Foucault, M. (2022). Linguistics and Social Sciences. Theory, Culture & Society, First published online June 20, 2022
Written with the suppression of the Tunisian students by their own government in view, Michel Foucault’s March 1968 ‘Linguistics and Social Sciences’ opens up a new horizon of historical inquiry and epitomises Foucault’s abiding interest in formulating new methods for studying the interaction of language and power. Translated into English for the first time by Jonathan D.S. Schroeder and Chantal Wright, this remarkable lecture constitutes Foucault’s most explicit and sustained statement of his project to revolutionise history by transposing the analysis of logical relations into the history of knowledge.
Introduction to Michel Foucault’s ‘Linguistics and Social Sciences’
Translator’s note, Jonathan D.S. Schroeder
Shortly after the publication of The Order of Things (1966), Michel Foucault obtained a leave of absence from the University of Clermont-Ferrand to teach philosophy at the University of Tunis. He moved to Sidi Bou Saïd in September 1966, and he stayed in post until October 1968. This brief period proved wildly transformative: Foucault shaved his head and drafted The Archaeology of Knowledge; at the same time, he was radicalised by a series of anti-colonial and anti-imperial student protests, which began as a response to the Six-Day War of 1967, were exacerbated by Hubert Humphrey’s visit to Tunisia in early 1968 and culminated on 15 March 1968 when thousands of Tunisian students gathered outside of the University of Tunis. They accused the Tunisian government of supporting US imperialism, called for the end of the Vietnam War, condemned Zionism and called on the Tunisian government to investigate torture and corruption. Authorities responded with violence, arresting over 200 students, torturing many and holding all without trial until September of that year (Medien, 2020: 495–6). During these months, Foucault allowed students to use his apartment as an organising space, hid a printing press in his garden so activists could print posters detailing the names of imprisoned Tunisians, gave sanctuary to student leader Ahmed ben Othmani, donated money for his legal defence and provided deposition testimony at Othmani’s September hearing (Hendrickson, 2013: 89–90). At the same time, he read texts by Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg, and the American Black Panthers. ‘It wasn’t May of ‘68 that changed me’, Foucault recalled. ‘It was March of ‘68, in a Third World country’ (1991 : 136).