Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Colin Koopman, Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity, Indiana University Press, 2013, 348pp., $30.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780253006219.
Reviewed by Amy Allen, Dartmouth College

In Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: An electronic journal
29 August 2013

The overall aim of Colin Koopman’s Genealogy as Critique is “to explicate genealogy in such a way as to show that it offers a valuable, effective, and uniquely important practice of philosophical-historical critique of the present” (5). Michel Foucault’s genealogical method, which serves as Koopman’s paradigm case of genealogy, is enormously influential but often misunderstood by critics and fans alike. Koopman’s defense of genealogy rests on a two-step revision of our understanding of Foucault’s method: first, Koopman rethinks the relationship between Foucaultian genealogy and Kantian critique; second, he interprets Foucault’s practice of Kantian critique through the lens of problematization. Once we reinterpret Foucaultian genealogy along these lines, Koopman argues, we will be able to see that his work belongs in conversation with that of critical theorists such as Habermas and pragmatists such as Dewey and Rorty, rather than with the Continental high theorists — Derrida, Lacan, and Agamben — with whom he is more often associated. In the end, Koopman proposes an ambitious methodological reconciliation of Foucaultian genealogy with pragmatist critical theory in which the former fulfills the backward looking, diagnostic task of articulating our most pressing problems and the latter fulfills the forward looking, anticipatory task of suggesting possible responses to those problems.

The book divides into roughly three, not entirely equal, parts. After an introductory chapter that situates Koopman’s view within existing Foucault scholarship, the first four chapters explicate the method of genealogical problematization, understood as a transformative renewal of the Kantian notion of critique. The next two chapters re-read Foucault’s work in light of the account of his method offered in the first half of the book. The concluding chapter makes the case for the methodological reconciliation of Foucaultian genealogy as problematization and pragmatist critical theory. The book as a whole is guided by Koopman’s understanding of philosophy as a critical enterprise, “an immanent and reflexive engagement with the full complexity and contingency of the conditions of possibility for doing, being, and thinking in our cultural present” (23).

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