Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting - a discussion of Michel Foucault’s theoretical frameworks taking outset in the analyses of the Final Report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in terms of archaeology and genealogy

Ele Junker

Studenteropgave: Speciale


The French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, inspired by Nietzsche, has questioned the unity of the notion of truth by meditating upon the relationship between language and reality. Foucault has formulated the methods of archaeology and genealogy in order to show how any claim of truth has its rooting in the interpretation of reality according to specific episteme. Contrary to Foucault’s reflections, the understanding of truth as being ‘out there’ and obtainable by appropriate, i.e. scientific methods, is the bearing element within the development discourse. This tendency is exemplified by the increase in the number of truth commissions worldwide. This thesis focuses on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and its Final Report. The TRC’s discourse and methods are analysed in terms of archaeology and genealogy by taking outset in the Report. The analyses are carried out with the aim of putting Foucault’s tools into practice and offering another narrative of the Report, which describes how the objects, main concepts etc. of the TRC have emerged, as well as how these regimes of truth have been put into practice by various techniques, thus constituting the regimes of practice. The overall narrative that appears is that the TRC’s concepts and methods arose as the result of a complicated system of relations and rules that render these concepts arbitrary. Further, the effects of its practices constitute the TRC as a technique of power that aims at disciplining its subjects according to the new moral code, based on human rights, so that the new power relations in South Africa (SA) could be legitimised and maintained. The overall aim of the analyses is to put Foucault’s approaches into perspective and illustrate their strengths and weaknesses. To support this pursuit, various authors are brought in who discuss archaeology and genealogy from different angles. The topics discussed in relation to archaeology are: Problems related to Foucault’s definition of discourse, the relationship between discourse and the social level, the dispersion of the subject, and archaeology as an elitist approach. The issues discussed in relation to genealogy can be summed up as: Foucault’s normativity, the subject, power as strategy, and resistance. The final discussion, i.e. problematisation of Foucault’s regimes of truth and regimes of practices, takes outset in these topics combined with the author’s personal experiences regarding the use of Foucault’s methods and is combined with personal reflections on the consequences of the Foucaultian point of view.

UddannelserInternationale Udviklingsstudier, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) KandidatFilosofi, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato1 jun. 2006


  • Faucault
  • truth
  • TRC
  • South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • archaeology
  • genealogy