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Foucault, Michel

Foucault, Michel 1926-1984

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher who wrote widely on the history of thought. His influences include philosophers of science, such as his mentor Georges Canguilhem, but also Maurice Blanchot and Friedrich Nietzsche, from whom he derived his influential methodological notion of genealogy. Though Foucaults oeuvre treats seemingly disparate historical topics ranging from psychiatry to structuralism and on from sexuality to liberalism, a concern with the issues of knowledge and power as they constellate around the formation of subjectivities forms a constant, discernible thread.

Foucaults first major works are studies of psychiatry and mental illness. In Madness and Civilization (1961), Foucault examined how madness, the classical age inverse of reason, was systematized into the modern psychological category of mental illness. The Birth of the Clinic (1963) marks the beginning of Foucaults archaeological period, and examines the development of the perceptive apparatus of modern medicine. His attention to clinical confinement is demonstrative of his concern with dividing practices that progressively split certain individuals off from the social body.

The subsequent Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), Foucaults only methodological treatise, draws on the broad-sweep historiographical innovations of the Annales School to elaborate discursive formations as an analytical frame. In his archaeology of structuralism, The Order of Things (1966), Foucault historicized these discursive structures into distinct epistemes, which serve as the condition of possibility for knowledge. Tracing epistemic transformations in thought from the classical to the modern age, Foucault scrutinized the rise of man as the subject of the human sciences.

In his later work, Foucault shifted his approach to a process he called genealogy, which explicitly linked his analyses of knowledge to social structures of power. He argued against a purely repressive notion of power, elaborating instead on his oft-quoted maxim that power is productive. In Discipline and Punish (1975), Foucault developed an explicit relationship between forms of knowledge of the body and the evolution of the modern prison system; disciplinary power, Foucault argued, arrays and organizes bodies into analytical space, producing a logic that generalized itself from its application in concrete technologies such as the nineteenth-century Panopticon penitentiary to the level of society. In the first volume of his three-part History of Sexuality (1976), Foucault characterized disciplinary power as an anatomo-politics that operates on the level of the body, and juxtaposed it to its complement, bio-politics, which functions on the level of a population whose life forces it seeks to optimize. These populations, Foucault argued, are constituted in part via discourses about sexuality. In the second two volumes of his History, The Use of Pleasure (1984), and The Care of the Self (1984), Foucault turned to the processes of self-constitution in Greek and Roman sexual practices. The planned fourth and fifth volumes of the series remained unwritten upon Foucaults premature death at the age of fifty-eight.

Foucaults activism often related to the themes of his work. He advocated for penal reform and gay rights, and was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement. In his interviews and lectures, particularly those delivered at the Collège de France from the 1970s to 1984, Foucault reformulated many of the themes of his books into analyses applicable to the contemporary political situation. He responded to the ascendance of neoliberalism in the 1970s by refining his concept of bio-politics into that of governmentality, a governmental rationality operating in the realm of political economy.

Several scholars argued with Foucault over issues of historical accuracy, while others have contended that his attempts to transcend reason as the grounds of the subjects constitution remain methodologically fettered because they presuppose the existence of that self-same subject. Nevertheless, Foucaults many anglophone interpreters have ensured the profound methodological and theoretical impact of his work in many disciplines, including anthropology, gender studies, history, literature, postcolonial studies, and sociology.

SEE ALSO Critical Theory; Habermas, Jürgen

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY WORKS

Foucault, Michel. [1961]. 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1963] 1994. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1966] 1994. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1969]. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, Michel. [1975] 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1976] 1990. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1984]. 1990. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. [1984]. 1988. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.

Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 19751976. Trans. David Macey. Ed. Arnold I. Davidson. New York: Picador.

SECONDARY WORKS

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Faubion, James D. 2000. Power: Essential Works of Foucault, 19541984. New York: New Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1985. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures. Trans. Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rabinow, Paul. 1984. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon.

Steiner, George. 1971. The Mandarin of the HourMichel Foucault. New York Times Book Review 8: 2331.

Stone, Lawrence. 1982. Madness. New York Review of Books 29 (20): 128136.

Krista Hegburg

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"Foucault, Michel." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

The French philosopher, critic, and historian Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was an original and creative thinker who made contributions to historiography and to understanding the forces that make history.

Michel Foucault was born on October 15, 1926, in Pottiers, France, the son of Paul (a doctor) and Anne (Malapert) Foucault. He studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure and at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, where he received his diploma in 1952. He served as director of the Institut Francais in Hamburg and held academic posts at the Universities of Clermont-Ferrand and Paris-Vincennes. In 1970 he became professor and chairman of the History of Systems of Thought at the College de France. A creative thinker, Foucault made substantial contributions to philosophy, history, literary criticism, and, specifically, to theoretical work in the human sciences. Often depicted as a "structuralist," a designation he disavowed, Foucault had something of a following among French intellectuals. He died from a neurological disorder on June 25, 1984, cutting short a brilliant career.

Foucault was known for tracing the development of Western civilization, particularly in its attitudes towards sexuality, madness, illness, and knowledge. His late works insisted that forms of discourse and institutional practices are implicated in the exercise of power. His works can be read as a new interpretation of power placing emphasis on what happens or is done and not on human agency—that is, he sought to explore the conditions that give rise to forms of discourse and knowledge. Foucault was particularly concerned with the rise of the modern stress on human self-consciousness and the image of the human as maker of history. He argued that the 20th century is marked by "the disappearance of man" because history is now seen as the product of objective forces and power relations limiting the need to make the human the focus of historical causation.

Throughout his studies Foucault developed and used what he called an "archeological method." This approach to history tries to uncover strata of relations and traces of culture in order to reconstruct the civilization in question. Foucault assumed that there were characteristic mechanisms throughout historical events, and therefore he developed his analysis by drawing on seemingly random sources. This gives Foucault's work an eclecticism rarely seen in modern historiography. His concern, however, was to isolate the defining characteristics of a period. In the Order of Things (1971) he claimed that "in any given culture and at any given moment there is only one episteme (system of knowledge) that defines the conditions of the possibility of all knowledge." The archeological method seeks to "dig up and display the archeological form or forms which would be common to all mental activity." These forms can then be traced throughout a culture and warrant the eclectic use of historical materials.

Foucault's archeological method entails a reconception of historical study by seeking to isolate the forms that are common to all mental activity in a period. Rather than seeking historical origins, continuities, and explanations for a historical period, Foucault constantly sought the epistemological gap or space unique to a particular period. He then tried to uncover the structures that render understandable the continuities of history. His form of social analysis challenged other thinkers to look at institutions, ideas, and events in new ways.

Foucault claimed that his interest was "to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects." By this he meant the way in which human beings are made the subjects of objectifying study and practices through knowledge, social norms, and sexuality. Thus he applied his archeological method to sexuality, insanity, history, and punishment. Just prior to his death, Concern for the Self, the third of his projected five volume History of Sexuality, was published in France. The first two volumes—The Will to know (published in English as The History of Sexuality Volume I, 1981) and The Use of Pleasure (1985)—explored the relation between morality and sexuality. Concern for the Self addresses the oppression of women by men. In these studies, as in his Discipline and Punish (1977) about the rise of penal institutions, Foucault isolated the institutions that are images of the episteme of modernity. His conclusion was that modernity is marked not by liberalization and freedom, but by the repression of sexuality and the "totalitarianism of the norm" in mass culture.

Foucault's work continues to have significance for historical, literary, and philosophical study. In his later years Foucault wrote and spoke extensively on varying topics ranging from language to the relations of knowledge and power. In the span of a short career Foucault had considerable impact on the intellectual world. Yet given the complexity, subtly, and eclecticism of his style, the full impact of his work has yet to be realized.

Further Reading

Foucault is included in Contemporary Authors (volumes 105,113). Obituaries can be found in Newsweek (July 9, 1984) and TIME (July 9, 1984). For helpful works on Foucault see Alan Sheridan, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth (Tavistock, 1980) and Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabbinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (1982).

Additional Sources

Macey, David, The lives of Michel Foucault: a biography, New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

Eribon, Didier, Michel Foucault, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. □

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Foucault, Michel

Foucault, Michel (1926–84) A controversial French post-structuralist philosopher, professor of ‘the history of systems of thought’, who had a pronounced (some say unfortunate) impact on sociology from the mid 1970s onwards. His work defies easy description and characterization. The one major intellectual influence on his work was probably Nietzsche.

The most straightforward way to approach Foucault's work is to read his case-studies of madness, medicine, prisons, and sexuality. In Madness and Civilization (1961), he charts the emergence of a world of reason and unreason, symbolized in the segregating asylum and the birth of psychiatry. The book spans the period that was Foucault's principal concern: the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Modern Period starting with the early nineteenth century. In The Birth of the Clinic (1963) he charts the shifts from the anatomo-classical method to modern scientific medicine. As ‘the gaze’ shifts from outside the body to inside it, medicine becomes the founding science of humanity, and the human being becomes an ‘object of positive knowledge’. In Discipline and Punish (1975) Foucault examines changes in penal regimes, the ‘micro-physics of power’ from the public execution of the classical era to the timetable of the modern prison, from the regulation of the body to the regulation of the soul. The strategies of confinement in the prison eventually become the model for the whole of modern society: a regime of observation, surveillance, classification, hierarchy, rules, discipline, and social control. The History of Sexuality (vol. i, 1976) was to appear in six volumes but was uncompleted at the time of Foucault's death. It is in this work that Foucault's much debated account of power is most clearly stated in the proposition that ‘discursive formations’ (structures of knowledge or epistemes) both constitute and exert power over social objects (including human bodies).

These four studies are probably the most accessible to students. However none can be seen as a straightforward history of progress. Rather, Foucault's aim is to demonstrate major shifts in the discourses through which such topics become constituted: to show how new ‘regimes of truth’ order our knowledge, our categorization systems, our beliefs, and our practices. Foucault's work therefore moves well beyond the case-study to broader theoretical speculations, about the organization of knowledge and power in the modern world, and the implications of particular discursive formations for social control (see especially The Archaeology of Knowledge, 1969, and The Order of Things, 1966
).

Foucault's writing has been described both as profoundly original and hopelessly opaque. It achieved enormous popular status and some of his studies became best-sellers. There has also developed a substantial industry of critical commentary and analysis. Alan Sheridan's Foucault: The Will to Truth (1980) provides probably the most systematic, sympathetic, and accessible overview of the literature. In 1991 the first of probably many biographies was published— Didier Eribon's Michel Foucault–which situates his life and ideas in their intellectual milieu.

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Foucault, Michel

Michel Foucault, 1926–84, French philosopher and historian. He was professor at the Collège de France (1970–84). He is renowned for historical studies that reveal the sometimes morally disturbing power relations inherent in social practices. Influenced by Nietzsche, he called these studies, such as Madness and Civilization (1961, tr. 1970), "genealogies." Foucault also analyzed systems of knowledge, i.e., individual disciplines in science, such as natural history and economics. He aimed through this "archeology" of knowledge to uncover the unconscious rules guiding such systems and thereby to understand their relations to one another. See his Archeology of Knowledge (1969, tr. 1972) and The Order of Things (1966, tr. 1970). In his last writings, including the History of Sexuality, vol. 2 (1984, tr. 1985), Foucault studied what he called "ethics," namely the self's relationship to itself.

See biography by D. Macey (1993); P. Rabinow, ed., Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1988 (1997–); H. L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault (1982); R. Michel, Foucault (1985); D. R. Shumway, Michel Foucault (1992); L. McNay, Foucault: A Critical Introduction (1994); C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (1995, repr. 2000); S. J. Hekman, ed., Feminist Interpretations of Michel Foucault (1996); C. Horroacks and Z. Jevtic, Introducing Foucault (1997); P. Barker, Michel Foucault: An Introduction (1998); A. L. Brown, On Foucault: A Critical Introduction (2000); G. Danaher et al., Understanding Foucault (2000); K. A. Robinson, Michel Foucault and the Freedom of Thought (2001); R. M. Strozier, Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity (2001); P. Veyne, Foucault: His Thought, His Character (2010).

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Foucault, Michel

Foucault, Michel (1926–84) French philosopher and social historian. Foucault was professor of the history of systems of thought at the Collège de France (1970–84). He examined the social and historical contexts of ideas and institutions, such as school, prison, police force and asylum. For Foucault (like Nietzsche), social scientific knowledge and power are inextricably linked. His main theme was how Western systems of knowledge (such as psychiatry) have changed humans into subjects. His works include Madness and Civilization (1961), Discipline and Punish (1975), and The Order of Things (1966).

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