The archaeologist and the everyday

In their analysis of The Archaeology of Knowledge Dreyfus and Rabinow help us understand how to identify relevant discourses for analysis. I am particularly interested in their assertion that “it is not sufficient for the archaeologist to have an understanding of everyday discourse. Unless he understands the issues that concern the thinkers he studies, he will be unable to distinguish when two different utterances are the same serious speech act [“statement,” for Foucault] and when two identical utterances are are different serious speech acts” (88). This claim helps one understand the construction of an archive (“the never completed…uncovering of the archive” (AOK, 131)), as a process of subtraction, a drawing off of discursive flows. It goes without saying that many other serious discourses continue to circulate, but at the same time, so does the everyday discourse (pay the rent, write that book review, buy some shoes that don’t have holes in the soles, etc.).

Dreyfus and Rabinow also point out that “[s]ince the archaeologist never brackets the meaning and local truth claims taken for granted in everyday discourse, he can and must share the serious concerns embodied in his cultural practices” (89). In other words, the way the archaeologist comes to stand outside any discursive formation, is by bracketing truth, meaning, and value. What one does not bracket therefore indicates a belonging that qualifies any claim that the archaeologist is a nihilist; it reflects private and personal beliefs, and allows the archaeologist to maintain his or her position inside everyday assemblages. But still, it does not seem to be quite that straightforward: by virtue of the fact that the archaeologist can and must bracket out objects of analysis, he or she “can at best take only half seriously any theory of morality or of social institutions” (89). Standing across this inside/outside divide puts the archaeologist in a strange position, for “[h]e can be a deeply committed private person, but in the realm of public discourse he must hide behind masks” (89).

Similarly, Dreyfus and Rabinow also claim that to think about how serious and everyday utterances are used is only to postpone the problem. Instead, the archaeologist must grasp the meaningfulness of the utterances for those “inside” its assemblage, while simultaneously suspending it. Maintaining this inside/out relationship is indeed the condition of the archaeologist.

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