Michel Foucault: Career Overview
Genealogy is a diachronic method, one that attempts to reconstruct the origins and development of discourses by showing their rootedness in a field of forces. Genealogy is a Nietzschean effort to develop a critical method that undermines all absolute grounds, that demonstrates the origins of things only in relation to and in contest with other things. Genealogy disallows pure beginnings, those historical formations that deny their historicity by naturalizing themselves, absolutizing themselves, grounding themselves in some transcendent principle. From the vantage point of those who hold to absolute principles, genealogy appears as nihilist, relativist, amoral. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow argue more convincingly that together with archaeology, genealogy constitutes “an analytic of finitude,” one that undercuts metaphysical pretensions, overblown notions of reason’s ability to ground discourse, but not ethical action in the best sense of the term.
The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, 1st edition.