Author: Yann Calbérac (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne)
Based on a close reading of the interview that Michel Foucault gave Hérodote, the geography journal newly established and managed by Yves Lacoste in 1976, this article—through the study of spatial metaphors—unfolds the concepts and functions of space used by the philosopher and by geographers. The article proposes an archaeological approach—inspired by Foucault's thinking—in writing the history of the spatial turn and understanding the role played by geography and geographers in this "reassertion of space in critical social theory."
Keywords: geopolitics, space, power, spatial metaphor, scale, discontinuity, map, archive
How to Cite: Calbérac, Y. (2021) “Close Reading Michel Foucault's and Yves Lacoste's Concepts of Space Through Spatial Metaphors”, Genealogy+Critique. 7(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/lefou.90
Endeavouring to decipher [the transformations of discourse …] through the use of spatial, strategic metaphors enables one to grasp precisely the points at which discourses are transformed in, through, and on the basis of relations of power.1
Hérodote, the French journal of "strategies, geographies, and ideologies," first appeared in 1976. It was founded and managed by the geographer Yves Lacoste, together with a small group of students at the University of Vincennes.2 Through this journal, Lacoste—a maverick in the realm of geography in France3—sought to promote a form of geography that is critical and committed. He laid the foundations for this in an earlier article, satirical in nature, La géographie, ça sert, d'abord, à faire la guerre [The Primary Use of Geography is to Wage War].4 The inaugural issue of Hérodote, published by the activist publisher François Maspero,5 set an agenda not only for the journal but also for geography as a subject. As such, its contents were skilfully put together: in addition to the leading article which would cause a furore,6 the three main articles set out to explain and detail the said agenda. The first (collectively signed but written, in the main, by Lacoste)—Pourquoi Hérodote? Crise de la géographie et géographie de la crise [Why Hérodote? The Crisis of Geography and the Geography of Crisis]7—continued the argument previously developed in Lacoste's satirical article. It gave geography—henceforth defined as geopolitics—a theoretical project, namely the study of power rivalries in a territory. The method underpinning this theoretical project was itself defined using an account of an act of war penned by Lacoste: it was based on his research into American bombing in Vietnam.8 This substantial work—Enquête sur le bombardement des digues du Fleuve Rouge (Vietnam, été 1972) Méthode d'analyse et réflexions d'ensemble9 [A Study of the Bombing of the Red River Dykes (Vietnam, Summer 1972): Method of Analysis and General Discussion]—demonstrated both the relevance and the usefulness of the geopolitical approach. With a theory and a methodology, completion of this ambitious intellectual project required it to be based on some fresh epistemological thinking. Indeed, this was precisely the point of the interview granted by Foucault to this budding journal:10 the geographers11 asked the philosopher questions about his archaeological methodology12 and asked him about the role that geography can play in that.
Power—as Foucault discusses it in Discipline and Punish, which had just been published in French13—is exerted in a space. As such, Foucault uses many space-related terms—whose status is ambiguous—borrowed from geography. Viewed as spatial metaphors—that is, metaphors in which "space is inscribed as a signifying resource, as a set of realities with which the referent can be compared"14—they call for the question of space to be further problematised, as the geographers of Hérodote were calling for. The interview concludes not only in consensus regarding the need to articulate power and space more clearly, but it is also marked by a change in Foucault's position. At the end of the interview, he says: "I've enjoyed this interview with you, because I've changed opinion between the beginning and the end. (…) I've realised that the problems you raise regarding geography are crucial for me."15 The last line of the article neatly summarises Foucault's interest in space, even if it sheds no light on the difference—as he sees it—between a problem (space) and a discipline (geography): "Geography must be at the heart of what I look into."16 With the aim of offering a close—and fresh—reading, this article will therefore logically examine this interview with Foucault.
The interview in question is typically analysed from two radically different perspectives. On the one hand, those studying Foucault's œuvre17 have seen this interview as a link between Foucault's thinking as it moves from investigating knowledge (Les mots et les choses, 1966 [The Order of Things, 1970]; L'archéologie du savoir, 1969 [Archaeology of Knowledge, 2002]) to investigating power (Surveiller et punir, 1975 [Discipline and Punish, 1977])—and this indeed is defined in terms of the power relations at play in space—as well as a link in his thinking about space. However, one of the paradoxes of Foucault's thinking, arguably, is that whilst space is given a significant role in his philosophy—to the extent that some see him, retrospectively, as a precursor of the spatial turn18—he devoted very little of his writing to the subject. Besides Discipline and Punish—and interviews accompanying its publication, such as L'œil du pouvoir [The Eye of Power]19 and Espace, savoir et pouvoir [Space, Knowledge, and Power],20 an interview with the anthropologist Paul Rabinow21—and the interview with Hérodote, only a few sparse writings develop his thinking on space. In his 1964 article Le langage de l'espace [The Language of Space], published in the journal Critique, he highlighted how contemporary literature's interest in space (in particular, in the work of writers such as Laporte, Ollier, Le Clézio, and Butor) was in opposition to realist narrative.22 However, it was in his 1976 lecture, entitled Des espaces autres [Of Other Spaces], in which he developed his thinking on heterotopias, that he arguably went furthest in his thinking about space. In this light, the interview with Hérodote—the only interview that Foucault accorded to geographers—can be seen as central to his theoretical preoccupations and as occurring at their highpoint, that is, at the time when Discipline and Punish was first published in French. It was in this interview that Foucault set out the theoretical and methodological assumptions of his thinking.
On the other hand, geographers with an eye on the history of their discipline, have seen this interview (to little avail) as the first pointer to the benefits that geographers have been able to derive from the tools and approaches provided by Foucault.23 Both perspectives are partial (incomplete) because they are partial (biased). In assuming given disciplinary perspectives, they hide precisely what is at stake in this exchange: namely, a meeting, an encounter. Moreover, in seeking to place this text in a single history (of either Foucault's thinking or of geography), the exchange is impoverished through being deprived of its discursive depth. In contrast to such genealogical readings, this article aims not only to analyse the text in its very singularity and to understand its workings, but also to examine it 'in equal parts,'24 that is, from the point of view of philosophers and geographers alike.
As a consequence, this article is based on three hypotheses which make up the methodological, theoretical, and epistemological architecture of this reading:
Analysis of this interview is indebted to the archaeological method put forward by Foucault himself.25 The principle of symmetry suggests that a work written by Foucault should be analysed using the methods that he used himself. Therefore, it is necessary to gather an archive which facilitates analysis of the text and allows its workings to be uncovered. Part one of this article is devoted to this end.
The exchanges of this interview foreground a major theoretical problem, as much for Foucault, the philosopher, as for geographers—namely, the spatial metaphor. In this way, their discussion oscillates between space, spatial metaphor, and geographical metaphor, but the terms used are never really clarified. This article aims to examine the concept of spatial metaphor head-on by viewing it as providing a cross-section of the archive and so revealing the discursivities at work. This is how spatial metaphor will be conceived throughout this article.
Used in this way, the spatial metaphor reveals a number of discontinuities, uncovering what is ultimately at stake in the interview—namely, the epistemological question of how space is described. The aforementioned discontinuities will be examined in parts two, three, and four of this article.
In analysing this interview, the aim is to document the thinking of geography as much as the thinking of philosophy: in addition to exposing two different projects—different intellectually (in terms of subject area), theoretically, and, ultimately, different in terms of politics, the text of this interview records a discursive event that needs elucidating. On the model of the method laid out in his introduction to Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault's work suggests that existing series (such as previous issues of the journal Hérodote, or Foucault's own different contributions) be abandoned in favour of building an archive which will enable "units, sets, series, and relationships to be defined in the documentary fabric itself."26 It is, therefore, necessary to build an archive that serves to document as much as it serves to analyse this interview. As such, it is necessary to examine this interview in conjunction with any documents liable to shed light on its complexity. This article will focus on two lines of enquiry. Firstly, it will highlight the role of this interview in biographical trajectories that can be seen as separate and singular. Secondly, it will provide an understanding of how this interview sits at the crossroads of two intellectual projects, different in nature and unfairly matched in terms of the stage they have reached.
Whilst Foucault and Lacoste belonged to the same generation—Foucault was born in 1926, Lacoste in 1929—and met when the University of Vincennes was founded,27 they did not enjoy the same institutional role or the same level of recognition at the time of this interview, in the mid-70s. In 1976, Foucault was at the height of his intellectual trajectory: he had, by this time, published most of his major works, and it was the year which saw the appearance of his Histoire de la sexualité [History of Sexuality]. Foucault was also at the height of his institutional trajectory. Having graduated from the prestigious École normale supérieure, he passed the highly competitive agrégation exam in philosophy, and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1961. He had been teaching at the University of Clermont-Ferrand since 1960, but left for a post at the University of Tunis in 1966. In 1968, he helped set up the Vincennes University Centre, where he ran the philosophy department. In 1969, after only a few months in that role, he would be promoted to the Collège de France: there, he held the chair in the "History of Systems of Thought" until his untimely death in 1984.28 Besides being recognized as one of the most brilliant philosophers of his generation, Foucault was an intellectuel engagé—not confined to any ivory tower—in the pure spirit of the French tradition.29
Lacoste's story was completely different. The son of a geologist working in the oil industry in Morocco, Lacoste experienced the colonial system first-hand. When his father died, he began studying geography in Paris, whilst also becoming an active member of the French Communist Party. After obtaining his agrégation in geography (awarded major), he taught at the Lycée d'Alger (1952–55) and sympathised with Algerian nationalist circles. In 1955, he returned to Paris and became a teaching fellow at the Paris Geography Institute. In 1968, he became a lecturer at the newly founded Experimental University Centre of Vincennes and helped organising teaching and research there. Close to the Communist Party (despite having left Paris in 1956) and anti-colonialist intellectuals, he developed his research into the Third World, and consolidated a change in approach by shifting focus away from analysis of tropicality (i.e. constraints in the natural environment) to that of under-development (i.e. the economic consequences of the colonial system). In so doing, he opened geography up to analysis of political factors. This was the subject of his PhD, awarded in 1979.30 His approach clashed with the established geography at that time in France, which was apolitical and based on the relationships between humans and their environment.31 The founding of Hérodote—in the wake of Lacoste's 1976 article, 'The Primary Use of Geography is to Wage War'—thus had an aim both scientific and political: "This is epistemological guerilla warfare: ideological skirmishes and theoretical ambushes would be derisory unless they resulted in an alternative, combative geography."32
In short, Foucault was at the heart of the institutional system, whilst Lacoste was in the margins. Foucault was a professor, Lacoste a teaching fellow. Foucault attracted crowds at his lectures and seminars at the prestigious Collège de France, whereas Lacoste taught a small group of students at a marginal university. Above all, Foucault had already established a major philosophical work, recognised all over the world, whilst Lacoste's was still to come. Lacoste hoped to achieve his intellectual project by organising a group (which was the aim of the journal) and by further enhancing its epistemological formulation (which was served by the interview with Foucault).
Given the lack of precise information regarding the question of why this interview took place, it is only possible to make hypotheses. For Hérodote, the reason is obvious: as well as serving to benefit from Foucault's prestige, it served to situate the group's theoretical work in the wake of Foucault's project. The primary focus of Hérodote—"knowing how to think about space in order to know how to think about power"33—owes a lot to Foucault's thinking, as much in terms of knowledge(s) as of mechanisms for the exercise of power. This indeed is the main reason given by the geographers at the very start of the interview: "The work that you have undertaken significantly intersects (and feeds into) the thinking that we have begun in geography, as well—more generally—as ideologies and strategies of space."34 The direction taken by the interview suggests that the geographers wished to draw Foucault's attention to at least two other points. On the one hand, they wanted some form of recognition (and so legitimisation) for geography: for them, geography's specific position (in particular, as a link between natural and human sciences, and in view of its political dimension) should be enough to warrant the philosopher's interest in this discipline. On the other hand, they sought to clarify how Foucault used space in his work: as far as they were concerned, his work makes use of a metaphor of space more than it refers to space itself.
With this interview, the geographers embarked on a journey to re-define the focus and methods of geography and turn the subject towards action. Furthermore, the geographers wanted their discipline to be added to the raft of human sciences, despite the fact that geography had traditionally eschewed epistemological debate.35 Indeed, this point is the subject of a major text by Lacoste, in which he considers the epistemology of geography. In reality, it is this text—much more than the satirical article—that constitutes a precursor to the interview in question. Written at the request of the philosopher François Châtelet (a friend and colleague at Vincennes) for inclusion in volume 7 of his 'History of Philosophy'. Under the auspices of that tome, entitled 'Philosophy of Social Sciences from 1860 to the present,'36 Lacoste's article at once invited philosophers to take an interest in geography, and called on geographers to develop an epistemological project.
For Foucault, the reasons for agreeing to this interview are not so obvious. Whilst his interest in space was quite real, he paid little heed to geography (understood, here, as a discipline), and—apart from this interview—he would devote no writing to this subject area. It can be supposed that Foucault equated geography with that of Paul Vidal de La Blache, which had served as a vehicle for the nationalist ideology of the Third Republic, and which he had been taught as a young student. More than this, Foucault had spent little time at Vincennes, and his relationship with Lacoste had not been as friendly as it might have been. In accepting the interview, he perhaps wished to support a former colleague or a new journal. Perhaps he wanted to please Châtelet, who knew both Foucault and Lacoste. Anyway, Foucault accepted, and he could see the value of the thinking undertaken by the young journal. Indeed, following the interview itself—quite exceptionally—Foucault would send a number of questions to the geographers behind Hérodote to enhance his own thinking: "These queries are not based on any particular knowledge I might have. They are questions that I have put to myself, and which I now put to you because I think that you have probably travelled further down this path than I."37 Foucault's questions were published in the third issue of Hérodote and initiated a debate published in the sixth issue (Des réponses aux questions de Michel Foucault [Answers to Michel Foucault's Questions], 1977).
The overlapping portraits and chronologies described above serve to highlight how 1976—for Foucault and Lacoste alike—represented a break with the past. For Foucault, it coincided with the end of one cycle with Discipline and Punish and the beginning of a new cycle announced by La volonté de savoir [The Will to Knowledge], the first tome of his Histoire de la sexualité [History of Sexuality]. For Lacoste, it was the year he gained recognition—both among the wider public and the geography community, thanks to Hérodote.
In this light, the archive to be built must allow analysis of Foucault's use of the notion of space as well as the metaphor of space, all the while highlighting the singularity of the positions expressed in the interview. Just as Foucault did in Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma sœur et mon frère [I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered my Mother, Sister, and Brother],38 it is necessary to collect the documents relating to the singular discursive event that was this interview. This also includes the texts issuing from the debate which appeared in Hérodote: namely, the questions that Foucault put to the geographers39 and the answers that they gave him.40 All of Foucault's articles dealing with space (mentioned above) should also be added to the archive for analysis in light of this interview,41 as well as those of his works in which he develops the question of space and which can be seen as hypotexts of the interview.42 For Lacoste, it is necessary to include his article 'The Primary Use of Geography is to Wage War'43 and—in particular—his chapter on geography for Châtelet's 'History of Philosophy.'44 Further texts complete the archive: Louis Althusser's Lire le Capital [Reading Capital]45—quoted in the interview—and the chapter on structuralism by Gilles Deleuze46 (which sheds light on Foucault's method), which also appeared in Châtelet's 'History of Philosophy.'47
Whilst discontinuity is a procedure used consciously by historians in the building of their documentary corpus, it is also the result of analysis itself: "What really matters is the splitting-off; what matters is the exclusion—and not what is excluded or split off."48 The archive thus built to reveal the discontinuity of 1976 as well as the differences in outlook between Foucault and the geographers of Hérodote in turn uncovers three more discontinuities (or splits). Each of these will be examined successively in the following parts of this article, as this archive is examined, gradually—that is to say, as it is sliced throughout—with a focus on spatial metaphors and their use. Three issues hove into view:
A methodological issue relating to discipline(s), based on what philosophy and geography—and, more generally, the different fields of knowledge—share or split off.
A theoretical, conceptual issue, resulting from a split in two descriptions of space—one abstract, one concrete.
A heuristic, epistemological issue, deriving from a split between that which owes to science and that which is excluded from it.
Before we discuss how metaphors work, it is necessary to discuss how metaphors should be described here. Are we dealing with a spatial metaphor, that is, one relating to space? Or are we dealing with a geographical metaphor, that is, one relating to a discipline (geography), which—as a subject, and during the same period—was beginning to formulate the question of space?49 In other words, does the split concern a subject matter (space) or a subject understood as a discipline with its own methods (geography)? It were the geographers who made this distinction: "This vague spatialisation stands in contrast to the profusion of spatial metaphors (involving position, displacement, place, and field) and even, occasionally, geographical metaphors (embracing territory, domain, ground, horizon, archipelago, geopolitics, region, and landscape)."50 Foucault seemed not to give credence to this distinction. He adopted just one category, which thereby assumed an overarching value in his thinking: "So, let's go through these geographical metaphors again."51 He then proceeds to gloss the long list of terms raised by the geographers, without ever making the slightest distinction between the spatial or the geographical. It feels as if the terms, for him, were equivalent. Moreover, in ending the interview with his famous words—"Geography must be at the heart of what I look into"52—Foucault arguably saw the terms space and geography as synonymous.
In order to understand the relevance of equating—or confusing—the subject (matter) with the subject (as discipline), we must look again at the list of terms and its structure. In his preface to The Order of Things, Foucault does the same in his analysis of Borges. The distinction must be a meaningful one for the geographers, but how do they proceed? With the exception of the terms position and displacement, all of the terms used—whether classified as spatial or geographical—can be found in Pierre George's Dictionnaire de la géographie [Dictionary of Geography].53 This tome—published in 1970—was an authoritative text in this community.54 Given that all of the terms used come from geography, what is the point in specifying that some pertain to space? It is all the more valid to ask this question given that geography as a subject55—and that of Lacoste, in particular56—had, at that time, begun to appropriate this concept. Therefore, the distinction is meaningful for the geographers. For philosophers, on the other hand, are the terms space and geography interchangeable? Foucault's answer can be seen as partially removing this ambiguity: in glossing each term in turn, he determines the subject or discipline from which it derived.57 In this way, territory is "firstly, a legal-political notion," displacement hails from the art of war, domain is "a legal-political notion," ground (sol in French) is a "historico-geological notion," region is a "fiscal, administrative, and military notion," and horizon is a "notion at once pictorial and strategic." For Foucault, only the term archipelago comes from geography, which he thereby reduces to the physical dimension alone. The genealogical approach to the concepts calls for at least three observations.
Firstly, it must be remembered that the human and social sciences necessarily work with a pre-existing lexicon: conceptualisation involves a process of metaphorization which uses existing words.58 More than a mere aporia, what this brief genealogy highlights is how relatively young geographical science is. In France, its structuring at university level began in 1870: as such, it cannot compete with law, geology, or economics, from which it logically borrows some of its vocabulary.
Secondly, as the geographers explain in the interview, "geographical discourse produces few concepts, and takes them from all over."59 In this way, the interview highlights the conceptual weakness of geography, in relation to other disciplines, such as philosophy, which is itself defined—at this time—as being the producer of concepts.60 Lacoste makes this point in his epistemological article laying out his programme.61 Conceptually, geography is in deficit and is forced to borrow from different disciplines. For all this, it produces no meta-theory to ensure that the whole formed by these borrowings is epistemologically coherent: "For the geographer, the study of the interactions between phenomena analysed by widely varying sciences involves constant attention to the epistemological specificities of each of those sciences. And yet geographers adopt precisely the opposite approach. For the time being, therefore, they can but juxtapose the diverse aspects extracted from different discourses."62
Thirdly, a final observation—itself expressed by Lacoste in 1973: "Geography is not being discussed, but the language of geography is being used more and more."63 Thus, the vocabulary that geography had already borrowed, was itself being borrowed. This is a complex circulation of concepts, rather than a simple exchange of communicating vessels: the terms travel widely among the social sciences and are characterised by their nomadism.64 At a time when the (intense) circulation of concepts was sustaining projects aiming to transcend disciplinary divides—like structuralism65—, what motivated geographers to stake out a place for geography, as indeed they sought to do? Against this backdrop of the idea of a scientific world without boundaries, what was the motive in seeking to maintain disciplinary boundaries and keep bastions solidly guarded? This metaphor is used intentionally—Foucault himself suggested that the spatial metaphor be used to map the field of social sciences: "When knowledge can be analysed in terms of region, domain, implantation, displacement, and transfer, we can understand the process by which knowledge functions as a form of power."66
If the term was not so ambiguous, each science could therefore be given its own 'place.' But the term place is itself polysemic and gives rise to misunderstandings which can be discerned throughout the interview. It might thus become a question of giving geography a place in a system—"Finding a place for geography would mean that the project of the archaeology of knowledge seeks total and exhaustive cover, which is not at all what I have in mind"67—even if this system is defined more as an approach and not as a picture that needs drawing. It might also become a question of giving geography a place in a curriculum (and thereby in the institution): "It is true that, initially, I thought you were staking out a place for geography, much as teachers who protest when faced with education reform."68
This detour through "place struggle"69 (on the model of 'class struggle') enlightens our understanding of the geographers' claim: in affirming a difference between spatial metaphors and geographical metaphors, and thus between subject (matter) and method, the geographers seek to have geography recognised as a science (by not confusing it with its subject matter) and to have it positioned in the field of human sciences. As Foucault explains, the use of this metaphor leads directly to 'combat': establishing a position—and defending it—is to instigate combat. In Foucault's work, space is conceived—as it is by the geographers of Hérodote—as the projection of power rivalries (which is the core of Lacoste's re-definition of geography): "There is every indication (…) that spatial metaphors (…) are rather the symptoms of a 'strategic' and 'combatant' thinking which posits the space of discourse as a terrain and subject involving political practice."70 In this light, the line of inquiry shifts: the aim is no longer to oppose space to geography, but to connect space with strategy, as Foucault does: "Metaphorizing the transformations of discourse through use of a temporal vocabulary leads necessarily to use of the model of individual consciousness, with its own temporality. Trying to decipher it, on the other hand, through spatial and strategic metaphors allows for a precise understanding of those points via which discourses are transformed in, through, and from relationships of power."71 In this reply, does Foucault put space and strategy on an equal footing, or is strategy a gloss for space? As a matter of fact, space appears as being at the heart of power—as the object on which it is exerted, as well as the reason for practising it—and geography appears as a way of studying power (now understood as that which is exerted on space). As the geographers of Hérodote claim in the first line of the interview, they have constructed their subject matter according to perspectives that Foucault had opened up: "The work that you have undertaken significantly intersects (and feeds into) the thinking that we have begun in geography, as well—more generally—as ideologies and strategies of space."72 This therefore requires further analysis of what the geographers and philosophers understand by space.
Having sought to describe the metaphor—as geographical or spatial?—it is now necessary to clarify how metaphor functions and to understand the role it plays in the exchange opposing Foucault and the geographers of Hérodote. What is a metaphor? It is the "use of a word in a similar—and yet different—sense to its usual meaning";73 it rests on the analogous relationship of two terms, one of which is knowingly implied.74 Metaphors function on the principle of a comparison, where the subject of the comparison is implicit: the image is thus born from the divergence between the given word and the word it replaces. It is one of the most widely used tropes in literature, as it allows images to be formed and enables the poetic function of language. More than this, it is a figure of speech as central to everyday speech75 as it is in the scientific world.76 Indeed, all conceptualisation derives from a process of metaphorization.77 Framed in this way, the issue opposing geographers and Foucault can thus be seen on a theoretical and conceptual level, because metaphor allows two different conceptions of space on two different levels (seen in the discrepancy produced by metaphor) to be shared/split. On the one hand, there is space constructed as a concept, and so it becomes a legitimate subject for scientific study. On the other hand, we have space stuck in the role of metaphor: it is a simple analogy that sheds lights on a way of thinking, but does not itself achieve the status of subject for study. Therefore, examining the nature of spatial metaphors and how they function requires, firstly, some characterisation of space: geographers describe it in terms of its materiality, whereas Foucault describes it in abstract terms. Secondly, it involves examining the role played by space (and, therefore, how it is used as metaphor) in ways of thinking. Is the space described by the geographers of Hérodote on the same level as the space described by Foucault? Are we dealing with a subject for study or with a simple heuristic tool indebted to metaphor? Do the two parties manage to have a discussion, or does the interview merely become a "dialogue de sourds,"78 a 'dialogue of the deaf', because they do not share the same view of space?
Foucault's use of space is described as a metaphor by the geographers:79 "This uncertain spatialisation contrasts with the profusion of spatial metaphors."80 This assertion brings a close to the first part of the interview, during which the geographers have highlighted the opportunities to engage with geography that Foucault has missed. Firstly, they point to the complete absence of geography in his work on how the human sciences are arranged—for the geographers, it is not "really a disappointment… just a surprise."81 They also point out the fact that despite Foucault's interest in historians with links to geography (such as Lucien Febvre,82 Fernand Braudel,83 and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie84), he did not follow them and turn towards geographers. What they are underlining, thereby, is the opposition between a rigorous historical work, attentive to temporalities (the archaeological approach and outlining discontinuity reinforce the methods of the historian) which is at odds with paying little attention to space: "So what we can detect is the rigorous desire for periodisation which stands in contrast with the blurred, the relative indeterminacy of your localisations. Your spaces of reference are—vaguely – Christendom, the Western world, Northern Europe, and France, and yet these spaces of reference are never really explained or even made explicit."85 Thus, the geographers highlight the contrast between affording little importance to space and yet space being at the heart of Foucault's language: "This vague spatialisation contrasts with the profusion of spatial metaphors."86 Using the term metaphor87 thus serves to disqualify such a use of space, by rejecting any claim that space is a subject. In this way, the controversy is theoretical in nature and involves two opposing positions: that of the geographers, who want to make space the subject of their science (which is being completely overhauled), and that of Foucault, who uses space as a tool with which to analyse power and the ways in which it is exercised.
For the Hérodote geographers, space is indeed key to the construction site of theory, as Lacoste explains in the outline of his programme.88 The 'crisis'89 endured by geography throughout the 1960s and 1970s had left a void to be filled: abandoning the man/environment paradigm had led to the creation of this void. Whilst geography had—by this point—turned its attention to "the problem of Space,"90 thinking was "still—in the main—more at the stage of methodology than epistemology."91 This can be seen in the emergence of quantitative geography then described as new geography:92 this nascent branch of geography proposed new methods (based on data processing) but did not seek to question the primary subjects of study in geography. Lacoste supported his thinking through the ideas of Gaston Bachelard: "We must think in order to measure and not measure in order to think."93 With this background, it is possible to understand what is singular in Lacoste's plan to redefine geography. Lacoste does not deny—as do the (anglophone) tenants of new geography and their (francophone) counterparts studying spatial analysis—the specificity of geography, as a science at the intersection of sciences concerned with the earth, life, and society.94 Rather, Lacoste uses the physical dimension of space to make geography a "methodical description of spaces in terms of their 'physical' and 'human' [or 'social'] aspects (…) in the framework of those functions exercised by the state apparatus, firstly in controlling and organising the people on its territory, and secondly for war."95 Lacoste therefore makes the distinction between Space and space. Space refers to the category of philosophy (and so serves as the counterpart to Time)—and this should be of particular interest to philosophers. On the other hand, space—of interest to geographers—is envisaged in all its materiality: that is, in terms of its physical and social components.96 In this light, the tribute that the geographers are paying to Foucault is clear: he no more studies Time but history (which is a way of grasping the archive in all its depth), than he studies Space—rather, he studies space insofar as it allows for the exercise of power (cf. supra).
However, the geographers' 'space' has nothing in common with Foucault's 'space'. Indeed, Foucault entirely abandons its materiality (the geographers refer to "the relative indeterminacy of [his] localisations") in favour of an abstract 'space.' How then can 'space' as he uses it—and incorporates it into his thinking—be described? One of the best analyses of space in Foucault's work was provided by Deleuze in his article on structuralism, written for Châtelet's 'History of Philosophy.'97 Deleuze sought to define structuralism through those texts—including Foucault's 'The Order of Things'—using such a structuralist approach: as such, his definition derives from analysis of the different intellectual approaches applied under the label of 'structuralism.' For Deleuze, "the scientific ambition of structuralism is not quantitative, but topological and relational. (…) When Foucault defines terms such as death, desire, work, and play, he does not consider them as dimensions of empirical human existence—rather, these terms describe places or positions which will see as mortal/dying, desirous, working, or playing, those people who fill them: their role is secondary, for the role they play derives from an order of adjacency, which is that of the structure itself. (…) Structuralism is necessarily a new transcendental philosophy, in which places take precedence over what fills them."98 The space that interests Foucault is thus that of the structure and the system: it is the position—that is, the location—that carries out the function. In this way, he neglects the material dimension of space in favour of the political arrangement that space allows. Despite this, he does not seek to work on Space envisaged as a category: space only interests Foucault insofar as it concretises the projection of relationships of power. The abstraction of the system thus allows an understanding of how power functions and how it is exercised—in this context, it is not necessary to call on the material dimension (that is, the social or natural components) of space, as geographers do. The geographers and Foucault thus find themselves with a practice in common: cartography.
However, once more, this comes at the expense of a metaphor. Lacoste raises the map, as an "instrument of power," to the level of a "formalisation of space for the domination of space,"99 and Deleuze describes Foucault as a "new cartographer."100 For geographers, a map is both a technique and an artifact which allows space to be formalised (and so rendered intelligible) in its material and social dimensions, in order that science (namely, the geographical reasoning shared by all users of maps, whether geographers or those in the military, for example) may be applied to it and which, therefore, allows power to be held. From this perspective, a map is defined as "a set of signs, in the abstract which has been extracted from the concrete."101 In contrast, in Foucault's work, cartography is an abstract operation, related to the topological conception of space that he uses: this involves describing and analysing how power—always localised—functions. Deleuze summarises what is at stake: "As a premise of localisation, power is assumed to be State power, and is itself localised in a State apparatus."102 Whereas geographers emphasise the artifact (the map), Foucault deploys a practice in order to establish such locations and relative positions: cartography. This conception of space (and thus of cartography) is explained by Claude Raffestin: whilst geographers—expert in topographical maps—are interested in morphology, Foucault's thinking focuses on the relative.103 The operation of cartography thus allows these relationships to be represented.104
Lacoste further developed his thinking on maps and cartography by suggesting that they be used as an epistemological tool in geography. He placed cartography under the auspices of both Gaston Bachelard—"Making representation geometrical means drawing phenomena and ordering the decisive events of experience into series; such is the primary task in which the scientific mind asserts itself"105—and Georges Gusdorf—"Cartographical formalisation is thus the site of a privileged epistemological experience."106 In so doing, Lacoste underlined the extent to which the question of representation raises the "primordial epistemological problem of geography:"107 namely, scale (which is the ratio of reduction between the real and its representation) and—more broadly—the question of the most appropriate perspective in analysing a geographical problem. The phenomena studied by geographers exist only in relation to scales, that is, according to the perspectives they adopt. The approach in geography is therefore primarily scalar (this is central to Lacoste's thinking), and aims to establish the best perspective in analysing a problem: "Reality appears different depending on the level of analysis."108 Following this, geographers set about multiplying maps, on different scales, of different types (topographical and thematic alike), in order to embrace the phenomenon studied (in all its complexity), by calling on different spaces of conceptualisation and reference.109
In this way, Lacoste gives greater depth to the notion of découpage (cutting), intrinsic to the geographical approach, by suggesting (thanks to scale) a rich alternative to the regional approach—inherited from Vidal110—which paid no heed to scale.111 In developing his theory of scales and orders of magnitude, Lacoste understandably turns to the academic debates of the times, be they in physical geography (what Jean Tricart calls geomorphology, or what François Durand-Dastès calls climatology) or in human geography (Olivier Dollfus, Pierre George, Henri Enjalbert). More than this, he enriches them by importing Foucauldian discontinuity112 into geography, as can be seen in the interview: "One can—and indeed must—conceive and construct a methodology of discontinuity with regard to space and spatial scales."113 The Hérodote geographers will draw a parallel between Foucault's work with discontinuity114 in the field of history, and the work that they are doing with scale in their discipline: it is central to their theoretical project—admittedly still only a sketch in the interview, but it can be articulated. Just as Foucault seeks to cut up (découpage) the archive (that is, to cut up time) in order to reveal the discourses at play, so the geographers seek to cut up space (that is, to establish the best space for conceptualisation, and so the most appropriate scale) in order to reveal the complexity of the problem being analysed, namely: power rivalries. Discontinuity and scale come both at the beginning of analysis (découpage is a pre-requisite for analysis) and at its end: the archaeological approach (and so, symmetrically, the cartographic approach) reveals the complexity of discontinuities (and so, symmetrically, of scales) at work in the problem studied. A subtle system of similarities can then be seen, between Time and Space (two categories rejected by Foucault and the geographers alike, as they abandon grand concepts in favour of that time and space produced and transformed by the exercise of power); history and geography (time and space made accessible for the study of problems for analysis); discourses and rivalries (what historians and geographers actually study); archives and maps115 (two methods of organisation in grasping the dimensions and complexity of time and space). And, finally, between discontinuity and scale (two forms of découpage, at once a pre-requisite for a given approach and at its conclusion). And just as the archive and discontinuity aim to reveal the discourses at work, so the map and scale shed light on power rivalries exerted on a territory.
The difference between two radically opposed concepts of space (which the spatial metaphor puts under tension) is therefore overcome:116 the dynamics of the exchange between Foucault and the Hérodote geographers no longer involve describing space through the digging of trenches (to borrow from the lexical field of military strategy). Rather, they involve considering a flow between different fields of knowledge, and—in so doing—encouraging both the development of theory and methodological thinking. Herein lies the appeal of metaphor: rather than being content to put two different concepts (the topological approach vs. the material approach) on the same level (space), metaphor allows different fields of knowledge to connect—and this is its performative function117—by allowing one reference (here, space) to flow or circulate between these fields. The geographers raise this point: "Between the discourse of geography and the discourse of military strategy, one can observe a flow of notions: the 'region' for geographers is the same as the 'region' conceived by the military, and 'province' equates to conquered territory."118 Foucault pursues this idea: "When it becomes possible to analyse knowledge in terms of region, domain, settlement, displacement, or transfer, it is possible to understand the process by which knowledge functions as a form of power and accompanies its effects."119 In this way, the use of metaphor not only allows exchange between different fields of knowledge which were previously hermetic, it also—and above all—enables new thinking about conditions for the production and circulation of knowledge. The result is that science—and the way in which it functions—is questioned further: the horizon, thereby, is epistemological in nature.
Whilst the use of metaphor is heuristically effective, by enabling both references and different subject areas to circulate to theoretical ends, Foucault's particular use of spatial metaphors also questions the very workings of science. Even though Foucault is at the height of his fame in 1976, the interview recalls the difficulties he encountered when first establishing his position: when the Hérodote geographers ask him about his penchant for these tropes, Foucault refers to them as his "spatial obsessions" for which he has been "reproached enough."120 The term obsession is surprising, for it does not fit in with the science-based context—it is synonymous with the faddish and whimsical, which should have no place (either as a subject of study or as a method) in a rigorous scientific approach. In this light, spatial metaphors can be examined from another angle—with epistemological implications—by questioning what separates science and non-science, or—in other words—the discontinuity between science and what is external to science. This calls for an analysis of the framework that Foucault provides for his thinking. Yet again, spatial metaphors are relevant. The first reason for this is that this critique is directed precisely at Foucault's use of spatial metaphors. The second reason is that—in order to justify his approach (and thus reply to his critics)—Foucault positions himself in a spatial framework (metaphorically). Therefore, space appears as both a subject of study as well as an approach method, and makes it possible to question what separates science and non-science.
By whom was Foucault reproached for his "spatial obsessions?" The interview suggests only one source—but a big one: Louis Althusser, philosopher, Foucault's teacher at the École normale supérieure, leading light of Marxism (the foundations of which he sought to rebuild through a rigorous reading of Capital),121 and guru of the intellectual Left that rose during the revolution of May '68.122 In the interview, the Hérodote geographers make reference to a passage from Volume 1 of Althusser's Lire le Capital [Reading Capital],123 in which Foucault's use of spatial metaphors is discussed: "The use of spatial metaphors (field, terrain, space, place, situation, position, etc.)124 in this text poses a theoretical problem: that of their right to be found in a supposedly scientific discourse. The problem can be expressed thus: why does a certain form of scientific discourse necessarily require the use of metaphors borrowed from non- scientific discourse?"125 This footnote accompanies Althusser's commentary126 on the original preface to L'histoire de la folie127 [The History of Madness],128 wherein he rejects the Foucauldian approach which he sees as non-scientific.
In order to understand this critique, it is useful to remember how Foucault expressed his project in the aforementioned preface. He defines a subject of study (madness), a chronological framework (the advent of modernity at the beginning of the eighteenth century), a method (archaeology), and—not least—a (non-normative) approach, which opens new horizons that the work intends to explore. Indeed, the challenge that Foucault sets himself is to examine what madness and reason have in common at the very time when reason is put to work, and without recourse to any vocabulary rooted in psychiatry: he is interested in the thinking that establishes commonality, and not in the science that imposes distance between reason and madness. Rather than studying the inauguration of the medical perspective,129 he prefers to explore the "uncomfortable region"130 created by this commonality, even though any normativity is refused. This commonality opens onto new horizons rather than some notional afterwards. Were the latter the case, then the perspective of psychiatry would have taken over, automatically: the scope would have been that of the dialectic of reason and madness, at the time when medical science can clearly establish the boundary between madness and non- madness. Yet Foucault refuses this normative approach through science: he concentrates, rather, on the time of this silence, and seeks to perform the archaeology of this time. In so doing, he removes himself from any dialectical approach and abandons time by taking refuge in space:
Towards which region should we go, which is neither the history of knowledge nor history full stop, which is controlled by neither the teleology of truth nor the rational linking of causes, both of which only have value and meaning outside the notion of commonality? Doubtless, towards a region more concerned with the limits [or boundaries] of a culture than with its identity. (…) Examining the limits of a culture's experiences is the same as analysing that culture—on the fringes of history—in terms of a rift which can be seen as the very birth of its history. In this light, there is a clash—the tension of which unravels constantly—between the temporal continuity of a dialectical analysis and the updating (on the brink of time) of a tragic structure.131
Foucault is thus proposing an original line of inquiry. Whilst it is true that it unfolds in relation to history, it does so in space and not in time (which is the case for the dominant Marxism of the time).132 He develops this further in his 1966 essay regarding Maurice Blanchot, the title of which neatly summarises this approach: La pensée du dehors [Thinking of/from the Outside].133 Here, Foucault develops the idea that Blanchot's literature (just like his own approach in L'histoire de la folie) was born of a void caused by the disappearance of the subject—"the breakthrough towards language from which the subject is excluded"134—which can be said to be specific to the structuralist approach.135 It is "thinking of/from the outside"—thought that has escaped from discourse, or from the subject—which allows Foucault's interest in space to be conceptualised:136 "Fiction consists therefore not in revealing the invisible, but in revealing the extent to which the invisibility of the visible is invisible. Hence its fundamental relationship with space, which—in this sense—is to fiction what the negative is to contemplation (whereas dialectical negation is related to the fable of Time."137
Foucault's twofold interest in space and in metaphor is thus related. In rejecting the "fable of Time," he seeks to deploy this thinking of/from the outside, no longer in order to make it the origin of his thinking (which would give credence to the fable), but to make it the site in which this thinking unfurls. It is an invisible site, only the boundary of which can be laid down, outside the systems of thought (like Marxism) that he analysed.138 It is in this framework that metaphor can operate and reveal this space (and therefore reveal the invisibility of the visible). In rejecting any normative perspective at the same time as comprehending the constituent commonality of the site that he is exploring, he can use no metadiscourse to formulate a truth that is impossible to establish: "There is no common language; rather, there is no longer a common language."139 The archaeological approach—which draws on several sites—nonetheless forces him to articulate different discourses. Indeed, "producing the history of madness will thus mean the following: producing a structural study of the historic whole—notions, institutions, legal/police measures, and scientific concepts—which imprisons madness, the wild state of which can never be reproduced per se."140 Metaphor is the only possible way to articulate these domains and to circulate this reference among them, without ever naming it and without ever reducing the specificity of these discourses. Furthermore, metaphor brings this outside into existence as a site: by ruling out syllogism (thus by ruling out the linearity of causality, which is a question of time), metaphor privileges reasoning that is analogical, operates in/as a network, and which—performatively—produces the reference space that it describes. For Foucault, metaphor is the only way to build thought as an outside in which it can find its origins.
From this derives the epistemological aspect of the debate, and Althusser's critique becomes clear. His philosophical work effectively seeks to establish a strict separation between that which pertains to ideology and that which pertains to science. For Althusser, science can be understood in the context of the Marxist project, the foundations of which he intends to examine: his reading141 of Marxism rests on the intelligibility of the concept and, consequently, the rejection of all metaphor.142 And this is where the sticking points arise between Althusser's thinking and that of Foucault. Where Althusser develops concepts, Foucault deploys metaphors. Where Althusser embeds his approach in dialectics (and thus in the context of time), Foucault rejects such a fable and takes refuge in space. Where Althusser conducts a scientific study, Foucault—necessarily indulging in humanism by virtue of his archaeological work in the human/social sciences—belongs to the realm of ideology. And when—in a footnote—Althusser writes, "Why does a certain form of scientific discourse necessarily require the use of metaphors borrowed from non-scientific discourse?,"143 he is at once denouncing the use of metaphors with no place in science, and—even more—the spatial reference that they circulate, because they lie outside the framework of dialectics and his underlying perspective that is historicist in nature.144
Spatial metaphors can thus be used to measure how radically innovative Foucault's proposal is in terms of philosophy itself. He succeeds in conceiving an exterioriy to his subject, which is precisely what allows him to build bridges with other subjects, and to position philosophy in the centre of intellectual debate at that time.145 Indeed, the interview showed that a meeting between Foucault and the geographers was not only possible (the interview did take place) but productive as well: the geographers attempted to theorise their subject using the thinking of Foucault. As for Foucault, he discovered a new science and ultimately acknowledged its relevance. More than this, he opened up the possibility of exchange in both directions: "If you can use one or two of the 'things' (an approach or a method, for example) that I've seen fit to use in psychiatry, punishment, and natural history, then I'm delighted by that. If you have to adopt others, or transform my tools, please show me, because I too can benefit from that."146 The condition that renders this exchange possible lies precisely in the use of metaphors: it is because space functions as a metaphor that such a meeting could take place. The point is thus not so much to reduce this metaphor by transforming it into a concept, but to understand its performativity and effectiveness.
The archaeological approach has shown how productive it can be: building and analysing an archive reveal the richness of what is at play in this encounter between Foucault's philosophy and Lacoste's geography. And this transcends the 'partial' readings of the meeting that are typically offered. The metaphor of space allows the archive to be cross-sectioned, heuristically, and discursivities at work in both theories—mutually put to the test—to be deconstructed: discontinuity appears as a heuristic tool for understanding philosophy and geography simultaneously.
The interview has also allowed us to touch on another important issue in the history of ideas in the second half of the twentieth century: the circulation of knowledge(s) in the era of structuralism and when the human sciences were being built.147 It is remembered that geography generally kept its distance from such inter-disciplinary exchanges, preferring instead to focus its thinking on its own evolution148—and this withdrawal can be seen as paradoxical, given that space was central to the renewal of the human sciences at the time.149 Despite all this, the interview shows that bridges were built—early on—between geography in France and philosophy, and that geography did not completely ignore the debates of that time. Now that the spatial turn has established itself as a narrative aiming to put the human sciences' approach to space in perspective,150 further study of the relationship between philosophy and geography is required, in such a way as to test Edward Soja's hypothesis that the "spatial turn begins in Paris"151—since developed by Russell West-Pavlov152—which is to say that it began in French theory and in the post-structuralism of France.153 Foucault's thinking can be used to theorise the relative, at a time when the paradigm of history is being disputed.154 Henceforth, the archaeological approach thus calls for a genealogical approach—inspired by Foucault's thinking—in writing the history of this spatial turn155 and understanding the role played by geography and geographers in this "reassertion of space in critical social theory."156 In this, the metaphor of space can continue to be used as a tool.157
I am deeply indebted to Margriet Hoogvliet and to Sabrina Corbellini who gave me the opportunity to put together the reflections I had concerning this dialogue between Michel Foucault and the geographers embedded in Hérodote journal, and to Terry Bradford who perfectly translated them into English. I am most grateful to the editors of Le Foucaldien and to the anonym referees for their comments that helped me to clarify my views.
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