they have similar characteristics to parts of the human body, are suitable as remedies to cure diseases of these parts of the body. Such botanical similarities have been called ┬┤signatures┬┤ since ancient times. Example: The flower Eyebright was used to treat eye disease because it resembles the human eye. Of course, it often happened that plants were used as remedies, which in reality were very harmful to the human organism, often leading to deaths.

From the middle of the 17th century a new scientific way of thinking (= episteme) emerged which, according to Foucault, no longer operated with the principle of similarity but with the principle of representation. Things were now taxonomized according to precise categories and classified according to identity and difference instead of similarity. The method now became empirical, and things were critically investigated and tested instead of relying on the magic criteria of the previous Renaissance epistem. So thinking became more rational.
 
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