Michel Foucault: Wikis


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Michel Foucault
Full name Michel Foucault
Born 15 October 1926
Poitiers, France
Died 25 June 1984 (aged 57)
Paris, France
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy, structuralism, post-structuralism
Main interests History of ideas, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy
Notable ideas "Archaeology", "genealogy", "episteme", "dispositif", "biopower", "governmentality", "disciplinary institution", panopticism

Michel Foucault (French pronunciation: [miʃɛl fuko]), born Paul-Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984), was a French philosopher, sociologist, and historian. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and also taught at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.

Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His work on power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse has been widely discussed. In the 1960s Foucault was associated with Structuralism, a movement from which he distanced himself. Foucault also rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels to which he was often later attributed, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity rooted in Kant. Foucault is particularly influenced by the work of Nietzsche; his "genealogy of knowledge" is a direct allusion to Nietzsche's genealogy of morals. In a late interview he definitively stated: "I am a Nietzschean."[1]

In 2007 Foucault was listed as the most cited intellectual in the humanities by The Times Higher Education Guide.[2]



Early life

Foucault was born on 15 October 1926 in Poitiers as Paul-Michel Foucault to a notable provincial family. His father, Paul Foucault, was an eminent surgeon and hoped his son would join him in the profession.[3] His early education was a mix of success and mediocrity until he attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas, where he excelled.[4][5] During this period, Poitiers was part of Vichy France and later came under German occupation. After World War II, Foucault was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure (rue d'Ulm), the traditional gateway to an academic career in the humanities in France.

The École Normale Supérieure

Foucault's personal life during the École Normale was difficult—he suffered from acute depression.[6] As a result, he was taken to see a psychiatrist. During this time, Foucault became fascinated with psychology. He earned a licence (degree equivalent to BA) in psychology, a very new qualification in France at the time, in addition to a degree in philosophy, in 1952. He was involved in the clinical arm of psychology, which exposed him to thinkers such as Ludwig Binswanger.

Foucault was a member of the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. He was inducted into the party by his mentor Louis Althusser, but soon became disillusioned with both the politics and the philosophy of the party.[7] Various people, such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, have reported that Foucault never actively participated in his cell, unlike many of his fellow party members.

Early career

Foucault failed at the agrégation in 1950 but took it again and succeeded the following year. After a brief period lecturing at the École Normale, he took up a position at the Université Lille Nord de France, where from 1953 to 1954 he taught psychology. In 1954 Foucault published his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalité, a work which he would later disavow. At this point, Foucault was not interested in a teaching career, and he undertook a lengthy exile from France. In 1954 he served France as a cultural delegate to the University of Uppsala in Sweden (a position arranged for him by Georges Dumézil, who was to become a friend and mentor). In 1958 Foucault left Uppsala and briefly held positions at Warsaw University and at the University of Hamburg.

Foucault returned to France in 1960 to complete his doctorate and take up a post in philosophy at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. There he met philosopher Daniel Defert, who would become his lover of twenty years.[8] In 1961 he earned his doctorate by submitting two theses (as is customary in France): a "major" thesis entitled Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Madness and Insanity: History of Madness in the Classical Age) and a "secondary" thesis which involved a translation of, and commentary on Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Folie et déraison (Madness and Insanity — published in an abridged edition in English as Madness and Civilization and finally published unabridged as "History of Madness" by Routledge in 2006) was extremely well-received. Foucault continued a vigorous publishing schedule. In 1963 he published Naissance de la Clinique (Birth of the Clinic), Raymond Roussel, and a reissue of his 1954 volume (now entitled Maladie mentale et psychologie or, in English, "Mental Illness and Psychology") which he would again disavow.

After Defert was posted to Tunisia for his military service, Foucault moved to a position at the University of Tunis in 1965. He published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things) during the height of interest in structuralism in 1966, and Foucault was quickly grouped with scholars such as Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes as the newest, latest wave of thinkers set to topple the existentialism popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. Foucault made a number of skeptical comments about Marxism, which outraged a number of left wing critics, but later firmly rejected the "structuralist" label.[9] He was still in Tunis during the May 1968 student riots, where he was profoundly affected by a local student revolt earlier in the same year. In the Autumn of 1968 he returned to France, where he published L'archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge) — a methodological response to his critics — in 1969.

Post-1968: as activist

In the aftermath of 1968, the French government created a new experimental university, Paris VIII, at Vincennes and appointed Foucault the first head of its philosophy department in December of that year.[10] Foucault appointed mostly young leftist academics (such as Judith Miller) whose radicalism provoked the Ministry of Education, who objected to the fact that many of the course titles contained the phrase "Marxist-Leninist," and who decreed that students from Vincennes would not be eligible to become secondary school teachers.[11] Foucault notoriously also joined students in occupying administration buildings and fighting with police.

Foucault's tenure at Vincennes was short-lived, as in 1970 he was elected to France's most prestigious academic body, the Collège de France, as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought. His political involvement increased, and his partner Defert joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault helped found the Prison Information Group (French: Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons or GIP) to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns. This coincided with Foucault's turn to the study of disciplinary institutions, with a book, Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), which "narrates" the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the eighteenth century, with a special focus on prisons and schools.

Later life

In the late 1970s, political activism in France tailed off with the disillusionment of many left wing intellectuals.[12] A number of young Maoists abandoned their beliefs to become the so-called New Philosophers, often citing Foucault as their major influence, a status about which Foucault had mixed feelings.[13] Foucault in this period embarked on a six-volume project The History of Sexuality, which he never completed. Its first volume was published in French as La Volonté de Savoir (1976), then in English as The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978). The second and third volumes did not appear for another eight years, and they surprised readers by their subject matter (classical Greek and Latin texts), approach and style, particularly Foucault's focus on the human subject, a concept that some mistakenly believed he had previously neglected.

Foucault began to spend more time in the United States, at the University at Buffalo (where he had lectured on his first ever visit to the United States in 1970) and especially at UC Berkeley. In 1975 he took LSD at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, later calling it the best experience of his life.[14]

In 1979 Foucault made two tours of Iran, undertaking extensive interviews with political protagonists in support of the new interim government established soon after the Iranian Revolution. His many essays on Iran, published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, only appeared in French in 1994 and then in English in 2005. These essays caused some controversy, with some commentators arguing that Foucault was insufficiently critical of the new regime.[15]

In the philosopher's later years, interpreters of Foucault's work attempted to engage with the problems presented by the fact that the late Foucault seemed in tension with the philosopher's earlier work. When this issue was raised in a 1982 interview, Foucault remarked "When people say, 'Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,' my answer is… [laughs] 'Well, do you think I have worked hard all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?'"[16] He refused to identify himself as a philosopher, historian, structuralist, or Marxist, maintaining that "The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning."[16] In a similar vein, he preferred not to claim that he was presenting a coherent and timeless block of knowledge; he rather desired his books "to be a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through to find a tool which they can use however they wish in their own area… I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers."[17]

In 1992 James Miller published a biography of Foucault that was greeted with controversy in part due to his claim that Foucault's experiences in the gay sadomasochism community during the time he taught at Berkely directly influenced his political and philosophical works [18]. Miller's book has largely been rebuked by Foucault scholars as being either simply misdirected,[19] a sordid reading of his life and works,[20] [21] or as a politically driven intentional misreading of Foucault's life and works.[22] [23]

Foucault died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris on 25 June, 1984. He was the first high-profile French personality who was reported to have AIDS. Little was known about the disease at the time[24] and there has been some controversy since.[25] In the front-page article of Le Monde announcing his death, there was no mention of AIDS, although it was implied that he died from a massive infection. Prior to his death, Foucault had destroyed most of his manuscripts, and in his will had prohibited the publication of what he might have overlooked.[18]


Madness and Civilization

The English edition of Madness and Civilization is an abridged version of Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, originally published in 1961. A full English translation titled The History of Madness has since been published by Routledge in 2006.[26] "Folie et deraison" originated as Foucault's doctoral dissertation;[27] this was Foucault's first major book, mostly written while he was the Director of the Maison de France in Sweden. It examines ideas, practices, institutions, art and literature relating to madness in Western history.[28]

Foucault begins his history in the Middle Ages, noting the social and physical exclusion of lepers.[28] He argues that with the gradual disappearance of leprosy, madness came to occupy this excluded position. The ship of fools in the 15th century is a literary version of one such exclusionary practice, namely that of sending mad people away in ships. In 17th century Europe, in a movement which Foucault famously describes as the Great Confinement, "unreasonable" members of the population were locked away and institutionalised.[29] In the eighteenth century, madness came to be seen as the reverse of Reason, and, finally, in the nineteenth century as mental illness.

Foucault also argues that madness was silenced by Reason, losing its power to signify the limits of social order and to point to the truth. He examines the rise of scientific and "humanitarian" treatments of the insane, notably at the hands of Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke who he suggests started the conceptualization of madness as 'mental illness'. He claims that these new treatments were in fact no less controlling than previous method. Pinel's treatment of the mad amounted to an extended aversion therapy, including such treatments as freezing showers and use of a straitjacket. In Foucault's view, this treatment amounted to repeated brutality until the pattern of judgment and punishment was internalized by the patient.

The Birth of the Clinic

Foucault's second major book, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical) was published in 1963 in France, and translated to English in 1973. Picking up from Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic traces the development of the medical profession, and specifically the institution of the clinique (translated as "clinic", but here largely referring to teaching hospitals). Its motif is the concept of the medical regard (translated by Alan Sheridan as "medical gaze"), traditionally limited to small, specialized institutions such as hospitals and prisons, but which Foucault examines as subjecting wider social spaces, governing the population en masse.[30]

Death and The Labyrinth

Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel was published in 1963, and translated into English in 1986. It is unique, being Foucault's only work on literature. For Foucault this was "by far the book I wrote most easily and with the greatest pleasure." Here, Foucault explores theory, criticism and psychology through the texts of Raymond Roussel, one of the fathers of experimental writing, whose work has been celebrated by the likes of Cocteau, Duchamp, Breton, Robbe-Grillet, Gide and Giacometti.

The Order of Things

Foucault's Les Mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines was published in 1966. It was translated into English and published by Pantheon Books in 1970 under the title The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Foucault had preferred L'Ordre des Choses for the original French title, but changed the title as there was already another book of this title. The work broadly aims to provide an anti-humanist excavation of the human sciences, such as sociology and psychology. The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sight-lines, hiddenness and appearance.[31] Then it develops its central thesis: all periods of history have possessed specific underlying conditions of truth that constituted what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period's episteme to another.[32] Foucault's Nietzschean critique of Enlightenment values in Les mots et les choses has been very influential to cultural history.[33] It is here Foucault's infamous claims that "man is only a recent invention" and that the "end of man" is at hand.[34] The book made Foucault a prominent intellectual figure in France.[35]

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Published in 1969, this volume was Foucault's main excursion into methodology, written as an appendix of sorts to Les Mots et les choses.[36] It makes references to Anglo-American analytical philosophy, particularly speech act theory.

Foucault directs his analysis toward the "statement" (énoncé), the basic unit of discourse. "Statement" has a very special meaning in the Archaeology: it denotes that which makes propositions, utterances, or speech acts meaningful. In contrast to classic structuralists, Foucault does not believe that the meaning of semantic elements is determined prior to their articulation.[37] In this understanding, statements themselves are not propositions, utterances, or speech acts. Rather, statements constitute a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and these rules are the preconditions for propositions, utterances, or speech acts to have meaning. However, statements are also 'events', because, like other rules, they appear at some time. Depending on whether or not it complies with these rules of meaning, a grammatically correct sentence may still lack meaning and, inversely, a grammatically incorrect sentence may still be meaningful. Statements depend on the conditions in which they emerge and exist within a field of discourse; the meaning of a statement is reliant on the succession of statements that precede and follow it.[37] Foucault aims his analysis towards a huge organised dispersion of statements, called discursive formations. Foucault reiterates that the analysis he is outlining is only one possible procedure, and that he is not seeking to displace other ways of analysing discourse or render them as invalid.

According to Dreyfus and Rabinow, Foucault not only brackets out issues of truth (cf. Husserl), he also brackets out issues of meaning.[38] Rather than looking for a deeper meaning underneath discourse or looking for the source of meaning in some transcendental subject, Foucault analyzes the discursive and practical conditions for the existence of truth and meaning. In order to show the principles of meaning and truth production in various discursive formations he details how truth claims emerge during various epochs on the basis of what was actually said and written during these periods of time. He particularly describes the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the 20th century. He strives to avoid all interpretation and to depart from the goals of hermeneutics. This does not mean that Foucault denounces truth and meaning, but just that truth and meaning depend on the historical discursive and practical means of truth and meaning production. For instance, although they were radically different during Enlightenment as opposed to Modernity, there were indeed meaning, truth and correct treatment of madness during both epochs (Madness and Civilization). This posture allows Foucault to denounce a priori concepts of the nature of the human subject and focus on the role of discursive practices in constituting subjectivity.

Dispensing with finding a deeper meaning behind discourse appears to lead Foucault toward structuralism. However, whereas structuralists search for homogeneity in a discursive entity, Foucault focuses on differences.[39] Instead of asking what constitutes the specificity of European thought he asks what constitutes the differences developed within it and over time. Therefore, as a historical method, he refuses to examine statements outside of their historical context: the discursive formation. The meaning of a statement depends on the general rules that characterise the discursive formation to which it belongs. A discursive formation continually generates new statements, and some of these usher in changes in the discursive formation that may or may not be adopted. Therefore, to describe a discursive formation, Foucault also focuses on expelled and forgotten discourses that never happen to change the discursive formation. Their difference to the dominant discourse also describe it. In this way one can describe specific systems that determine which types of statements emerge. In his Foucault (1986), Deleuze describes The Archaeology of Knowledge as "the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-practice of multiplicities."[40]

Discipline and Punish

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was translated into English in 1977, from the French Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, published in 1975. The book opens with a graphic description of the brutal public execution in 1757 of Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to kill Louis XV. Against this it juxtaposes a colourless prison timetable from just over 80 years later. Foucault then inquires how such a change in French society's punishment of convicts could have developed in such a short time. These are snapshots of two contrasting types of Foucault's "Technologies of Punishment." The first type, "Monarchical Punishment," involves the repression of the populace through brutal public displays of executions and torture. The second, "Disciplinary Punishment," is what Foucault says is practiced in the modern era. Disciplinary punishment gives "professionals" (psychologists, programme facilitators, parole officers, etc.) power over the prisoner, most notably in that the prisoner's length of stay depends on the professionals' judgment. Foucault goes on to argue that Disciplinary punishment leads to self-policing by the populace as opposed to brutal displays of authority from the Monarchical period.

Foucault also compares modern society with Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" design for prisons (which was unrealized in its original form, but nonetheless influential): in the Panopticon, a single guard can watch over many prisoners while the guard remains unseen. Ancient prisons have been replaced by clear and visible ones, but Foucault cautions that "visibility is a trap." It is through this visibility, Foucault writes, that modern society exercises its controlling systems of power and knowledge (terms which Foucault believed to be so fundamentally connected that he often combined them in a single hyphenated concept, "power-knowledge"). Increasing visibility leads to power located on an increasingly individualized level, shown by the possibility for institutions to track individuals throughout their lives. Foucault suggests that a "carceral continuum" runs through modern society, from the maximum security prison, through secure accommodation, probation, social workers, police, and teachers, to our everyday working and domestic lives. All are connected by the (witting or unwitting) supervision (surveillance, application of norms of acceptable behaviour) of some humans by others.

The History of Sexuality

Three volumes of The History of Sexuality were published before Foucault's death in 1984. The first and most referenced volume, The Will to Knowledge (previously known as An Introduction in English — Histoire de la sexualité, 1: la volonté de savoir in French) was published in France in 1976, and translated in 1977, focusing primarily on the last two centuries, and the functioning of sexuality as an analytics of power related to the emergence of a science of sexuality (scientia sexualis) and the emergence of biopower in the West.[41] In this volume he attacks the "repressive hypothesis," the widespread belief that we have "repressed" our natural sexual drives, particularly since the nineteenth century.[42] He proposes that what is thought of as "repression" of sexuality actually constituted sexuality as a core feature of human identities, and produced a proliferation of discourse on the subject.

The second two volumes, The Use of Pleasure (Histoire de la sexualite, II: l'usage des plaisirs) and The Care of the Self (Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi) dealt with the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity. Both were published in 1984, the year of Foucault's death, with the second volume being translated in 1985, and the third in 1986. In his lecture series from 1979 to 1980 Foucault extended his analysis of government to its 'wider sense of techniques and procedures designed to direct the behaviour of men', which involved a new consideration of the 'examination of conscience' and confession in early Christian literature. These themes of early Christian literature seemed to dominate Foucault's work, alongside his study of Greek and Roman literature, until the end of his life. However, Foucault's death left the work incomplete, and the planned fourth volume of his History of Sexuality on Christianity was never published. The fourth volume was to be entitled Confessions of the Flesh (Les aveux de la chair). The volume was almost complete before Foucault's death and a copy of it is privately held in the Foucault archive. It cannot be published under the restrictions of Foucault's estate.[43]


From 1970 until his death in 1984, from January to March of each year except 1977, Foucault gave a course of public lectures and seminars weekly at the Collège de France as the condition of his tenure as professor there. All these lectures were tape-recorded, and Foucault's transcripts also survive. In 1997 these lectures began to be published in French with six volumes having appeared so far. So far, six sets of lectures have appeared in English: Psychiatric Power 1973–1974, Abnormal 1974–1975, Society Must Be Defended 1975–1976, Security, Territory, Population 1977–1978, The Hermeneutics of the Subject 1981–1982 and The Birth of Biopolitics 1978-1979. Society Must Be Defended and Security, Territory, Population pursued an analysis of the broader relationship between security and biopolitics,[44] explicitly politicizing the question of the birth of man raised in The Order of Things.[45] In Security, Territory, Population, Foucault outlines his theory of governmentality, and demonstrates the distinction between sovereignty, discipline, and governmentality as distinct modalities of state power. He argues that governmental state power can be genealogically linked to the 17th century state philosophy of raison d'etat and, ultimately, to the medieval Christian 'pastoral' concept of power.[46] Notes of some of Foucault's lectures from University of California, Berkeley in 1983 have also appeared as Fearless Speech.


Certain theorists have questioned the extent to which Foucault may be regarded as an ethical 'neo-anarchist', the self-appointed architect of a "new politics of truth", or, to the contrary, a nihilistic and disobligating 'neo-functionalist'. Jean-Paul Sartre, in a review of The Order of Things, described the non-Marxist Foucault as "the last rampart of the bourgeoisie."[47]

Jürgen Habermas has described Foucault as a "crypto-normativist"; covertly reliant on the very Enlightenment principles he attempts to deconstruct. Central to this problem is the way in which Foucault seemingly attempts to remain both Kantian and Nietzschean in his approach:

Foucault discovers in Kant, as the first philosopher, an archer who aims his arrow at the heart of the most actual features of the present and so opens the discourse of modernity ... but Kant's philosophy of history, the speculation about a state of freedom, about world-citizenship and eternal peace, the interpretation of revolutionary enthusiasm as a sign of historical 'progress toward betterment' - must not each line provoke the scorn of Foucault, the theoretician of power? Has not history, under the stoic gaze of the archaeologist Foucault, frozen into an iceberg covered with the crystals of arbitrary formulations of discourse?

Habermas Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present 1984, [48]

Richard Rorty has argued that Foucault's so-called 'archaeology of knowledge' is fundamentally negative, and thus fails to adequately establish any 'new' theory of knowledge per se. Rather, Foucault simply provides a few valuable maxims regarding the reading of history:

As far as I can see, all he has to offer are brilliant redescriptions of the past, supplemented by helpful hints on how to avoid being trapped by old historiographical assumptions. These hints consist largely of saying: "do not look for progress or meaning in history; do not see the history of a given activity, of any segment of culture, as the development of rationality or of freedom; do not use any philosophical vocabulary to characterize the essence of such activity or the goal it serves; do not assume that the way this activity is presently conducted gives any clue to the goals it served in the past."

Rorty Foucault and Epistemology, 1986, [49]


See also


  1. ^ Nik Farrell Fox, The New Sartre: Explorations in Postmodernism, Continuum, via Google Books, pg 169.
  2. ^ "The most cited authors of books in the humanities". timeshighereducation.co.uk. 2009-03-26. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=405956&sectioncode=26. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  3. ^ Adams, Bert (2002). Contemporary Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press. p. 237. ISBN 0761987819. 
  4. ^ Smart, Barry (1994). Michel Foucault. New York: Routledge. p. 19. ISBN 0415088879. 
  5. ^ Dosse, François (1997). History of Structuralism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 148. ISBN 0816622418. 
  6. ^ Foucault, Michel (2006). History of Madness. New York: Routledge. p. V. ISBN 0415277019. 
  7. ^ Morris, Brian (1991). Western Conceptions of the Individual. Oxford: Berg. p. 428. ISBN 0854968016. 
  8. ^ Halperin, David (1997). Saint Foucault. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 214. ISBN 0195111273. 
  9. ^ Dosse, François (1997). History of Structuralism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 79. ISBN 0816623708. 
  10. ^ Hitchcock, Louise (2008). Theory for Classics. New York: Routledge. p. 124. ISBN 0415454972. 
  11. ^ Mills, Sara (2003). Michel Foucault. New York: Routledge. p. 18. ISBN 0415245699. 
  12. ^ Hazareesingh, Sudhir (1991). Intellectuals and the French Communist Party. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 166. ISBN 0198278705. 
  13. ^ Peter Dews, "The Nouvelle Philosophie and Foucault," Economy and Society 8(2) (May 1979), pp. 127-71.
  14. ^ David Macey (1995). The Lives of Michel Foucault: A Biography. Vintage. ISBN 0679757929. 
  15. ^ The Iran controversy is frequently discussed in the Foucault literature. See e.g. Eribon, Didier ((1989)1991). Michel Foucault. Harvard University Press.  Paul Veyne (2008). Foucault. Sa pensée, sa personne. Albin Michel. 
  16. ^ a b David Gauntlett. Media, Gender and Identity',' London: Routledge, 2002.
  17. ^ Michel Foucault (1974). 'Prisons et asiles dans le mécanisme du pouvoir' in Dits et Ecrits, t. II. Paris: Gallimard, 1994, pp. 523–4).
  18. ^ a b James Miller (1993). The Passion of Michel Foucault. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-255267-1. 
  19. ^ Scialabba, George. Review: "The Passion of Michel Foucault by James Miller." Boston Globe, 30 January, 1993.
  20. ^ Rubenstein,Diane 1995 Modern Fiction Studies 41.3-4 681-698
  21. ^ Ohayon, Ruth The French Review March 1997, Vol. 70, No. 4 pp. 605-606
  22. ^ Carrette, Jeremy R. Religion and culture By Michel Foucault [1]
  23. ^ Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: towards a gay hagiography [2]
  24. ^ "So Little Time: A year-by-year history of the AIDS epidemic". AIDS Education Global Information System. Retrieved on 4 February 2008.
  25. ^ O'Farrell, Claire. "Letter to The Times Literary Supplement (unpublished)". Letter written in 2002 in the context of a controversy over Foucault's death from AIDS. Retrieved on 04 February 2008.
  26. ^ Foucault, M., Khalfa, J., & Murphy, J. (2006). The History of Madness. New York: Routledge.
  27. ^ "Report from Mr. Canguilhem on the Manuscript Filed by Mr. Michel Foucault, Director of the Institut Francais of Hamburg, in Order to Obtain Permission to Print His Principal Thesis for the Doctor of Letters." In Arnold I. Davidson, ed., Foucault and his Interlocutors. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 1997, 23-7.
  28. ^ a b Torrey, E. (2001). The Invisible Plague. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. p. 303. ISBN 0813530032. 
  29. ^ Still, Arthur (1992). Rewriting the History of Madness. New York: Routledge. p. 119. ISBN 0415066549. 
  30. ^ Hardy, Anne (2006). The Western Medical Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0521475244. 
  31. ^ Gresle, Yvette. "Foucault's 'Las Meninas' and art-historical methods". Journal of Literary Studies, retrieved 01 December 2008.
  32. ^ Holub, Robert (1992). Crossing Borders. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 57. ISBN 0299132749. 
  33. ^ Chambon, Adrienne (1999). Reading Foucault for Social Work. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 023110717X. 
  34. ^ Hutcheon, Linda (1995). Irony's Edge. New York: Routledge. p. 123. ISBN 0415054532. 
  35. ^ Booker, Keith (1996). A Practical Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism. New York: Longman. p. 122. ISBN 0801317657. 
  36. ^ Smart, Barry (1994). Michel Foucault: Critical Assessments. New York: Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 0415088887. 
  37. ^ a b Gutting, Gary (1994). The Cambridge Companion to Foucault. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0521408873. 
  38. ^ Caputo, John. "Foucault and the Critique of Institutions". Pennsylvania State University Press, March, 2006. pp. 249-253. ISBN 0-2710-2966-8
  39. ^ Jones, Colin (1994). Reassessing Foucault. New York: Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 0415075424. 
  40. ^ Deleuze, Gilles (1986). Foucault. London: Althone. p. 14. ISBN 0826457800. 
  41. ^ Butler, Judith (1999). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 0415924995. 
  42. ^ Edmond, Rod (1988). Affairs of the Hearth. New York: Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 0415006562. 
  43. ^ Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault. ISBN 0-415-92362-X. 
  44. ^ Larner, Wendy (2004). Global Governmentality. New York: Routledge. p. 77. ISBN 0415311381. 
  45. ^ Crampton, Jeremy (2007). Space, Knowledge and Power. Ashgate Pub Co. p. 75. ISBN 0754646556. 
  46. ^ Hansen, Thomas (2001). States of Imagination. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0822327988. 
  47. ^ Sartre, Jean-Paul, in L'Arc no. 30, Oct. 1966, pp. 87-88.
  48. ^ Jürgen Habermas. Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present in Hoy, D (eds) 'Foucault: A critical reader' Basil Blackwell. Oxford, 1986.
  49. ^ Richard Rorty. Foucault and Epistemology in Hoy, D (eds) 'Foucault: A critical reader' Basil Blackwell. Oxford, 1986.

Further reading

  • Braver, Lee. A Thing of This World: a History of Continental Anti-Realism. Northwestern University Press: 2007. This study covers Foucault and his contribution to the history of Continental Anti-Realism.
  • Carrette, Jeremy R. (ed.). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault. (Routledge, 1999).
  • Cusset, Francois. (Translated by Jeff Fort) French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008)
  • Derrida, Jacques. Cogito and the History of Madness. In Alan Bass (tr.), Writing and Difference, pp. 31–63. (Chicago University Press, 1978).
  • Dillon, M. Foucault on Politics, Security and War, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  • Dreyfus, Herbert L. and Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd edition. (University of Chicago Press, 1983).
  • Eribon, Didier. Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (Duke University Press, 2004). The third part—about 150 pages of this book—is devoted to Foucault and a reinterpretation of his life and work.
  • Eribon, Didier. Michel Foucault (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1991). Considered in France, according to Le Monde, as the best biography of Foucault.
  • Flyvbjerg, Bent. ""Habermas and Foucault: Thinkers for Civil Society?", British Journal of Sociology, vol. 49, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 210-233.
  • Foucault, Michel. Sexual Morality and the Law (originally published as La loi de la pudeur), is the Chapter 16 of Politics, Philosophy, Culture (see “Notes”), pp. 271–285.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Anti-Oedipus. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).
  • Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford University Press, 1995).
  • Hoy, D. (Ed.). Foucault. (Oxford, Blackwell, 1986).
  • Hicks, Stephen R. C. Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Scholargy Publishing, 2004).
  • Isenberg, Bo. ”Habermas on Foucault. Critical remarks” (Acta Sociologica, Vol. 34 (1991), No. 4:299-308).
  • Macey, David. The Lives of Michel Foucault (London: Hutchison, 1993)—This is the most detailed biography of Foucault.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair (1990). Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Merquior, J. G. Foucault, University of California Press, 1987 (A critical view of Foucault's work)
  • Milchman, Alan (Ed.). "Foucault and Heidegger." Contradictions Vol. 16 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
  • Miller, James. The Passion of Michel Foucault (London: HarperCollins, 1993)—A number of scholars have expressed reservations in relation to some of the sensational claims made in this biography.
  • O'Farrell, Clare. Michel Foucault. (London: Sage, 2005). Includes a chronology of Foucault's life and times and an extensive list of key terms in Foucault's work which includes references to where these terms can be found in his work.
  • Olssen, M. Toward a Global Thin Community: Nietzsche, Foucault and the cosmopolitan commitment, Paradigm Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA, October 2009
  • Elisabeth Roudinesco, Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, Columbia University Press, New York, 2008.
  • Smart, B. Foucault. (Chichester, Ellis Horwood, 1985).
  • Veyne, Paul. Foucault. Sa pensée, sa personne. (Paris: Albin Michel, 2008).
  • Wolin, Richard. Telos 67, Foucault's Aesthetic Decisionism. New York: Telos Press Ltd., Spring 1987. (Telos Press).

External links

General sites (updated regularly)


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Michel Foucault (15 October 192625 June 1984), French philosopher and historian, professor at the Collège de France (Histoire des systèmes de pensée) from 1970 until his death in 1984, revolutionized the academic study of the history of medicine, sexuality, penality, the liberal state and classical ethics. Subsidiary contributions to the philosophy of language and aesthetics.



  • Quand j’étudie les mécanismes de pouvoir, j’essaie d’étudier leur spécificité… Je n’admets ni la notion de maîtrise ni l’universalité de la loi. Au contraire, je m’attache à saisir des mécanismes d’exercise effectif de pouvoir ; et je le fais parce que ceux qui sont insérés dans ces relations de pouvoir, qui y sont impliqués peuvent, dans leurs actions, dans leur résistance et leur rébellion, leur échapper, les transformer, bref, ne plus être soumis. Et si je ne dis pas ce qu’il faut faire, ce n’est pas parce que je crois qu’il n’y a rien à faire. Bien au contraire, je pense qu’il y a mille choses à faire, à inventer, à forger par ceux qui, reconnaissant les relations de pouvoir dans lesquelles ils sont impliqués, ont décidé de leur résister ou de leur échapper. De ce point de vue, toute ma recherche repose sur un postulat d’optimisme absolu. Je n’effectue pas mes analyses pour dire : voilà comment sont les choses, vous êtes piégés. Je ne dis ces choses que dans la mesure où je considère que cela permet de les transformer. Tout ce que je fais, je le fais pour que cela serve.
    • I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced. When I study the mechanisms of power, I try to study their specificity... I admit neither the notion of a master nor the universality of his law. On the contrary, I set out to grasp the mechanisms of the effective exercise of power; and I do this because those who are inserted in these relations of power, who are implicated therein, may, through their actions, their resistance, and their rebellion, escape them, transform them—in short, no longer submit to them. And if I do not say what ought to be done, it is not because I believe there is nothing to be done. Quite on the contrary, I think there are a thousand things to be done, to be invented, to be forged, by those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they are implicated, have decided to resist or escape them. From this point of view, my entire research rests upon the postulate of an absolute optimism. I do not undertake my analyses to say: look how things are, you are all trapped. I do not say such things except insofar as I consider this to permit some transformation of things. Everything I do, I do in order that it may be of use.
    • Dits et Écrits 1954–1988 (1976) Vol. II, 1976–1988 edited by Daniel Defert and François Ewald, p. 911-912
  • The soul is the prison of the body.
    • Discipline & Punish (1977) as translated by Alan Sheridan, p. 30
  • I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don't know what will be the end. My field is the history of thought. Man is a thinking being.
    • Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
  • I'm very proud that some people think that I'm a danger for the intellectual health of students. When people start thinking of health in intellectual activities, I think there is something wrong. In their opinion I am a dangerous man, since I am a crypto-Marxist, an irrationalist, a nihilist.
    • Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
  • When I was a student in the 1950s, I read Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty. When you feel an overwhelming influence, you try to open a window. Paradoxically enough, Heidegger is not very difficult for a Frenchman to understand. When every word is an enigma, you are in a not-too-bad position to understand Heidegger. Being and Time is difficult, but the more recent works are clearer. Nietzsche was a revelation to me. I felt that there was someone quite different from what I had been taught. I read him with a great passion and broke with my life, left my job in the asylum, left France: I had the feeling I had been trapped. Through Nietzsche, I had become a stranger to all that.
    • Truth, Power, Self : An Interview with Michel Foucault (25 October 1982)
  • Qui définit le moment où j'écris?
    • How to define the moment that I write?
    • "Un cours inedit" in Magazine littéraire (May 1984), page 34.
  • One can say that the author is an ideological product, since we represent him as the opposite of his historically real function. (When a historically given function is represented in a figure that inverts it, one has an ideological production.) The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.
    • "What is an author?" (1984)
  • There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than "politicians" think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them. Ideas do not rule the world. But it is because the world has ideas (and because it constantly produces them) that it is not passively ruled by those who are its leaders or those who would like to teach it, once and for all, what it must think.
    • As quoted in Michel Foucault (1991) by Didier Eribon, as translated by Betsy Wind, Harvard University Press, p. 282
  • There is object proof that homosexuality is more interesting than heterosexuality. It's that one knows a considerable number of heterosexuals who would wish to become homosexuals, whereas one knows very few homosexuals who would really like to become heterosexuals.
    • As quoted in Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) by Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon ISBN 041522974X
  • What all these people are doing is not aggressive; they are inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body — through the eroticization of the body. I think it's ... a creative enterprise, which has as one of its main features what I call the desexualization of pleasure.
    • In reference to Sadism and Masochism, as quoted in Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) by Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon

History of Sexuality (1976 - 1984)

Histoire de la sexualité
  • Homosexuality appears as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.
    • Vol I: La volonté de savoir
An Introduction. NY: Pantheon. Translated from French by Robert Hurley. Page 43
  • The most defenseless tenderness and the bloodiest of powers have a similar need of confession. Western man has become a confessing animal.
    • Vol. I, p. 59
  • Confession frees, but power reduces one to silence; truth does not belong to the order of power, but shares an origincal affinity with freedom: traditional themes in philosophy, which a political history of truth would have to overturn by showing that truth is not by nature free--nor error servile--but that its production is thoroughly imbued with relations of power. The confession is an example of this.
    • Vol. I, p. 60
  • L’important, c’est que le sexe n’ait pas été seulement affaire de sensation et de plaisir, de loi ou d’interdiction, mais aussi de vrai et de faux.
    • What is important is that sex was not only a question of sensation and pleasure, of law and interdiction, but also of the true and the false.
    • Vol. I, p. 76
  • The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and "psychic hermaphroditism" made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of "perversity"; but it also made possible the formation of a "reverse" discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or "naturality" be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.
    • Vol. I, p. 101
  • Par pouvoir… je n’entends pas un système général de domination exercée par un élément ou un groupe sur un autre, et dont les effets, par dérivations successives, traversaient le corps social tout entier… il me semble qu’il faut comprendre d’abord la multiplicité de rapports de force qui sont immanents au domaine où ils s’exercent, et sont constitutifs de leur organisation ; le jeu qui par voie de luttes et d’affrontements incessants les transforme, les renforce, les inverse ; les appuis que ces rapports de force trouvent les uns dans les autres, de manière à former chaîne ou système, ou, au contraire, les décalages, les contradictions qui les isolent les uns des autres ; les stratégies enfin dans lesquelles ils prennent effet, et dont le dessin général ou la cristallisation institutionnelle prennent corps dans les appareils étatiques, dans la formulation de la loi, dans les hégémonies sociales. La condition de possibilité du pouvoir… il ne fait pas la chercher dans l’existence première d’un point central, dans un foyer unique de souveraineté d’où rayonneraient des formes dérivées et descendantes ; induisent sans cesse, par leur inégalité, des états de pouvoir, mais toujours locaux et instables. Omniprésence du pouvoir : non point parce qu’il aurait le privilège de tout regrouper sous son invincible unité, mais parce qu’il se produit à chaque instant, en tout point, ou plutôt dans toute relation d’un point à un autre. Le pouvoir est partout ; ce n’est pas qu’il englobe tout, c’est qu’il vient de partout.
    • By power… I do not understand a general system of domination exercised by one element or one group over another, whose effects… traverse the entire body social… It seems to me that first what needs to be understood is the multiplicity of relations of force that are immanent to the domain wherein they are exercised, and that are constitutive of its organization; the game that through incessant struggle and confrontation transforms them, reinforces them, inverts them; the supports these relations of force find in each other, so as to form a chain or system, or, on the other hand, the gaps, the contradictions that isolate them from each other; in the end, the strategies in which they take effect, and whose general pattern or institutional crystallization is embodied in the mechanisms of the state, in the formulation of the law, in social hegemonies. The condition of possibility of power… should not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique space of sovereignty whence would radiate derivative and descendent forms; it is the moving base of relations of force that incessantly induce, by their inequality, states of power, but always local and unstable. Omnipresence of power: not at all because it regroups everything under its invincible unity, but because it is produced at every instant, at every point, or moreover in every relation between one point and another. Power is everywhere: not that it engulfs everything, but that it comes from everywhere.
    • Vol. I, p. 121-122.
  • Il y a des moments dans la vie où la question de savoir si on peut penser autrement qu’on ne pense et percevoir autrement qu’on ne voit est indispensable pour continuer à regarder ou à réfléchir… Qu’est-ce donc que la philosophie aujourd’hui… si elle ne consiste pas, au lieu de légitimer ce qu’on sait déjà, à entreprendre de savoir comment et jusqu’où il serait possible de penser autrement ?… L’ « essai »—qu’il faut entendre comme épreuve modificatrice de soi-même dans le jeu de la vérité et non comme appropriation simplificatrice d’autrui à des fins de communication—est le corps vivant de la philosophie, si du moins celle-ci est encore maintenant ce qu’elle était autrefois, c’est-à-dire une « ascèse », un exercice de soi, dans la pensée.
    • There are moments in life where the question of knowing whether one might think otherwise than one thinks and perceive otherwise than one sees is indispensable if one is to continue to observe or reflect… What is philosophy today… if it does not consist in, instead of legitimizing what we already know, undertaking to know how and how far it might be possible to think otherwise?… The ‘essay’ —which must be understood as a transforming test of oneself in the play of truth and not as a simplifying appropriation of someone else for the purpose of communication—is the living body of philosophy, if, at least, philosophy is today still what it was once, that is to say, an askesis, an exercise of the self, in thought.
    • Vol. II : L’usage des plaisirs p. 15-16.

Security, Population, Territory (2007)

  • Let us sin then, and sin to infinity.
    • 1st March 1978, Security, Population, Territory: Lectures at the Collège de France, 2007, Ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell

Quotes about Foucault

  • And now his own history has been written. What does one learn from these books? Chiefly that Foucault's relativistic outlook can be applied to Foucault himself. He used to say that the 19th century was to Marxism what water is to a fish. Increasingly his own work makes sense only when seen as a product of the Sixties. Not that Foucault would have denied this. He never suggested that he wasn't an interested being too. But one should ask of a body of philosophical work that it has a longer shelf life than a couple of decades. Nine years after his death his achievements, such as they are, are so much historical jetsam, their final worth little more than sweet Foucault.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926June 25, 1984) was a French philosopher and historian from France. He wrote about many topics, and influenced many other thinkers.

Foucault studied institutions such as psychiatric wards, hospitals, schools, and prisons, to figure out how they affected the people living in them. He also studied the history of sexuality and, later in his life, wrote about homosexuality.

He is often called a postmodernist or post-structuralist philosopher. Some philosophers claim that some of his ideas were influenced by existentialism. However, Foucault rejected all of these labels.


Early life

Foucault was born in 1926 in Poitiers, France. His father, Paul Foucault, was a surgeon. He attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas. After World War II, Foucault studied at the École Normale Supérieure. While attending university, he became depressed, and tried to kill himself.

Foucault became very interested in psychology. He got a degree in philosophy and a degree in psychology. Foucault joined the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. He left the Communist Party because he was sad about all of the people that Stalin was killing in the Soviet Union.

University professor

In the early 1950s, he taught at the École Normale. Then he began teaching psychology at the University of Lille. In 1954 Foucault published his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalité. In the mid-1950s, he worked at Warsaw University and at the University of Hamburg.

He returned to France in 1960 to become a philosophy professor at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. In the mid-1960s, Foucault moved with his male lover to Tunis (in North Africa), and got a job teaching at the University of Tunis. In 1966 he published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things), which was very popular. In 1968 he returned to France, where he published L'archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge).

In the late 1960s, after France had huge student protests and riots, the French government created a new experimental university at Vincennes. Foucault became the first head of its philosophy department. Foucault joined students in occupying administration buildings and fighting with police.

In 1970, Foucault became a Professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France. His political involvement now increased. His male lover Defert joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault then wrote Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), about prisons and schools.

Final years

In the late 1970s, Foucault wrote books about the history of sexuality. Foucault began to spend more time in the United States, at the University at Buffalo. In 1978 Foucault toured Iran to support the new revolutionary Islamic government. In San Francisco of the 1970s and early 1980s, Foucault participated in the gay scene, and engaged in anonymous gay sex and sadomasochism. Foucault died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris June 26th, 1984.

Translated writings

The major collections of Foucault's writing translated into English are:

  • Language, counter-memory, practice, , which was edited by Donald F. Bouchard (1977)
  • Power/Knowledge,, which was edited by Colin Gordon (1980)
  • The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow (1984)
  • Politics, Philosophy, Culture, edited by Lawrence D. Kritzman (1988)
  • Foucault Live (2nd Ed.), edited by Sylvère Lotringer (1996)
  • The Politics of Truth, edited by Sylvère Lotringer (1997)
  • Ethics : subjectivity and truth (Essential Works Vol. 1), edited by Paul Rabinow (1997)
  • Aesthetics, Method, Epistemology (Essential Works Vol.2), edited by James D. Faubion (1998)
  • Power (Essential Works Vol. 3), edited by James D. Faubion (2000)
  • The Essential Foucault, edited by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (2003)

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