- Verena Erlenbusch-AndersonVerena Erlenbusch-AndersonDepartment of Philosophy, Syracuse University
- and Amy NighAmy NighDepartment of Philosophy, University of Memphis
In the everyday sense of the term, genealogy describes the study of ancestry and the tracing of a pedigree. As such, genealogy serves to follow the element in question to a singular origin which constitutes its source and guarantees its value. As a philosophical notion, however, genealogy is opposed to such tracing of a pedigree and instead describes the interrupted descent of a custom, practice, or idea, locates its multiple beginnings, and excavates the conditions under which it emerged. In this technical sense of the term, genealogy is a form of historico-philosophical analysis that mobilizes empirical material to uncover historically specific conditions under which the object under examination was able to emerge. Genealogy thus reverses customary explanations of objects of cultural history, according to which these objects are either necessary end points of historical development or results caused by some anthropological principle. Instead, genealogy reconstructs the history of their objectification—that is, of their contingent formation as an object of concern and intervention. Phenomena that are typically assumed to be the causes of certain practices, institutions, laws, norms, and so on are here revealed as effects of the very things they were thought to cause. The problems with which genealogy is concerned are historical formations that rely on and simultaneously make possible forms of knowledge, norms of behavior, and modes of being a subject. While the invention of genealogy in its technico-philosophical sense is usually attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, a genealogy of genealogy itself reveals its numerous beginnings in a wide range of discourses and practices that constitute its conditions of possibility.