Michel Foucault



Michel Foucault (French: [miʃɛl fuko]; born Paul-Michel Foucault) (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984) was a French philosopher, social theorist, historian of ideas, and literary critic. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought", and lectured at both the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley. His philosophical theories addressed what power is and how it works, the manner in which it controls knowledge and vice versa, and how it is used a form of social control. Born into a middle-class family in Poitiers, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV and then the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed a keen interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, Madness and Civilization (1961), which explored the history of the mental institution in Europe. After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced two more significant publications, The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Order of Things (1966), which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, a theoretical movement in social anthropology from which he later distanced himself. From 1966 to 1968 he lectured at the University of Tunis in Tunisia before returning to France, where he involved himself in several protest movements and associated with far left groups.

He then proceeded to publish on the history of prison systems. His final work was the three-volume The History of Sexuality. Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by the HIV/AIDS virus; he was the first famous figure in France to have died from the virus, with his partner Daniel Defert founding the AIDS charity in his memory. He also rejected the poststructuralist and postmodernist labels later attributed to him, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity. Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, social anthropology of medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His writings on power, knowledge, and discourse have been widely influential in academic circles. His project was particularly influenced by Nietzsche, his "genealogy of knowledge" being a direct allusion to Nietzsche's "genealogy of morality". In an interview he stated: "I am a Nietzschean."

Some other major works of Foucault include: Death and the Labyrinth; The Archaeology of Knowledge; Discipline and Punish. In 1970 Foucault began a schedule of weekly public lectures and seminars during the first three months of each year at the Collège de France as the condition of his tenure as professor there. These continued each year except 1977 until his death in 1984. The lectures were tape-recorded and Foucault's notes also survive. In 1997 the lectures began to be published in French. Of the first nine volumes to be published, eight have been translated into English: Psychiatric Power 1973–1974, Abnormal 1974–1975, Society Must Be Defended 1975–1976, Security, Territory, Population 1977–1978, The Birth of Biopolitics 1978-1979, The Hermeneutics of the Subject 1981–1982, The Government of Self and Others 1982–1983, and The Courage of Truth 1983-1984. Foucault's discussions on power and discourse have inspired many critical theorists, who believe that Foucault's analysis of power structures could aid the struggle against inequality. They claim that through discourse analysis, power structures may be uncovered and questioned by way of analyzing the corresponding fields of knowledge through which they are legitimated. This is one of the ways that Foucault's work is linked to critical theory.

Foucault was listed as the most cited scholar in the humanities in 2007 by the ISI Web of Science.