Volume 33, Issue 1, January 2017
The Uncanny Effect of Telling Genealogies
What is the normative import of telling a genealogy of our present reason-giving practices? In this paper, I will focus on Michel Foucault’s materialist genealogies in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, which attend to the social and material settings in which we act and give and ask for reasons. A number of influential critics have interpreted them as a critical evaluation of our reason-giving practices. But understood in this way, Foucault’s genealogical project faces significant philosophical problems. I will sketch a different account, arguing that telling a genealogy can have an uncanny effect: It can disrupt our familiarity with the everyday world by revealing to us the embodied norms that structure our everyday activities. Once we recognize that our situation is structured by normative demands, we cannot simply let ourselves be carried along by found norms. Genealogies call on us to take responsibility for these norms and to practically transform the space in which we act.