This is not a Blog about “This is not a Pipe”


Today I’m going to start this post with the thought process of an over-tired graduate student during her initial study of Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.” (However, I promise this is not a blog about “This is not a pipe.)

  1. As she looks at the picture for the first time: “What do you mean it’s not a pipe? It is a pipe! It is! I have eyes and it’s a pipe!” Sigh
  2. As she looks at the picture the second time: “But why does the caption say it’s not? I’ve had a little French and I can read that it is says it is not a pipe, and if course it tells me in the title, duh.”
  3. As she continues to look at the picture: “Huh? The p’s look like pipes.”
  4. Silence. Silence. Silence.
  5. “Oh, I get it. It’s not a pipe; it’s a picture.” Heavy sigh.

Thus was my introduction to Foucault. A reaction not unlike many others, which Foucault explains in his piece, although I’m not sure explain is the right word. (Did anyone find a definition for isotopism? I finally decided that it must be related to isotopes. Good thing I know a little science?????)

But as I said in the title, this is not a blog about Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.”  This is a blog about Foucault and history. So, let’s move on.

Foucault, and at least many historians, did not always see eye to eye. Foucault’s approach to history, his methodology, went from, according to Patricia O’Brien in “Michel Foucault’s History of Culture,” “‘nonreception’ through ‘confrontation’ to a limited and tenuous ‘assimilation.’ (28)

So, why did historians receive his work with such reservations? I am going to let him talk for himself, something he sometimes did as well in his work, limiting his commentary to an opening page.

He believed that, “The study of modes of problemization (that is, of what is neither an anthropological constant nor a chronological variation) is thus the way to analyze questions of general import in their historically unique form. (What is Englightment?)”

Foucault believed in a historical method based on finding “problems” in history. He looked for places where there were reversals, differences, “recognizing and juxtaposing differences in search of the manifestations of power that permeate all social relationships. (O’Brien, 38) An example might be the difference between crime and the law. Also central to his investigation was discourse. He said, “My general theme is not society, it is true/false discourse” (O’Brien, 36).

His methods were a great departure from the social history predominate at his time.

Now, I must say, that while I found his essay “Discipline and Punish, Panopticism” and his ideas of surveillance and the power that is pervasive in society interesting, I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan of Foucault. There I said it. All the Foucault lovers of the world, you don’t need to try to convert me.

Now this was a blog that was essentially not a blog about “This is not a pipe.” It was a blog about Foucault and history. Or was it…..



Well to me, it’s just a blog about a graduate student who was tricked by a picture of a pipe.


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6 Responses to This is not a Blog about “This is not a Pipe”

  1. Laura


    Although I generally find Foucault’s work interesting, I agree that “This is Not a Pipe” was just not my cup of tea. And in some ways, although I like some of Foucault’s ideas, I can understand why historians were reluctant to accept him into the field of history. Particularly when Foucault himself seemed so against the idea and consistently argued that he did not see himself as a historian, either. So, why do historians still remain so heavily invested in his work? While I can appreciate a great deal of his ideas and methods, I often find myself asking that question, particularly when so many are confused by his writings. Why is Foucault so revered? Why did historians continue to argue for his “initiation” into the field when he himself didn’t particularly want to be a historian? Perhaps the world may never know…

  2. saraevenson

    Faith, I can just hear you having that conversation! It never occurred to me that the pipe wasn’t actually a pipe because it was a picture–that’s such fun! I had assumed it wasn’t a pipe because we can’t appropriately label objects or artifacts without adding our meaning onto it. But, then, I suppose this is another example of how we each approach things with our own pre-formed and inescapable assumptions.

  3. Kevin "Tiny" Dawson

    Well, I still think it is a pipe, but after careful consideration and trying to take the advice of Dr. Nelson and others in the class; I am trying to look at Foucault’s writings in little bite sized chunks. I realize that I know that this is a pipe (at least that is what I have been told is a pipe, but, as David and I discussed, if this were an artifact found in an archeological dig, would I just assume it was a pipe? What if it were a tool to aid in starting a fire? What if, what if, what if….? Foucault left me wondering if I had read too much into the articles or if I was just drowning in all of the theories he put forth….I am so looking forward to class this week to help digest what I read.

  4. Many of the members of the military from the photographs were actually in civilian outfits. Some were actually displayed putting on military uniforms beneath, suggesting they may have hastily disguised their selves as civilians to attempt to get away.

  5. tnx very good

    beneath, suggesting they may have hastily disguised their selves as civilians to attempt to get away.

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