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A break from classical ways of thought took place at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. This discontinuity marked the beginning of the modern episteme in European thought and gave rise to the birth of the human sciences and the production , as an object of knowledge, of their subject, “man.”1 At this point and not before, a framework arose within which we could ask the question: Is famine man-made, or is it a natural disaster? At this point, too, a notion of generalized scarcity and the competition for resources in the face of a hostile nature arose. The epistemic shift, or the move to a new form of knowing, was accompanied by a shift to a modern type of politics: biopolitics. In an archaeo-genealogy of famine, I trace three shifts that bring modern famine into being. First, I examine how the modern scientific episteme of famine arose within a more general epistemic shift that brought the human sciences into being. Second, I analyze how modernity’s concern with scarcity and the Malthusian approach inform our specific views of famine and entail a separation of man and nature and how the story of prehistory that supports this view has recently been challenged. Finally, I consider the relation of the modern picture of famine to a specific view of the political as biopolitics. Michel Foucault examines the epistemic shift in The Order of Things. It is a shift that can be traced in a range of systems of thought. Foucault argues that it is a move from a practice of knowledge that 15 2 The Emergence of Famine in Modernity looks at representations and their order in a tabulation of events and their similarities to a practice that seeks explanations in terms of a hidden depth, “an interior mechanism”2 beneath the surface of representations . In other words, it is a practice of referring representations to something beyond themselves: The signs whose representations were affected, the analysis of identities and differences . . . the continuous, yet articulated, table that was set up in the teeming profusion of similitudes, the clearly defined order among the empirical multiplicities, none of these can henceforth be based solely upon the duplication of representation in relation to itself. From this event onwards . . . the relation of representation to itself , and the relations of order it becomes possible to determine apart from all quantitative forms of measurement, now pass through conditions exterior to the actuality of that representation itself.3 No longer can the analysis of the exchange of wealth consider the value of objects of desire in relation to other objects of desire; they are now considered in relation to the quantity of labor from which they are constituted—something external to the system of objects. Natural beings are no longer characterized in relation to their place among other natural beings in the overall scheme of things through a consideration of their visible attributes, but by reference to an invisible organic structure. The concept of an organic structure of living beings had existed before, but it had not been used as a basis for classification or ordering. In the study of language, the counterpart of this is found: “language no longer consists only of representations and of sounds. . . . It consists also of formal elements, grouped into a system, which impose upon the sounds, syllables and roots an organisation.”4 This move to a regime of truth is validated in a search beneath the surfaces of the visible for some organizing mechanism beyond and prior to representation is a move away from the thinking that constituted the classical age to a modern vision of what comprises knowledge and truth. We are still within this new episteme. Classical knowledge based on ordering was itself a break with a previous way of thought characterized by a reference to resemblance: an observance of relations of similitude. In the sixteenth century, knowledge consisted of a study of the inexhaustible hierarchy and infinite interplay of similitudes, drawing things together by seeking shared attributes. From the beginning of the seventeenth century, resemblances were 16 · the emergence of famine in modernity referred either to numerical measurement or a placing of elements in a finite and numerable order. Knowledge was concerned not with similitude but with establishing identities and discriminating differences .5 Previous beliefs based on resemblance were regarded as magical or superstitious, to be replaced by rationality and science. A modern history of ideas would regard this sequence of beliefs...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780816666195
Related ISBN
9780816635061
MARC Record
OCLC
741926440
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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