The Paths of Genealogy. The Use of History for Life in Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben.

  • van B. Boxtel

Student thesis: Master's Thesis: Humanistic Studies


Genealogy is a form of philosophical investigation, that reconstructs the formation of concepts and practices and makes visible the power struggles that shaped them but have become obscured. The genealogical method is mostly associated with Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault but has become common throughout the field of philosophy and beyond. It often functions as a form of ‘negative critique’: it unmasks and problematizes certain notions, without itself making a normative commitment or formulating alternatives. Genealogy as negative critique runs the risk of becoming formulaic and superfluous: once one recognizes that history is filled with struggles for power and concepts have hidden beginnings, there seems little point in further genealogical research. I argue that the genealogical method has to become affirmative; which is to say, it has to offer some potential solutions rather than merely remaining descriptive. An affirmative genealogy would need some explicit normative orientation, which I argue could be found in the concept of life as developed by Giorgio Agamben. This thesis attempts to find the uses and limits of genealogy for life, by reconstructing the genealogical path through Nietzsche, Foucault and Agamben, and connecting it to their concepts of life. The concept of life as a normative orientation is present but underdeveloped in Nietzsche; seemingly absent in Foucault and at the centre of Agamben’s genealogy. Each chapter focuses upon one author; within each chapter, I ask what type of genealogy the respective author stands for. In the last chapter, I synthesize the findings in order to further conceptualize affirmative genealogy, one that in the final instant has an ethical orientation. I characterize Nietzsche’s genealogy as ‘agonistic’, Foucault’s as ‘critically descriptive’, and Agamben’s as ‘affirmative’. Further affirmative genealogies need to find a balance between their critical origins and affirmativity: the discovery of life as a normative orientation is a crucial step in this regard.
Date of Award1 Jan 2019
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorF. Suárez Müller (Supervisor) & G. J. J. Biesta (Supervisor)

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