Full Text


Steve Fuller

Subject History
Sociology of Family and Friendships » Sociology of Family

Key-Topics genealogy, identity

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The appeal to genealogy as a general historical method is usually attributed to Michel Foucault, who contrasted it with both teleology and his own preferred “archeology,” which suspends the search for causation altogether in favor of treating socio-epistemic structures (or epistèmes) as superimposed space-time strata, each of roughly coexistent events. (The palimpsest was thus Foucault's model for historiography.) Foucault's foil was Friedrich Nietzsche, whose Genealogy of Morals resurrected worries of legitimate lineage that had dominated the reproduction of social life prior to the constitution of the modern nation-state. Replacing traditional legal concerns that political succession might be based on fraudulent documents, Nietzsche argued that contemporary morality might rest on forgotten etymologies, whereby “obligations” turn out to be strategies for the weak to inflict a sense of guilt on the strong, simply for being stronger. Here Nietzsche was explicitly siding with the survivalist ethic of Social Darwinists against socialists who argued that the rich “owed” their success to the collaboration of the poor. A natural question to ask is what led Nietzsche to think that a defunct method for establishing right to rule should provide the basis for a deep understanding of society. Here the appeal to biology is crucial. Ernst Haeckel, Darwin's staunchest German defender, famously ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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