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Reading Notes: Althusser and Hall, Tip-Toeing Toward Ambient Rhetoric

Several interesting take-aways from this week’s reading – although I will only focus on a few that really struck me as intriguing points of intersections. Indeed, I really seem to have more questions than connections this time around, and so … Continue reading

I’ll Just Spinuzzi My Way On Through_Mindmap




This week I focused on Clay Spinuzzi’s book, Tracing Genres, when adding nodes to my mindmap. For this round, I added four new nodes with connections out from three of them. The node I left relatively unconnected for now contained definitions for the three levels of analysis that Spinuzzi sets up: macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. The reason I left it unconnected here is that I want to create a separate Popplet that has major nodes with each of those levels and connections to examples and quotes that embody each level. I thought about doing that connection here, but my mindmap is getting more than a little complex.

One of the first quotes I chose is in regards what genes are and, in a way, what they are not: ”Genres are not simply text types;  they are culturally and historically grounded ways of ‘seeing and conceptualizing reality’… Genres are not discrete artifacts, but traditions of producing, using, and interpreting artifacts, traditions that make their way into the artifact as a ‘form-shaping ideology’” (Spinuzzi 41). This quote reminded me a lot of Bitzer’s consideration of rhetoric as a “mode of altering reality…by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action” (3). I thought this was really interesting because I had never really thought of genres as “culturally and historically grounded” and, when I did, it was only in passing and only as related to the Greeks with their apologies. It makes sense that as cultures change, rhetoric will take on different forms that are reshaped around people’s needs. It seems like genres are a way for us to impose order on the chaos of discourse, a way for us to see reality within boundaries or to define what we see as reality. Again, I am reminded of the medical forms analyzed by Popham. Those forms are not necessary to human survival in any way, but we give them meaning by imposing societal value on them; they become a discourse between us, our doctors, our insurance companies, and any others who are part of the process. As we are filling out the forms, we define ourselves as patients and allow others to see us as the same as well as bits of data. The political discourse around elections also seems to be its own kind of genre. As candidates go for whatever position, they and their supporters produce commercials, pamphlets, signs, and advertisements as a to define themselves as a political and public figure, reshaping themselves to fit images they believe would be most beneficial in gaining votes. Ballots also function as artifacts in the political genre and, when we vote, we are defining ourselves as voters and as citizens, but also allow us to see us as statistics (part of a majority or a minority), supporters or opponents, and so on. We don’t need politicians and politics for our basic survival, but we agree, more or less as a collective, that society would not function without such frameworks in place.

Um, haha, now that my tangent is over. The second quote I chose is one of my favorites: “Mirel argues that no matter how fine the grain, ‘knowing and learning take place in a dynamic system of people, practices, artifacts, communities, and institutional structures,’ and that such dynamic systems always coconstitute even the finest grain of human activity” (Spinuzzi 29). I like this because knowledge is communal and continual. Human activity is what creates history, literature, mathematics, music, visual arts, and other subjects, and then that knowledge moves forward (and sometimes gets left behind) to be presented to  younger generations who will imitate, react against, or build upon with other activities. I liked this quote with two quotes by Vatz – ”To the audience, events become meaningful only through their linguistic depiction” (157) and ”If…you view meaning as a consequence of rhetorical creation, your paramount concern will be how and by whom symbols create the reality to which people react” (158). I chose these two quotes because the idea of symbols and linguistic depictions are learned and emerge out of the collective knowledge. Meaning for us with events and rhetoric comes out of what we know and can identify. Hmm that sounded to abstract. What I mean is that I can recognize the meaning of something or learn the meaning of something by identifying it based on what I already know. For example, with the politicians I mentioned in the paragraph above. I can recognize and make meaning from their rhetorical choices because I know enough about the political system of the U.S. for their promises, their accusations against other candidates or the current system, and their proposals to make sense. These politicians and my understanding of them do not exist in a vacuum.

For the last quote I connected outwards, I chose two and combined them in a single node: “We can talk about genres mingling, merging, splitting, disintegrating, and being repurposed. Genre provides a way of lending dimension to the genetic aspects of given artifacts–to make connections among discrete artifacts that, on the surface, may bear little resemblance to each other” and “The genre embodies a galaxy of assumptions, strategies, and ideological orientations that the individual speaker may not recognize. It represents others’ ‘thinking out’ of problems whose dialogue has been preserved in genre” (Spinuzzi 42 and 43). I linked these two quotes to ones from Bitzer, Vatz, and Foucault, though I need to go back and link it to Popham as well. I could discuss why I chose Bitzer and Vatz, but I am instead going to use this space to talk about the quote I linked it to from Foucault, his enunciative level of formation in relation to the statement and the sentence. I’m paying more attention to this particular link because I am not sure if the connection is correct and wanted to unpack my own thinking. Foucault describes statements as “linked rather to a ‘referential’ that is made up…of laws of possibility, rules of existence for the objects that are named, designated, or described within it, and for the relations that are affirmed or denied in it. The referential of the statement forms the place, the condition, the field of emergence, the authority to differentiate between individuals or objects, states of things and relations that are brought into play by the statement itself; it defines the possibilities of appearance and delimitation of that which gives meaning to the sentence, a value of truth to the proposition” (91).  I feel like these statements are what composes “others’ ‘thinking out’” in the genre galaxy that Spinuzzi mentions and is that genres lend dimension to as they mingle and merge and split and disintegrate and even as they are repurposed. When a person constructs a statement, they may not recognize the possibilities, rules, and relations that are embedded within the referential of the statement, and this same thing seems to happen when a person puts forth a text (like a novel) and cannot completely see all of the different genre types that may be associated with his/her work.

To Soothe One’s Mind, Add a Violin:

Applying Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge to Google Analytics

 Introduction: A Brief Overview of Google Analytics

Google Analytics consists of two main components: Google-programmed Javascript code embedded on each page within a website “which collects and sends visitor activity to your Google Analytics account” (“How Analytics Impacts,” 2014) and the reporting mechanism connected to the Javascript code where visitor activity is collected and displayed at The data are sent to Google’s servers for storage via Internet, mediated by the networked hardware elements (switches, routers, fiber, etc.) of the Web.

A visit to a web page in which Google Analytics code is embedded activates the embedded snippet, generates data, and sends those data points to Analytics.

Code snippet sample (from

<script type="text/javascript">
 var _gaq = _gaq || [];
 // Main Site Account
 _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-xxxxxxx-1']);
 // Legacy Account
 _gaq.push(['l1._setAccount', 'UA-xxxxxxx-2']);
 //rollup account 
 _gaq.push(['rup._setAccount', 'UA-xxxxxxx-1']);
 _gaq.push(['rup._setDomainName', '']);

 (function() {
 var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
 ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '';
 var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

These data points include hundreds of characteristics of the visit, including page visited, time on site/time on page, referral sources, links selected to exit the site, and more. A visual representation of these data points is available below in Figure 1. All data points are recorded in Analytics at the instant of the visit (delayed or rerouted as needed by network hardware). The action of the visit generates these data points; once the visit has been recorded, there is no writing of data in Analytics until another set of data points is recorded via user interaction with content on the page.


Figure 1: Visualizing a sample Google Analytics data set—Popplet 

An active user interaction with the web page itself is required for Google Analytics to register data points. An important distinction is that web crawlers, like Google crawlers, are not recorded as visits; only visitor interactions trigger a response from the embedded code snippet. There is a direct relationship between the data being collected in Analytics and a user’s interaction. However, the user does not enter these data in a conscious or meaningful way; they are simply collected and inscribed to Analytics in a transparent fashion.

Data collected in Google Analytics are aggregated and, for the end user, not individualized. Analytics’ data privacy and security notes that individual user data may be collected, but not provided to the end user (the Analytics account owner, manager, or specialist): “Google Analytics customers are prohibited from sending personally identifiable information to Google, but this principle might not apply in some instances in which Google Analytics is used to to analyze how Google products and services are used by signed in account holders” (“We Use Our Own Products,” 2014). The end user is unable to re-constitute personally identifying information about visitors from the data provided.

However, the aggregated data are able to describe a nuanced portrait of our website visitors, to the point that multiple aggregate profiles are created. The data can help us answer questions about our website, like how many users access the site using a mobile device or tablet or how many pages in the site an average user visits. The answers to these questions, in turn, generate action items to customize web page content to user technologies and patterns of behavior.

Relationship to Foucault

Foucault sought to avoid transcribing discourse within traditional unities like genre or oeuvre; instead, he sought dynamic dispersions to describe the sum of component parts brought together for a specific exigence. “The rules of formation are conditions of existence (but also of coexistence, maintenance, modification, and disappearance) in a given discursive division” (p. 38). In Google Analytics, aggregated data contribute to a discursive monument (p. 139) that describes visits to the website, ostensibly for a specific exigence (e.g. to learn more about the School of Professional and Continuing Studies degree programs: see Figure 2).

Web page screen capture

Figure 2: Sample University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies degree programs web page

These data, when examined by the end user, help determine whether content or information architecture of the website needs to be revised (e.g. visitors are spending less time on one program page than on another – does this suggest content is more or less compelling on one page than another? See Figure 3).

google analytics screen capture

Figure 3: Exigencies that arise from reviewing Analytics data: Should we revise content in the /hr-management/ folder because average time on page was so much less than /education/ during last month?

This process describes what I might consider a double exigence. On one hand, a visitor’s exigency inscribes visit data in Google Analytics; on the other hand, the end user reviews aggregated visit data to answer questions about the content and/or structure of the website.

Discursive Formation 

There is a single moment, one that is likely measured in milliseconds, even nanoseconds, in which the result of a user’s concrete interaction on a specific web page is the inscription of data on an encrypted Google server containing our Google Analytics account. This moment describes the discursive formation of a statement. Within Analytics, there is no way to have predicted that irruptive moment would occur, as the moment involved a single independent individual having a single, concrete, specific interaction with a specific web page. There is also no way to repeat that exact irruptive moment or that exact discursive enunciation. Even if the individual were to visit that page again within 30 days, the statement would be described in terms of a repeat rather than new visit, likely resulting from selecting a local browser bookmark or conducting a different search. Its existence as an Analytics artifact would therefore differ from previous recorded visits. The statement is not a structural unity; rather, it’s a function of the user’s instantiated interaction with a web page. “This is because it [a statement] is not itself a unit, but a function that cuts across a domain of structures and possible unities, and which reveals them, with concrete contents, in time and space” (Foucault 2010/1972, p. 87). In fact, I can see the monument of that moment in time and space in Analytics (see Figure 3, above, for a visualization of aggregated moments over a month).

Nodes in the Network

Google Analytics defines nodes in its network in terms of metrics and dimensions. Metrics are “quantitative measurements of users, sessions and actions” and dimensions are “characteristics of users, their sessions and actions” (Google Analytics Academy, 2013). In the Popplet Figure 1 (above), “Referring Source” describes metrics and “Visitor Info” describes dimensions. To generate any relationship among metrics and dimensions, a visitor actively engages with a web page that contains embedded code. The visitor to the page, in this case, would be Foucault’s subject. Foucault describes discourse as being formed in the differential relationship among speaker, site, and subject’s relationship to the object (p. 55). Within Analytics, we can see these elements working together to generate a statement. The creator(s) of the web page, both its content and its embedded Analytics code, and the host of the web page, in physical and virtual space, act together as speaker. The speaker presents the page in question (the object) to the subject. The site is described in several different ways as the visitor interacts with the page: site is captured in dimensions that define user characteristics like amount of time spent on a page, browser type, platform, time of day, IP address of the visiting computer’s physical network, approximate geographic location of the visitor’s browser, and more. The subject’s relationship to the page (object) is captured by metrics that measure activity, including referring source (the link clicked or URL entered to arrive at the website in question). Metrics and dimensions work together as discursive formation that is collected in Analytics. Without a differentiated relationship (in which the subject is entering URLs, selecting links, or some other positivistic action that generates browser activity), no discursive content is collected.


Google Analytics is a Foucauldian archive of networked discourse. The discursive formation occurs the moment a subject follows or enters a web link. The active interaction of subject, object, and speaker/author/creator generates a discursive statement. That statement’s networked archive is inscribed as an assemblage of data points. A summary of those data points—in relationship to one another as metrics and dimensions and in relationship to subject, object, speaker, goals, and events—appears below in Figure 4.

Popplet screen capture

Figure 4: Google Analytics as networked archive of a discursive statement—Popplet

Agency and Flow

Google Analytics nodes are metrics and dimensions. These nodes have no agency of themselves. They are created and inscribed in the moment of visiting a web page.

However, Analytics requires agency at higher levels of the network hierarchy, in the differentiated relationship among speaker (page author, coder, and host), site (metrics and dimensions), and subject (visitor) relationship to the object (web page). Among these nodes (which are tangentially part of the Analytics network because the object contains the embedded Analytics code snippet), the subject is the agent that creates and sustains the network. As the result of a concrete action on a tracked web page, visit data are generated by the embedded code snippet and transmitted, via network hardware, to Google servers. At the same moment, a separate snippet of code is written to (or updated on) the subject’s browser cache (a cookie) that assists the tracking snippet in determining whether the visitor is new or returning to the page. User agency can erase the cookie, which may the dimension of new or returning visitor, and the user can determine whether to follow links, stay on the page, or follow an embedded event (like watching a video or reviewing a news feed). Agency and flow are largely “single bus” activities—they travel from the visitor to the Google server, but not directly back to the visitor. Some indirect agency can be found in the speaker (author and coder) in that results of metrics and dimensions analyses may include changes to web pages that become new again to the subject (visitor).

The Archive and the Archaeologist

As the person who has been granted administrative authority by our central website authority (Director of Web Services) to interact with data in Google Analytics, I have access to a vast (albeit potentially incomplete, given Google’s ownership of the archive itself) portion of the archive of discourse. Foucault describes an archive as the collection of discursive formations, a finite collection that does not point to some transcendent future or some ideal meaning. “The never completed, never wholly achieved uncovering of the archive forms the general horizon to which the description of discursive formations, the analysis of positivities, the mapping of the enunciative field belong” (p. 131). Analytics does not ascribe meaning to the discursive moment itself. Rather, it records the irruptive actions of the discursive formation as a collection of statements in an archive. As an administrative user, I can access that archive and recreate a visualization of discursive moments that occurred. They are inscribed in the metrics and dimensions recorded at the irruptive moment. At best, I can “dig into” the archived results to determine patterns of activity (metrics) and characteristics (dimensions). I and other users with access to some or all aspects of the Analytics account are archaeologists plumbing the depths of the archive.

Google Analytics visualizes flow by archiving the actions that generated flow, but Analytics data themselves are not in flow. They’re an archive of data generated via discourse. For lack of a better analogy, GA is a chapter book I can read that contains archived evidence of discourse. Those traces represent, but are not themselves, the discursive formations of statements.


Google Analytics is a networked archive and an archived network.

Networked archive: The archive is networked in that it collects interrelated data points and demonstrates the relationship among those data points using visualizations and aggregated data. Those relationships can be explored by someone with user access to the Google Analytics account. In this networked instant, my role as archive archaeologist activates the network, which otherwise represents little more than a collection of data points that, at the moment of web browsing, represented active discourse.

Archived network: The network is archived in that Google Analytics collects the network activity of subjects, objects, and creators/speakers—their discourses. The subject’s interaction with a web page results in discursive formation of statements; a sample statement is visualized in Figure 4 (above). A collection of such statements from a single subject is aggregated as a user session, which I would consider Foucault’s concept of a monument. A collection of those user sessions (monuments) in aggregate is the archive, and that’s what Analytics gives access to.


Original snippet: [...they are simply collected and inscribed to Analytics in a transparent fashion...]

“Transparent” probably isn’t the right term. If you’ve ever seen a page load delayed by a message at the bottom of the browser window that says something like “Loading,” you’ve encountered the code snippet at work, struggling through network latency to load the data to Google’s servers. [return]


Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Google Analytics Academy. (2013, October). Key metrics and dimensions defined [Video transcript]. Digital Analytics Fundamentals. Retrieved from

How Analytics impacts your website code. (2014). Retrieved 2014, 10 February from

We use our own products. (2014). Retrieved 2014, 10 February from

[“Rue Foucault”: Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user sarahstarkweather]

Genres, Boundaries, and Away We Go_Mindmap


For this week’s update of the mindmap, I added in two nodes, “Genre” and “Genre Boundaries,” and from there added in four quotes by Miller, Popham, and Bazerman. From these four quotes, I started finding connections between the quotes I had chosen in earlier readings. My first choice was from that of Carolyn Miller’s “Genre as Social Action” in regards to a kind of “principle of selection”:

“Because a classification sorts items on the basis of some set of similarities, the principle used for selecting similarities can tell us much about classification. A classification of discourse will be rhetorically sound if it contributes to an understanding of how discourse works—that is, if it reflects the rhetorical experience of the people who create and interpret the discourse. As Northrop Frye remarks, ‘The study of genres has to be founded on the study of convention.’ A useful principle of classification for discourse, then, should have some basis in the conventions of rhetorical practice, including the ways actual rhetors and audiences have of comprehending the discourse they use” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 152)

This idea of “selecting similarities” reminds me of Foucault’s “principle of exclusion” in that choices have to be made, but explores how are those objects, ideas, threads of  thoughts chosen? Why are certain objects privileged over others? The choices that we make tend to follow some degree of sameness, even if the criteria are unspoken or loosely conveyed. I also connected this quote to the contention between Bitzer and Vatz’s articles with the idea of when a rhetorical situation occurs and how much responsibility is placed on the rhetor for deciding which situation was important enough to become a rhetorical situation. As well, this quote from Miller and a quote Bazerman’s “Speech Acts”–“The analytical approach of this chapter [Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People”] relies on a series of concepts: social facts, speech acts, genres, genre systems, and activity systems. These concepts suggest how people using text create new realities of meaning, relation, and knowledge” (309)– had me connecting with Vatz’s comment: ”If…you view meaning as a consequence of rhetorical creation, your paramount concern will be how and by whom symbols create the reality to which people react” (158). The three quotes connect in how they take a nod towards actual people using rhetoric in different discourses, not just theoretical approaches.

As I connected those thoughts together, I began to think about how the readings we had done previously were forming a foundation for the readings about genre that we have started doing now. It was helpful that Miller especially seemed to build her argument off of Bitzer, so that I could see how later scholars were moving older arguments forward with them. One such instance is when Miller builds upon Bitzer’s discussion of how “comparable situations occur, prompting comparable responses” pointed in the direction of “genre studies” without using the word “genre”—“Thus, inaugurals, eulogies, courtroom speeches, and the like have conventional forms because they arise in situations with similar structures and elements and because rhetors respond in similar ways, having learned from precedent what is appropriate and what effects their actions are likely to have on other people” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 153). The conversation between Miller’s text and Popham’s went a long way in helping me to understand the idea of genres in regards to rhetorical situations, especially in revealing to me just how wide the variety of rhetorical genres there can be (like medical forms) and how fluid the boundaries between the genres can be.

What really interested me, and is something I want to explore further in my mindmap if I can, is Popham’s inclusion of Foucault observation of the relationships between disciplines: “As Foucault (1975/1979) pointed out, relationships between disciplines are frequently characterized by competition, tension, and hierarchies. Although we often think of disciplines as coresiding peacefully across campuses, in which disciplinary experts agreeably respect and support each other, such a utopian picture obviously cannot be widespread. Moreover, if we accept the theory that disciplines experience tension in their relationships with each other, tensions that can be better understood by looking at the disciplines involved, we may begin to explain why certain tensions exist within our society” (Popham 279). What I find fascinating is that each discipline uses rhetoric and rhetorical genres that both differ widely and overlap, and yet the disciplines still have greater tension among them. Popham’s example of the medical forms as a “boundary genre,” or a text that acts as a kind of boderlands among the rhetoric of the three disciplines of business, science, and medicine was great because it showed a concrete example of how rhetoric plays out on a mundane level, which served as a contrast to me over Vatz’s rhetorical situation and the example of Winston Churchill.

As we are currently reading Clay Spinuzzi’s book Tracing Genres, I think having the nodes “Genre” and “Genre Boundary” are going to be very useful in mapping out the way later works tackle the concepts of genre and the use of rhetoric.

For Every Boundary, There Must Be Music:

Reading Notes #2: Finishing Foucault (Parts III-V)

“Part III: The Statement and the Archive” Parts III-V of Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault focuses on breaking down the key element of discursive formation: the statement. The statement is “the atom of discourse” (80). He presents that the characteristics of the statement by explaining what statements are NOT. Statements are not logical propositions, sentences, or […]

Finishing Foucault: Week 2 Reading Notes

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Brief Summary

In the last sections of Archaeology, Foucault situates his methodology for historical analysis as archaeology by outlining a process for describing discourse. Foucault is careful to distinguish his method as different from a history of ideas (an approach which it closely resembles) by characterizing its distinct factors–primarily its reliance on description rather than a tracing of origins, intent, or meaning.

Describing discourse, Foucault posits, begins with describing statements, which are the most basic units of discourse. The concept of a statement as Foucault uses it is difficult to understand because of our previous associations of statements as sentences, linguistic constructions, or acts of speech (perhaps examples of the unities he persuades us to let go of in the first two sections of the book). Foucault’s statements, however, refer to something less concrete, something that is simultaneously visible and invisible–they serve as functions rather than as things. As such, they have no unifying rules, rather their rules of construction are constituted by the institutions, subjects, and fields (enunciated functions) by which they are formed.

The relations between statements, then, allow for discursive formations. Foucault is clear (or as clear as he can be) that his approach to historical (really, discourse in this situation) analysis is descriptive. This description is more concerned with statements’ conditions of existence, perseverance, and disappearance than it is with their signified meanings and subject intent (SparkNotes, p. 47).

Key Points with Discussion

In this section, I bring forward several of Foucault’s claims to support one discussion/example that helped me understand the approach a little better.

1. Foucault is insistent that we consider the subject not on an individual level but on a level with discourse (which, as we know, is the system of statements within an associated field). As such, the subject’s authority is based not on his/her own expertise, rather it is based on the expertise of his/her role in the field.

2. Foucault points to the importance of rarity for the archaeological approach. Rather than considering statements as frequent, common events, Foucault emphasizes recognizing the rarity of circumstances surrounding each statement. While the opportunities for statements are endless, each condition of emergence is unique.

3.  The principle of repeatable materiality explains that a set of signs can be repeated if its identity is based on non-material factors (such as grammar) but cannot be repeated if its identity is gained through material factors (such as institutions).

Something of a synthesis: These claims together help me understand how a concept can be both visible and invisible at the same time–how they serve as functions in discourse rather than as signifiers of meaning. For example, if we take the statement “mistakes were made” in two different scenarios, we’ll see how they maintain identity through the linguistic structure but not through the materiality of construction.

  • Scenario 1: Politicians frequently use the phrase “mistakes were made.” While my first inclination is to resort to why (the subject’s intent), Foucault’s approach asks us to describe the conditions in which the statement emerged. Why this statement and not another? How does it function in the situation? How does it differ temporally from one politician’s use of it to another’s?
  • Scenario 2: In order to teach passive voice to her ENG 101 students, an instructor uses the statement “mistakes were made.” Although I’ve already introduced intent (because it’s so hard not to!), asking the same questions above will produce different answers, thereby revealing a different set of conditions of emergence for the statement.

Key Terms:

I’m still having a difficult time articulating the terms, so I’ve pulled definitions from Foucault, SparkNotes, and a Michel Foucault website. Links to SparkNotes and the website are provided in the References Section.

Archaeology: “Archaeology is about examining the discursive traces and orders left by the past in order to write a ‘history of the present’. In other words archaeology is about looking at history as a way of understanding the processes that have led to what we are today” (O’Farrell).

Archive: “A particular level: that of a practice that causes a multiplicity of statements to emerge as so many regular events, as so many things to be dealt with and manipulated. [. . .] It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements” (Foucault, p. 130).

“Designates the collection of all material traces left behind by a particular historical period and culture. In examining these traces one can deduce the historical a priori of the period and then if one is looking at science, one can deduce the episteme of the period. None of these concepts has predictive value – they are all descriptions of limited historical orders” (O’Farrell).

Discontinuity: “challenges notions of cause, effect, progress, destiny, tradition and influence in history” (O’Farrell)

Discourse: “constituted by a group of sequences of signs, in so far as they are statements, that is, in so far as they can be assigned particular modalities of existence” (Foucault, p. 107)

“at the most basic level he uses the term to refer to the material verbal traces left by history. He also uses it to describe ‘a certain “way of speaking” (O’Farrell)

discourse is not just a set of articulated propositions, nor is it the trace of an otherwise hidden psychology, spirit, or encompassing historical idea; it is the set of relations within which all of these other factors gain their sense (their conditions of possibility). This argument is responsible both for the immense success of Foucault’s method and for the most persistent criticisms of it. The idea that discourse can be described in and of itself, not as a sign of what is known but as a precondition for knowledge, opens up limitless possibilities for showing that what we think we know is actually contingent on how we talk about it. (Sparknotes)

Discursive Formation: “A discursive formation [. . .] presents the principle of articulation between a series of discursive events and other series of events, transformations, mutations, and processes” (Foucault, p. 74).

“The discursive formation is roughly equivalent to a scientific discipline” (O’Farrell).

Discursive Practice: “This term refers to a historically and culturally specific set of rules for organizing and producing different forms of knowledge. It is not a matter of external determinations being imposed on people’s thought, rather it is a matter of rules which, a bit like the grammar of a language, allow certain statements to be made” (

Enunciation: “The discursive conditions under which (a statement) could be said, rather than the grammatical, propositional, or strictly material conditions under which it could be formulated. Thus, an enunciation always involves aposition from which something is said; this position is not defined by a psychology, but by its place within (and its effect on) a field of discourse in all its complexity” (Sparknotes, p. 13).

Enunciative Function:”Designates that aspect of language by which statements relate to other statements” (Sparknotes, p. 13).

Episteme: “Refers to the orderly ‘unconscious’ structures underlying the production of scientific knowledge in a particular time and place. It is the ‘epistemological field’ which forms the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place” (O’Farrell).

Historical a Priori: “This is the order underlying any given culture at any given period of history. Foucault also uses the phrase the ‘positive unconscious of knowledge’ to refer to the same idea. The episteme which describes scientific forms of knowledge is a subset of this” (O’Farrell).

Material Repeatability: “A defining characteristic of the statement. It is also a kind of paradox: if we identify a single statement solely on the basis of its specific material existence, that statement will never be truly repeatable (it will be a different statement with each new articulation); but if we identify a statement solely on the basis of what it ’means’ (i.e., its propositional content), that statement can be repeated ad infinitum, without regard to the differences in its material, time-space coordinates” (Sparknotes, p. 14).

Non-discursive Practices: “including ‘institutions, political events, economic practices and processes’ (p.162). He also argues that discourse does not underlie all cultural forms. Forms such as art and music are not discursive. He also notes: ‘there is nothing to be gained from describing this autonomous layer of discourses unless one can relate it to other layers, practices, institutions, social relations, political relations, and so on. It is that relationship which has always intrigued me’” (O’Farrell).

Statement: The most basic unit of discourse which does not, however, contains not basic unit. Rather than a thing, we can thing of a statement as a “unique method for the analysis of sets of signs” (Sparknotes, p. 45).

Subject: “The subject is an entity which is self-aware and capable of choosing how to act. Foucault was consistently opposed to nineteenth century and phenomenological notions of a universal and timeless subject which was at the source of how one made sense of the world, and which was the foundation of all thought and action. The problem with this conception of the subject according to Foucault and other thinkers in the 1960s, was that it fixed the status quo and attached people to specific identities that could never be changed” (O’Farrell).

Additional Resources

Outline of Archaeology of Knowledge: If you’re a person of linear thought like me, you’ll appreciate this detailed outline of the entire book. I appreciate that it breaks each section down into the primary concepts.

Summary by Section: This is an easy-to-understand summary by section.

Detailed Summary: This more detailed summary by SparkNotes also offers analysis for each chapter. Additionally, you can find explanations of key terms and concepts.

Network Archaeology: I don’t know if we’re ready to make these kinds of jumps, yet, but this could be an interesting site for us to look through. There may be resources for those working on digital networks.


Foucault, M. Archaeology of knowledge.

O’Farrell, C. (2013). Key concepts. Retrieved from

SparkNotes. (2002). Archaeology of knowledge. Retrieved from

Mindmapping: Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker

This week I started my Mindmap for the course, albeit reluctantly. I’m more of a list-maker and note-taker, and less of a mind-mapper. The squares and lines everywhere start to make me feel nervous, and I feel compelled to try to connect everything, and to expend energy worrying if I’ve put something in the “right” place. At least with Popplet I have the opportunity to (re)move a node or a section; the virtual format seems less permanent and more flexible than drawing it on paper, where my “mess” is more exposed.  I understand the value of these visualizations, though, and I’m willing to work on it all semester and see if I have additional learnings as a result of the format.

I began with “Rhetorical Situation,” since that seemed the obvious “big idea” that all three articles discussed (green popple). Then I found myself organizing around three main ideas: the status/stasis of the “situation” itself, what travels along the medium (of a network or a situation), and where meaning resides (red popples). The three authors had differing ideas about these three topics, so it allowed me to put them in juxtaposition and opposition. I also incorporated an idea from my “How Stuff Works” reading, which seemed to relate to Networking and to Rhetorical Situation conceived as a relationship among constituent parts. The “status/stasis” of the situation is where I discussed the idea of origin, which differs greatly among the authors: for Bitzer, the situation comes first, for Vatz, the speaker’s intentions, and for Biesecker, there is no origin, just a relationship among the various parts. In all cases, a response — discourse — is demanded, but for different reasons. Bitzer says the discourse must be “fitting” to respond appropriately to the situation. Vatz says the discourse is an act of creative interpretation by the speaker, who determines the salient information to fit his/her needs. Biesecker says that the discourse is what creates meaning itself, that the construction of the text articulates the reality from between and among the constituent parts (e.g. exigence, audience, constraints) and the multiplicity of possible meanings.

This Popplet is a “possibility of conceptuality” (Derrida) and now is the visible structure of the différance that makes signification — meaning — possible. It’s a constructed reality by a rhetor (me) whose creative act of interpretation and choice selection of salient facts is responding to an exigence (the assignment).