Conceding to Scull?

I’m pulling out a comment below because I think it makes a great point: why the instant concession to Scull?

Or, more fully from the linked article at Limited, Inc:

The more interesting question, however, is why Scull was instantly conceded to be right, and Foucault wrong? I think this might be on account of the general beating Continentalist are perceived to have received from Sokal and Bricmont. That perception is wholly based on the idea that Sokal is a hard scientist, a physicist. What Foucault did was make us question experts – and he appeared at a time when the advice of experts, from that given about the Vietnam war to the dangers of radiation, fell into disrepute. Unfortunately, knowledge by authority is a very powerful thing – in Weber’s triad of legitimations, tradition/authority is at the center. It is especially powerful when the authority figure bases his authority on reason – but then uses the authority qua authority to squash opposition. This is just what Scull did. The scurrying for the exits done by Foucaultist is a painful reminder that, on the whole, academics can be defined as those people who have been extraordinarily influenced, in their development, by the classroom. Thus, their rebellions are most easily quenched when a teacher figure comes through the door.

I wondered this myself, several times, although this is put more eloquently and forcefully. So the answer seems to be empiricism vs. theory, or,  expertise vs. novice-like interpretation.

It was Scull who set up these categories and some Foucauldians who conceded them (I hope I didn’t; I wanted them investigated in say a 1-day conference on historical sources). Where the expert does set up we can examine the grounds for the truth-claims established certainly (but that is different from saying the expertise does not exist, it is a critique about what is used to prop up the claim to expertise and the notion of expertise and can be very revealing about what a society values–in this case “empiricism” and “science”).

Roger at Limited Inc. is if not the first post then the most detailed to engage with Scull without either conceding Scull’s attack or retreating to “alpha-omega” scholarship.

One Response

  1. Thanks for the comment. I’ve reduced this, in some way, to a scene that gets played over on the blogs until it is parody – the classroom, the fake rebellion, the implicit accusations about weakness and inauthenticity, etc. But I do think that one model Foucault pulled out of the archives was just a counter-culture of what might be called idiot experts – idiot from idios, private, isolated. I’m one of those, I think, on my blog

    Scull was actually painting that idiot expert picture of Foucault, but for the most invidious and pecking order reasons. One of my favorite bits in the review was the question of why Foucault wasn’t quoting “current’ scholarship. What Scull didn’t say is: what would current scholarship be in 1961? German scholarship from the 30s and 40s? Huh, I’d love to see him make that claim concrete. Freudians and behaviorists? A pack of histories that include categories for degeneration and theories about race and gender which Scull probably doesn’t want to defend? In fact, he so doesn’t want to defend them that he doesn’t name a single essential text. In fact, the time span between 61 and, say, 1910 is not all that much larger then the span between the date of the publication of Foucault’s book and the present. And of course he explicitly cites – to criticize – a bunch of books written about the Paris system of hospitals in the years 1910-1920. Incidentally, Chomsky, writing at the same time, does the same thing – he ignores the bloomfieldians, and the behaviorists, who constituted the linguistic orthodoxy of the time. I’ve never heard Chomsky criticized for his footnotes.

    It isn’t that I am a bold sympathizer for everything Foucault wrote. He could be tricky. When he writes that one hundred of the population of Paris was in a hospital at the time of Matthew of Paris, that is a way of inflating the figure connotatively – we think of Paris as such a large city. In fact, there’s every reason to believe the relationship should be with the larger area of northern france, which is where the patients are just as likely to come from. But to pretend that he was some totally sloppy scholar is just not true.

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