• Open Insights: An interview with Maurice Erb, Simon Ganahl and Patrick Kilian

    Posted by Paula Clemente Vega on 2018-12-17


Le foucaldien: Open access, Interdisciplinary Research and Multilingual Publishing, Challenges and Opportunities.

An Open Insights interview with Maurice Erb, Simon Ganahl and Patrick Kilian




Maurice Erb, Simon Ganahl and Patrick Kilian (University of Zurich) are editors of Le foucaldien, an open access, multi-lingual, and transnational interdisciplinary journal dedicated to research along the lines of the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926–1984). The journal is hosted by the Open Library of Humanities and is a spin-off from the academic weblog foucaultblog, which was founded by a group of humanities scholars at the University of Zurich in 2013.

  

Hello Maurice, Patrick and Simon. Thank you for agreeing to talk with us about Le foucaldien. Can you please talk about the history, the idea and the concept behind the journal?

First off, thanks for having us. Le foucaldien started in 2013 as the foucaultblog hosted at the University of Zurich. The blog was initiated by an interdisciplinary group of humanities scholars around the historian Philipp Sarasin. Over the years, the blog evolved more and more into an actual online journal: we started publishing full-length and in-depth research papers instead of only short blog posts, added journal-like features such as extended and hyperlinked footnotes, DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers), organized conferences and put together themed special issues. Eventually, in 2015, we felt that we were ready for the next step and decided to transform the foucaultblog into Le foucaldien

The conceptual idea behind Le foucaldien is explicitly not to celebrate the philosopher Michel Foucault and to engage in the nostalgic business of academic hagiography. Instead we are aiming for fresh and interdisciplinary research along Foucauldian lines. 

The conceptual idea behind Le foucaldien is explicitly not to celebrate the philosopher Michel Foucault and to engage in the nostalgic business of academic hagiography. Instead we are aiming for fresh and interdisciplinary research along Foucauldian lines. It’s all about thinking with, against and beyond Foucault’s work and challenging his ideas with more recent approaches as formulated in research fields such as media studies, digital humanities, postcolonialism, science and technology studies, new materialism and so on. 

How does Le foucaldien fit within the scope of the open platform foucaultblog? How do they complement each other?

With the launch of Le foucaldien as a peer-reviewed open access journal, we also reconfigured the foucaultblog by transforming it into an associated platform designated for the publication of more experimental and essayistic texts, short pieces and announcements as well as multimedia formats like audio presentations. 

What is unique about your journal is its interdisciplinary approach, which you examine throughout the intersections of Foucault’s work with media studies, digital humanities, postcolonialism, new materialism and science and technology studies. What are the possibilities and challenges of this interdisciplinary approach? How does open access fit within it? 

Interdisciplinarity really is a personal matter to us. As editors, we have different backgrounds in media and literary studies, history of knowledge, philosophy, and informatics. We are deeply convinced that thinking along Foucauldian lines necessarily implies an open-minded perspective and sympathy for different and unconventional approaches. When discussing the functioning of power structures, Foucault employed the French term dispositif, which he conceptualized as “a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble” and explicitly as “the network that can be established between these elements,” comprising “the said as much as the unsaid.” As editors of Le foucaldien, we believe that in order to understand such “heterogeneous ensembles,” we need highly diverse, interdisciplinary perspectives.

Open access is a perfect milieu for interdisciplinary approaches because it facilitates accessibility across traditional disciplinary boundaries. It also helps bringing together and establishing a diverse community and opening up new discussions

Open access is a perfect milieu for interdisciplinary approaches because it facilitates accessibility across traditional disciplinary boundaries. It also helps bringing together and establishing a diverse community and opening up new discussions. We consider open access not only as a digital project, but also as a concept for the ‘offline world’: in our annual workshops, we bring together scholars from different fields to discuss topics from various angles and viewpoints. Moreover, our events are open to the public and free of charge. 

It is interesting how you explore automated computing along Foucauldian lines in your special collection, ‘Algorithmic Governmentality’. Can you please talk more about this correlation between computer science and Foucault’s work?

We have been thinking about confronting Foucault’s work on surveillance and the so-called “panoptic society” with more recent forms of big data governmentality for some time now. The special collection on “Algorithmic Governmentality” goes back to a workshop that we organized in collaboration with the Belgian research project “Gouvernementalité algorithmique” at the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles in 2016. The idea was to frame the trajectory of today’s surveillance and governmentality structure in a Foucauldian mindset and to ask how automated computing, consumer-tracking and algorithmically built predictive models are shaping our current behaviour and forms of selfhood. 

We also published a special collection on “Distant Reading and Discourse Analysis,” which came out of a workshop we organized at the Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst in Vienna in 2015. By confronting Foucault’s work with the digital humanities methods of Stanford’s literature historian Franco Moretti, we wanted to ask whether “discourse analysis” can be seen as a form of analogue and pre-computer “pattern recognition”. That is to say, our aim is twofold: on the one hand, we want to use Foucault’s concepts to criticize and intervene against current practices of algorithmic regulation and big data transparency. On the other hand, we also want to ask to what extent Foucault’s own “tool-box” shares a mutual genealogy with these forms of knowledge. 

What do you understand by the transference of Foucauldian methods away from the direct study of Foucault?

There are still unsolved questions when it comes to the understanding of the formation of knowledge, the entanglement of scientific thought with political discourse, or the entwined genealogies of power structures.

As mentioned before, we don’t consider Le foucaldien as a platform for exegesis, although critical historicization has always been part of our agenda. We rather want to ask to what extend Foucauldian thinking and methods can provide fruitful inspiration to address well established as well as novel research programs. There are still unsolved questions when it comes to the understanding of the formation of knowledge, the entanglement of scientific thought with political discourse, or the entwined genealogies of power structures. However, we also want to focus on questions beyond classical topics of Foucauldian concepts such as media, technology, gender, and the emerging digital cultures that we are finding ourselves living in and struggling with. With our forthcoming special collection on the methodological encounter of Bruno Latour and Foucault, we also want to intervene into the highly political debate on the social construction of knowledge, the so-called “post-factual” society, and the presumed relativism of postmodernism. 

Going back to the journal, Le foucaldien publishes papers in English, German and French. What are the possibilities and challenges of multilingual publishing in the context of open access? Are you planning to incorporate more languages in the future?

Multilingual publishing is just as demanding (but also just as promising) as interdisciplinary research. In both cases, translational skills are required from the author to communicate as plain and accessible as possible. But the reader is also asked to be open and empathetic towards unfamiliar discourses and other languages. We also believe that Foucauldian research can profit a lot from bringing together the anglophone, the francophone and the germanophone communities. There are still national biases as well as priority themes in certain fields, which we aim to confront by providing a platform for bringing those research cultures closer together. 

What motivated your choice for open access through the Open Library of Humanities library partnership model?

When doing research to find possible collaborators and allies for our journal project, we quickly came across the Open Library of Humanities. What was most important for us besides the OLH’s great reputation with database indexing, digital sustainability and infrastructure, was the non-profit business model. We believe that academic publishing is at a crossroad right now. We can decide whether we want to keep on going with the large publishing-syndicates and support their profit-driven agendas, or whether we want science to be a free and openly accessible common. 

We believe that academic publishing is at a crossroad right now. We can decide whether we want to keep on going with the large publishing-syndicates and support their profit-driven agendas, or whether we want science to be a free and openly accessible common.   

There are other open-access models out there on the market that provide open access in exchange for so-called “article processing charges,” which is a model we find equally questionable. That is why we highly appreciate the Open Library of Humanity’s library partnership model, which 1. allows scholars to publish their work without having to collect money at their institutions, 2. enables peers as well as the public to access the publications from any place of the world (internet connection assumed), and 3. attempts to provide an alternative against the exploitative subscription deals offered by some scientific publishing companies.



Our thanks to Maurice, Simon and Patrick, and keep an eye out for more #EmpowOA Open Insights soon! 


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