In the preface to The Order of Things, Foucault delineates a methodology that seeks the trace the “pure experience of order” (xxi) as it has developed since the 16th century. Specifically he seeks to pursue “in what way […] language as it has been spoken, natural creatures as they have been perceived and grouped together, and exchanges as they have been practiced; in what way then our culture has made manifest the existence of order” (xxi; emphasis added). When read alongside the Spencer, Tylor and Malinowski, the stakes involved in Foucault’s project become immanently evident. Ordering, as an empirical or scientific practice, in the emergence of the social sciences in general and anthropology in particular, is inherently cultural: the scientific study of culture uses a culturally a priori order of things.
Returning to the Spencer, we can see almost see how his project is to prove the existence of a preexisting site where culture can be ordered. Articulated differently, Spencer wants to show that the order of culture – the “organization” of society – is the natural, undeniable order of things. Using an organic metaphor of ‘living being’, Spencer superimposes the organization of nature onto the organization of society. According to Spencer, “the principles of organization are the same” (16) between living bodies and society. And, the more complicated the living being the more complicated the society (of course English society, being the most highly evolved, is compared with the human brain). He even compares the recent development of communication technologies, specifically the telegraph wire, to nerve threads, arguing that the more closely connected the different “parts” of the living being, the more highly evolved. Savage or childlike societies are compared to simple living structures, mainly because neither possesses communication capacities, whether they are natural or man-made. In Spencer’s work, we can almost see the different rhetorical moves that he makes in order to naturalize the various “stages” of societal evolution that he is delineates. In retrospect, the ubiquity of the metaphor of the social body speaks to the overwhelming success of Spencer’s project.
While Spencer aims to delineate anthropology as scientific discipline through an organic analogy, Malinowski is attempting to draw the boundaries of the discipline of anthropology through a comparison of practices or as he terms it: “pragamatic performance” (10). For Malinowski, the “real meeting ground of all branches of anthropology is the scientific study of culture” (4; emphasis added). According to Malinowski all of the different ‘branches’ (note his arboreal imagery) can be understood as coalescing on (using Foucault ‘s term) the “common ground” (Foucault, xvi) of science, where science is defined as “the use of previous observation for the prediction of the future” (Malinowski, 8). Moreover, Malinowski locates this scientific ethos as present within “primitive knowledge” (9) such as fire-making, proving that science is the universal ground upon which all performances or practices are organized. By this logic, anything that is habit or tradition is inherently scientific, making anthropology an always-already scientific discipline. Malinowski is wary of projects that use metaphor (Spencer) to naturalize the social (14) and argues that his own “minimum definition” (14) presents anthropology as a discipline unto itself that does not need to lean on other ‘harder’ disciplines, which in Spencer’s case, would be biology or natural philosophy. I see Malinowski and Spencer, rhetorically, doing very similar things, Malinowski is just more aware the fact that he needs to erase his footprints.
Among the many interesting and problematic things/tropes/thematics/concepts that emerge from these readings, it might be fruitful to concentrate on the emergent biopolitical order in all of the readings; there is an underlying reliance on statistics as scientific data that I find troubling.