What is Foucault’s notion of “problematization”?
This is a key term in Foucault (as indicated by the valuable discussion over it at the Biopower and the Contemporary blog). It is defined in the late interview with Francis Ewald (“The concern for truth” May 1984, DE350) and addressed in “Problematics” (OT-08 in the Lynch bibliography). Another important interview is “Polemics, politics and problematizations” (DE 342).
Problematization is an example of Foucault’s difference from regular historians:
The history of thought–that means not simply a history of ideas or of representations, but also the attempt to respond to this question: how is that thought, insofar as it has a relationship with the truth, can also have a history? (DE 350.4, p. 456).
So this is a history of how things have been problematized, that is “reflected upon and thought about”:
Problematization doesn’t mean the representation of a pre-existent object, nor the creation through discourse of an object that doesn’t exist. It’s the set of discursive or nondiscursive practices that makes something enter into the play of the true and false, and constitutes it as an object for thought (whether under the form of moral reflection, scientific knowledge, political analysis, etc.). (DE350.4, pp. 456-7).
A number of things to note: this is not an analysis of representations, nor is this purely discursive, nor does it mean that everything is socially constructed. There is material analysis of practices.
It is, therefore, a history of truth.
Filed under: Key terms