On Critical Genealogy: An Answer to the Question “What Good Is Genealogy for Praxis?”

26 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2022

See all articles by Bernard E. Harcourt

Bernard E. Harcourt

Columbia University; Columbia University

Date Written: June 27, 2022

Abstract

“In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.” It is with those words of Goethe that Nietzsche opened his untimely meditations on the value of history.

Today, history has been eclipsed by the genealogical method, within critical circles. Foucault’s genealogical approach now dominates historically inflected critique.

But not all genealogical work today encourages praxis or directly invigorates our activity. In part because of its proliferation and now ubiquity, genealogy has essentially become what history was in the nineteenth century.

It is crucial now that we assess the value of genealogical critique. The proper metric against which to evaluate genealogical writings is whether they contribute to transforming ourselves, others, and society. In this essay, I propose that we use the term “critical genealogy” to identify those genealogical practices that nourish our activity and thereby advance the ambition of critical philosophy.

It is time, once again, that we test whether our historical critiques are productive or demobilizing. It is imperative that we knock on them to determine which are hollow and which are robust—which discourage and which nourish action. It is time, once again, that we do philosophy with a hammer.

Keywords: Genealogy, vindicatory genealogy, debunking genealogy, problematizing genealogy, problematization, possibilizing genealogy, critical genealogy, critical theory, critique, praxis, counter-conduct, history, abolition feminism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Angela Y. Davis, Giorgio Agamben

JEL Classification: Jurisprudence, Legal Theory, Political Theory, Law and Politics, Critical Theory

Suggested Citation

Harcourt, Bernard E., On Critical Genealogy: An Answer to the Question “What Good Is Genealogy for Praxis?” (June 27, 2022). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-706, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4147668 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4147668

Bernard E. Harcourt (Contact Author)

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Columbia University ( email )

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