International Encyclopedia of Human Geography.
Elsevier, pp. 341-344.
Genealogy is a historical perspective and investigative method, which offers an intrinsic critique of the present. It provides people with the critical skills for analysing and uncovering the relationship between knowledge, power and the human subject in modern society and the conceptual tools to understand how their being has been shaped by historical forces. Genealogy works on the limits of what people think is possible, not only exposing those limits and confines but also revealing the spaces of freedom people can yet experience and the changes that can still be made (Foucault 1988). Genealogy as method derives from German philosophy, particularly the works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), but is most closely associated with French academic Michel Foucault (1926-24).
Michel Foucault’s genealogical analyses challenge traditional practices of history, philosophical assumptions and established conceptions of knowledge, truth and power. Genealogy displaces the primacy of the subject found in conventional history and targets discourse, reason, rationality and certainty. Foucault’s analyses are against the idea of universal necessities, the search for underlying laws and universal explanatory systems, the inevitability of lines of development in human progress and
the logic that we learn more about things and become better at dealing with them as time goes on. Instead, genealogy seeks to illuminate the contingency of what we take for granted, to denaturalise what seems immutable, to destabilise seemingly natural categories as constructs and confines articulated by words and discourse and to open up new possibilities for the future. Through an examination of the histories and geographies of institutions - from asylums to clinics, schools, hospitals and prisons - Foucault’s genealogies encourage a re-assessment and re-evaluation of the discourses and knowledges of the ‘human sciences’ (Foucault examined historic discourses on madness, disease and normality, crime and punishment, sexuality, and much else as well), to question official accounts, their effects, and how they work to limit and subject individuals in modern society.
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