Danny Sullivan, What Foucault Can Teach Us About the Schismatic Growth of Comicon Culture | Seattle Weekly, Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Philosopher Michel Foucault identified the dangers that face any group as knowledge of its subject matter grows. His The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) is an attempt to discover the systems of thought that govern any field. Though he addresses most explicitly the scientific community, he extends his ideas to communities whose interests center around fiction.
His basic claim is that groups are defined by sharing a discourse—a set of ideas and points of reference that in turn define what knowledge is for the group. As he puts it, “A discursive practice may form … the basis of which coherent (or incoherent) propositions are built up, more or less exact descriptions developed, verifications carried out, theories deployed. They form the precondition of what is later revealed and which later functions as an item of knowledge or an illusion, an accepted truth or an exposed error.” In other words, the ways groups talk about common topics help determine the conclusions they arrive at and change their understanding of it on the deepest level.
Reading this today brings to mind fan theories, those elaborate constructions that often seek to “solve” stories by imposing their own logic onto them. Fan theorizing has exploded in popularity in recent years as a result of the growth of discourse that encourages a granular, analytical approach that seeks to test and pinpoint plot holes rather than achieve a thematic understanding.