Social Scientist. v 24, no. 272-74 (Jan-Mar 1996) p. 59.

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Inside the Romanticist Episteme

The post-structuralist turn has subverted both theoretical languages and the production of objects of knowledge within the social sciences. This has led to an important and valuable re-cognition of the always-already historical situatedness of both the observing gaze and of the constructed character of objects and categories. This has, however, often incurred a certain cost: the eloquence of post-structuralist critiques of teleology, universalism and essentialist reasoning have often been obtained by simplifying a 'theoretical Other' into caricatures written in capital letters : Reason, Enlightenment, Modernity, the West, etc. The eagerly projected ambience of a radical rupture with the past that pervades this wave has thus been obtained by partially obscuring the philosophical antecedents and 'conceptual grammar' upon which a major part of the unquestionable post-structuralist insights are built. To put it polemically, post-structuralist practice in e.g., anthropology, development studies and sociology often bears the marks of ideological intervention: construction of an Other, reduction of complexity, dissimulation of historical plurality, flawed reflexivity vis-a-vis its own origins, etc.

Foucault remains for many a good reason the paramount figure on the post-structuralist firmament. Foucault's project was always polemic. He never aimed at a full account of western intellectual history, but ventured to subvert the dominant epistemology and recuperate the suppressed margins of iustory. He wanted to historicise History, to dissolve an ordered meta-history into the myriad of smaller, unruly histories of dissent and, heterogeneity which constituted the boundaries of bourgeois societies and the objects of their normalising strategies. Out of this venture grew an implicit equation of Enlightenment rationality with modernity as such which rendered an image of modernity as a relatively coherent project: an emerging and irresistible will to order, an emerging episteme bent on explanation and taxonomisation, and a drive to discipline bodies and social agency

International Development Studies, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark.

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3, January-March 1996

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