Michel Foucault

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Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Name: Michel Foucault
Birth: October 15, 1926
Poitiers, France
Death: June 25 1984 (aged 57)
Paris, France
School/tradition: Continental philosophy
Structuralism · Post-structuralism
Main interests
History of ideas · Epistemology
Ethics · Political philosophy
Notable ideas
"Power" · "Archaeology"
"Genealogy" · "Episteme"
"Biopower" · "Governmentality"
"Disciplinary institution"
Influences Influenced
Nietzsche · Deleuze · Althusser
Kant · Canguilhem · Heidegger
Bataille · Blanchot · Sollers
Bachelard · Hyppolite · Dumézil
Marx · Hegel
Giorgio Agamben · Judith Butler
Homi K. Bhabha · Hamid Dabashi
Arnold Davidson · Gilles Deleuze
Hubert Dreyfus · Didier Eribon
Ian Hacking · Guy Hocquenghem
Paul Rabinow · Jacques Rancière
Edward Said · Hans Sluga
Michael Taussig

Michel Foucault (IPA pronunciation: [miˈʃɛl fuˈko]) (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984) was a French philosopher, historian and sociologist. He held a chair at the Collège de France, giving it the title "History of Systems of Thought," and taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

Michel Foucault is best known for his critical studies of various 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. Foucault's work on power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse, has been widely discussed and applied. Sometimes described as postmodernist or post-structuralist, in the 1960s he was more often associated with the structuralist movement. Foucault later distanced himself from structuralism and always rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels.


Early life

Foucault was born on October 15, 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. His early education was a mix of success and mediocrity until he attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas, where he excelled. During this period, Poitiers was part of Vichy France and later came under German occupation. After World War II, Foucault gained entry 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, and he was taken to see a psychiatrist. Because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, Foucault became fascinated with psychology. He earned a license (degree) in psychology, a very new qualification in France at the time, in addition to a degree in philosophy. He was involved in the clinical arm of psychology, which exposed him to thinkers such as Ludwig Binswanger.

Like many 'normaliens' , Foucault joined the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. He was inducted into the party by his mentor Louis Althusser. He left due to concerns about what was happening in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and 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 University of Lille, 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. It soon became apparent that Foucault was not interested in a teaching career, and he undertook a lengthy exile from France. In 1954 Foucault 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 for 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 Daniel Defert, with whom he lived in a non-monogamous partnership for the rest of his life. 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 — ironically 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. In 1966, he published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things), which was enormously popular despite its length and difficulty. This was during the height of interest in structuralism 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 he quickly tired of being labelled a 'structuralist'. He was still in Tunis during the May 1968 student rebellions, where he was profoundly affected by a local student revolt earlier in the same year. In the fall 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: Foucault the activist

In the aftermath of 1968, the French government created a new experimental university, Paris VIII, at Vincennes. Foucault became the first head of its philosophy department in December of that year and appointed mostly young leftist academics (such as Judith Miller) whose radicalism provoked the Ministry of Education to withdraw the department's accreditation. 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 now increased, Defert having joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault helped found the Prison Information Group (in French: Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons or GIP) to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns. This fed into a marked politicization of Foucault's work, 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.

The late Foucault

In the late 1970s, political activism in France tailed off with the disillusionment of many left wing militants. 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. Foucault in this period embarked on a six-volume project The History of Sexuality, which he was never to complete. Its first volume, The Will to Knowledge, was published in 1976. 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 subject, a concept 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 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.

Foucault died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris June 25, 1984. He was the first high profile French personality who was reported to have had AIDS. Very little was known about the disease at the time[1] and the event was mired in controversy [2] Prior to his death, Foucault had destroyed most of his manuscripts and in his will prohibited the publication of what he might have overlooked.[3]


Madness and Civilization (1961)

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[4]This was Foucault's first major book, 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.

Foucault begins his history in the Middle Ages, noting the social and physical exclusion of lepers. He argues that with the gradual disappearance of leprosy, madness came to occupy this excluded position. The ship of fools in the fifteenth century is a literary version of one such exclusionary practice, namely that of sending mad people away in ships. In seventeenth-century Europe, in a movement which Foucault famously describes as the Great Confinement, "unreasonable" members of the population were locked away and institutionalized. 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. He claims that these new treatments were in fact no less controlling than previous methods. Tuke's country retreat for the mad consisted of punishing the madmen until they learned to act "reasonably." Similarly, 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 (a concept which has garnered a lot of attention from English-language readers, due to Alan Sheridan's unusual translation, "medical gaze").

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 book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sightlines, hiddenness and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain 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.

Foucault's critique of Renaissance values in Les mots et les choses has been very influential to cultural history. The various consciousness shifts that he points out in the first chapters of the book have led several scholars to scrutinize the bases for knowledge in our present day as well as critiquing the projection of modern categories of knowledge onto subjects that remain intrinsically unintelligible, in spite of historical knowledge.

The Order of Things brought Foucault to prominence as an intellectual figure in France.

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Published in 1969, this volume was Foucault's main excursion into methodology. He wrote it in order to deal with the reception of Les Mots et les choses. It makes references to Anglo-American analytical philosophy, particularly speech act theory.

Foucault directs his analysis toward the "statement," the basic unit of discourse that he believes has been ignored up to this point. "Statement" is the English translation from French énoncé (that which is enunciated or expressed), which has a peculiar meaning for Foucault. "Énoncé" for Foucault means that which makes propositions, utterances, or speech acts meaningful. In this understanding, statements themselves are not propositions, utterances, or speech acts. Rather, statements create a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and it is these rules that are the preconditions for propositions, utterances, or speech acts to have meaning. Statements are also 'events'. Depending on whether or not they comply with the rules of meaning, a grammatically correct sentence may still lack meaning and inversely, an incorrect sentence may still be meaningful. Statements depend on the conditions in which they emerge and exist within a field of discourse. It is huge collections of statements, called discursive formations, toward which Foucault aims his analysis. It is important to note that Foucault reiterates that the analysis he is outlining is only one possible tactic, and that he is not seeking to displace other ways of analyzing discourse or render them as invalid.

Dispensing with finding a deeper meaning behind discourse would appear to lead Foucault toward structuralism. However, whereas structuralists search for homogeneity in a discursive entity, Foucault focuses on differences. Instead of asking what constitutes the specificity of European thought he asks what differences develop within it over time. Therefore, he refuses to examine statements outside of their role in the discursive formation, and he never examines possible statements that could have emerged from such a formation. His identity as a historian emerges here, as he is only interested in analyzing statements in their historical context. The whole of the system and its discursive rules determine the identity of the statement. But, a discursive formation continually generates new statements, and some of these usher in changes in the discursive formation that may or may not be realized. 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.

Discipline and Punish

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was translated to English in 1977, from the French Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, published in 1975.

Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, discussed in Discipline and Punish

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 colorless 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 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. The dark dungeon of pre-modernity has been replaced with the bright modern prison, 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. In this volume he attacks the "repressive hypothesis," the widespread belief that we have, particularly since the nineteenth century, "repressed" our natural sexual drives. He shows that what we think of as "repression" of sexuality actually constituted sexuality as a core feature of our 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 from AIDS-related causes 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.[5]


Power/Knowledge is a work by Foucault that explains his theory of how power is created and transferred throughout an "economy" of discourse (or conversation). It shows how power is transferred along conduits of dialogue according to the knowledge one has. Barry Allen says that it is only to have a statement pass among others as "known or true." Therefore, knowledge does not necessarily have to be true, but it only needs to be passed on as true for the statement to have an effect on the speakers in the discourse.


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, five 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 and The Hermeneutics of the Subject 1981–1982. Notes of Foucault's lectures from UC Berkeley has also appeared as Fearless Speech.

  • Society Must Be Defended (1975–1976)

In this course, Foucault analyzes the historical and political discourse of "race struggle."

  • Security, Territory, Population (1977-1978)

In this course, 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 seventeenth-century state philosophy of raison d'etat and, ultimately, to the medieval Christian 'pastoral' concept of power. His overriding goal in this lecture series is to argue that the state does not have as much salience as an analytical category as we all seem to think it does.


Terms coined or largely redefined by Foucault, as translated into English:

  • biopower/biopolitics
  • Disciplinary institutions
  • episteme (épistémé)
  • genealogy
  • governmentality
  • heterotopia
  • parrhesia
  • power
  • state racism
  • medical gaze
  • discourse

Foucault on age of consent

Michel Foucault has also had some participation in political life.

In 1977, while a Commission of the French Parliament discussed a change in the French Penal Code, he signed a petition, along with Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser, among others, asking for the abrogation of some articles of the law in order to decriminalize all consensual relations between adults and minors below the age of 15 (the age of consent in France).[6]

These ideas are expressed in his text Sexual Morality and the Law, chapter 16 of his book Politics, Philosophy, Culture—Interviews and other writings 1977–1984.

He believed that the penal system was replacing the punishment of criminal acts by the creation of the figure of an individual dangerous to society (regardless of any actual crime), and predicted that a society of dangers would come, where sexuality would be a kind of roaming danger, a “phantom.” He stressed that this would be possible thanks to the establishment of a “new medical power,” interested in profits coming from the treatment of this “dangerous individual”.[7]

Criticisms of Foucault

Many thinkers have criticized Foucault, including Charles Taylor, Noam Chomsky, Ivan Illich, Camille Paglia, Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Nancy Fraser, Pierre Bourdieu, Alasdair MacIntyre (1990), Richard Rorty, Slavoj _i_ek, William Irwin Thompson, and historian Hayden White, among others. While each of these thinkers takes issue with different aspects of Foucault's work, most share the orientation that Foucault rejects the values and philosophy associated with the Enlightenment while simultaneously secretly relying on them.[8] This criticism is developed, for example, in Derrida (1978). It is claimed that this failure either makes him dangerously nihilistic, or that he cannot be taken seriously in his disavowal of normative values because in fact his work ultimately presupposes them.

Foucault has also been criticized for his careless use of historical information with claims that he frequently misrepresented things, got his facts wrong, extrapolated from insufficient data, or simply made them up entirely. For example, some historians argue that what Foucault called the "Great Confinement" in Madness and Civilization did not in fact occur during the seventeenth century, but rather in the nineteenth century,[9] which casts doubt on Foucault's association of the confinement of madmen with the Age of Enlightenment.

Sociologist Andrew Scull argued that thousands of previously untranslated footnotes in Madness and Civilization reveal a very lax standard of scholarship in Foucault's work, "It is as though nearly a century of scholarly work had produced nothing of interest or value for Foucault’s project. What interested him, or shielded him, were selectively mined nineteenth-century sources of dubious provenance. Inevitably, this means that elaborate intellectual constructions are built on the shakiest of empirical foundations, and, not surprisingly, many turn out to be wrong."[10]

Madness and Civilization was also famously criticized by Jacques Derrida who took issue with Foucault's reading of René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. Derrida's criticism led to a break in their friendship and marked the beginning of a 15-year–long feud between the two. (At one point, in a 1983 interview with Paul Rabinow, Foucault seemed to criticize Derrida's reading of Plato's Phaedrus in Of Grammatology, considering the writing/speech distinction unimportant.) They eventually reconciled in the early 1980s.

There are also notable exchanges with Lawrence Stone and George Steiner on the subject of Foucault's historical accuracy, as well as a discussion with historian Jacques Leonard concerning Discipline and Punish. Sociologist Richard Hamilton also argues against Discipline and Punish, suggesting that large portions of the book are incoherent or invalid. For example, Foucault places great emphasis on Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, suggesting it is a model for the modern prison, but Hamilton notes that the panopticon was never built and only one extant prison uses that model. In the book, however, Foucault did not suggest that the Bentham's panopticon had been constructed, and did not suggest that prisons explicitly modeled themselves after it. He also expounds the relevant dangers associated with the abstract concept of the panopticon in his discussion of what he calls the "disciplinary society."

Foucault's changing viewpoint

The study of Foucault's thought is complicated because his ideas developed and changed over time. Just how they changed and at what levels is a matter of some dispute amongst scholars of his work. Some scholars argue that underneath the changes of subject matter there are certain themes that run through all of his work. But as David Gauntlett (2002) suggests:

Of course, there's nothing wrong with Foucault changing his approach; in a 1982 interview, he remarked that '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?"' (2000: 131). This attitude to his own work fits well with his theoretical approach—that knowledge should transform the self. When asked in another 1982 interview if he was a philosopher, historian, structuralist, or Marxist, Foucault replied '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' (Martin, 1988: 9).

David Gauntlett, Media, Gender and Identity, London: Routledge, 2002)

In a similar vein, Foucault preferred not to claim that he was presenting a coherent and timeless block of knowledge; rather, as he says:

I would like my 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 would like the little volume that I want to write on disciplinary systems to be useful to an educator, a warden, a magistrate, a conscientious objector. I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers.

Michel Foucault (1974), 'Prisons et asiles dans le mécanisme du pouvoir' in Dits et Ecrits, t. II. Paris: Gallimard, 1994, 523–524).

Intellectual contexts

Influences on Foucault's work

Thinkers whose work has apparently or admittedly had a strong impact on Foucault's thought include:

  • Louis Althusser — French structuralist Marxist philosopher and Foucault's sometime teacher and mentor.
  • Roland Barthes — French (post) structuralist literary critic who was at one time very close to Foucault.
  • Georges Bataille — French philosopher, novelist and critic whose views on transgression, communication, and sexuality were very influential in Foucault's work.
  • Maurice Blanchot — Literary critic and novelist whose views on non polemical critique had a strong impact on Foucault
  • Jorge Luis Borges — Argentine author of short stories frequently referred to in Foucault's Works
  • Georges Canguilhem — Author of The Normal and the Pathological and a major influence on Foucault's work on deviance and the medical sciences (cf. The Birth of the Clinic)
  • Gilles Deleuze — French philosopher. A great friend and ally of Foucault's in the early 1970s.
  • Georges Dumézil — French structuralist mythologist, known for his reconstruction of Indo-Aryan mythology.
  • Martin Heidegger — German philosopher whose influence was enormous in post-war France. Foucault rarely referred to him, but once stated 'For me Heidegger has always been the essential philosopher... My entire philosophical development was determined by my reading of Heidegger'.
  • Jean Hyppolite — French Hegel scholar and Foucault's sometime khâgne teacher.
  • Karl Marx — Marx's influence in French intellectual life was dominant from 1945 through to the late 1970s. Foucault often opposed aspects of Marxist ideology.
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty — French philosopher and sometime teacher of Foucault. Phenomenologist instrumental in popularising Saussure's structuralism for a philosophical audience.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche — German philosopher whose work greatly influenced Foucault's conception of society and power. Towards the end of his life, Foucault stated: "I am a Nietzschean."

Influence of Foucault's work

Foucault's work is frequently referred to in disciplines as diverse as art, philosophy, history, anthropology, geography, archaeology, communication studies, public relations, rhetoric, cultural studies, linguistics, sociology, education, psychology, literary theory, feminism, queer theory, management studies, the philosophy of science, political science urban design, museum studies, and many others. Quantitative evidence of the impact of his work can be found in the sheer volume of citations in standard academic journal indexes such as the Social Sciences Citation Index (more than 9,000 citations). A keyword search of the Library of Congress catalogue reveals over 750 volumes in a variety of languages relating to his writings, and a search on Google Scholar reveals thousands of citations.



Year Original French English Translation
1954 Maladie mentale et personnalité (Paris: PUF, 1954) re-edited as Maladie mentale et psychologie (1995) Mental Illness and Psychology trans. by A. M. Sheridan-Smith, (New York: Harper and Row, 1976. ISBN 0520059190 ISBN 9780520059191)
1961 Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique - Folie et déraison (Paris: Plon, 1961) Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason trans. by R. Howard, (London: Tavistock, 1965) - abridged; History of Madness ed. Jean Khalfa, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa, (London: Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0203642600 ISBN 9780203642603) - unabridged
1963 Naissance de la clinique - une archéologie du regard médical (Paris: PUF, 1963) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (New York, Pantheon Books, 1973. ISBN 0394483219 ISBN 9780394483214)
1963 Raymond Roussel (Paris: Gallimard, 1963) Death and the Labyrinth: the World of Raymond Roussel (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1986. ISBN 0385278543 ISBN 9780385278546)
1966 Les mots et les choses - une archéologie des sciences humaines (Paris: Gallimard, 1966) The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London : Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415267366 ISBN 9780415267366 ISBN 0415267374 ISBN 9780415267373)
1969 L'archéologie du savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1969) Archaeology of Knowledge (first three chapters available here. Retrieved November 24, 2007.) trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415287537 ISBN 978-0415287531)
1971 L'ordre du discours (Paris: Gallimard, 1971) "The Discourse on Language" translation appears as an appendix to the Archaeology of Knowledge trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1972), pp. 215-37
1975 Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York : Pantheon Books, 1977. ISBN 0394499425 ISBN 9780394499420)
1976–84 Histoire de la sexualité
  • Vol I: La Volonté de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976)
  • Vol II: L'Usage des plaisirs (Paris: Gallimard, 1984)
  • Vol III: Le Souci de soi (Paris: Gallimard, 1984)
The History of Sexuality

The Collège Courses

Year Original French English Translation
1997 1976–1977 Il faut défendre la société Society Must Be Defended
1999 1974–1975 Les anormaux The Abnormals
2001 1981–1982 L'herméneutique du sujet The Hermeneutics of the Subject
2003 1973–1974 Le pouvoir psychiatrique Psychiatric Power
2004 1977–1978 Sécurité, territoire, population Security, Territory, Population
2004 1978–1979 Naissance de la biopolitique The Birth of the Biopolitical
Forthcoming 1970–1971 La Volonté de Savoir The Will to Knowledge
Forthcoming 1971–1972 Theories de Institutions Penales Theories of Punishment
Forthcoming 1972–1973 La Société Punitive The Punitive Society
Forthcoming 1979–1980 De Gouvernement des Vivants The Government of Man
Forthcoming 1980–1981 Subjectivite et Vérité Subjectivity and Truth
Forthcoming 1982–1983 Le Gouvernement de Soi et des Autres The Government of Self and Others
Forthcoming 1983–1984 Le Courage de la Vérité The Courage of Truth

Collaborative works

Year Original French English Translation
1973 Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et mon frère (Gallimard) I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister and my Brother (Penguin, 1975. ISBN 0394493109 ISBN 9780394493107)
1978 Herculine Barbin dite Alexina B. (Gallimard, 1978) Herculine Barbin (New York: Pantheon, 1980. ISBN 0394508211 ISBN 9780394508214).
1982 Le Désordre des familles. Lettres de cachet with Arlette Farge (Gallimard) Not yet available in English

Other books

Year Original French English Translation
1973 "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" This is not a pipe (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983. ISBN 0520042328 ISBN 9780520042322 ISBN 0520049160 ISBN 9780520049161)
1980 Interview with Michel Foucault originally published in Italian, then in French in 1994 Remarks on Marx ( New York : Semiotext(e), 1991. ISBN 0936756330 ISBN 9780936756332)
2001 Berkeley lecture series, never published in French Fearless Speech [11]


In French, almost all of Foucault's shorter writings, published interviews and miscellany have been published in a collection called Dits et écrits, originally published in four volumes in 1994, latterly in only two volumes.

In English, there are a number of overlapping anthologies, which often use conflicting translations of the overlapping pieces, frequently with different titles. Richard Lynch's bibliography[12] of Foucault's shorter work is invaluable for keeping track of these multiple versions. The major collections in English are:

  • Language, counter-memory, practice, (Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977. ISBN 0801409799 ISBN 9780801409790)
  • Power/Knowledge, (Foucault, Michel, and Colin Gordon. Power - knowledge selected interviews and other writings ; 1972 - 1977. New York [u.a.]: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992. ISBN 085527557X ISBN 9780855275570)
  • The Foucault Reader, (Foucault, Michel, and Paul Rabinow. The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.)
  • Politics, Philosophy, Culture, (Foucault, Michel, and Lawrence D. Kritzman. Politics, Philosophy, Culture Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984. New York: Routledge, 1988. ISBN 0415900824 ISBN 9780415900829 ISBN 041601951X ISBN 9780416019513)
  • Foucault Live (Foucault, Michel, and Sylvère Lotringer. Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Semiotext(e) double agents series. New York, N.Y.: Semiotext(e), 1996. ISBN 157027018X ISBN 9781570270185)
  • The Politics of Truth, (Foucault, Michel, Sylvère Lotringer, and Lysa Hochroth. The Politics of Truth. Semiotext(e) foreign agents series. New York: Semiotext(e), 1997. ISBN 1570270279 ISBN 9781570270277)
  • Ethics : subjectivity and truth (Foucault, Michel. Ethics Subjectivity and Truth. New York: W W Norton, 1998. ISBN 1565844343 ISBN 9781565844346)
  • Aesthetics, Method, Epistemology (Foucault, Michel, and James D. Faubion. Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Essential works of Foucault, 1954-1984, v. 2. New York: New Press, 1998. ISBN 1565845587 ISBN 9781565845589)
  • Power (Foucault, Michel, and James D. Faubion. Power. New York: New Press, 2000. ISBN 156584257X ISBN 9781565842571 ISBN 1565847091 ISBN 9781565847095)
  • The Essential Foucault, eds. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (2003)


In a 1967 lecture, called in English either "Different spaces" or Of Other Spaces (reprinted in the Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology collection), Michel Foucault coined a novel concept of the heterotopia. See also Foucault's essay Of other spaces.[13]


  1. AIDS History, AEGIS. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
  2. Clare O'Farrell. Letter to The Times Literary Supplement (unpublished), Foucault Resources. February 2002. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
  3. James Miller (1993). The Passion of Michel Foucault. HarperCollins. ISBN 0002552671. 
  4. (A full translation titled The History of Madness has been published by Routledge : ISBN 0415277019)
  5. Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault. ISBN 041592362X. 
  6. Detlef Sigfried and Axel Schildt, Between Marx and Coca-cola: Youth Cultures in Changing European Societies. 251. Berghahn Books, 2006. ISBN 1845450094.
  7. Michel Foucault, edited by Lawrence D. Kritzman (1988). Politics, Philosophy, Culture – Interviews and other writings 1977-1984. ISBN 0415900824. 
  8. Foucault: A Critical Reader, Edited by David Hoy, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986
  9. Pierre Morel and Claude Quétel (1985). Les Médecines de la Folie. ISBN 2010112814. 
  10. Andrew Scull, "The Fictions of Foucault", Times Literary Supplement, March 21, 2007. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
  11. Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia. Six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley, Oct-Nov. 1983. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  12. bibliography, Michel Foucault's shorter works in English. Bibliography prepared by Richard A. Lynch. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  13. Foucault's essay Of other spaces Retrieved November 10, 2007.

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External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.

General Philosophy Sources


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