Foucault, Michel

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’. InDiscipline 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 orepistemes) 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.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Foucault Michel — Michel Foucault Pour les articles homonymes, voir Foucault. Michel Foucault Philosophe occidental Philosophie contemporaine Naissance : 15 octobre&# …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Foucault,Michel — Foucault, Michel. 1926 1984. French philosopher and historian who explored the role played by power in shaping knowledge. His works include Madness and Civilization (1961) and the multi volume History of Sexuality (1976 1986). * * * …   Universalium

  • Foucault, Michel — ▪ French philosopher and historian Introduction in full  Paul Michel Foucault  born October 15, 1926, Poitiers, France died June 25, 1984, Paris  French philosopher and historian, one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post …   Universalium

  • Foucault, Michel — (1926 84)    by John Marks   Michel Foucault and Deleuze enjoyed an intense philosophical friendship, and much of Deleuze s writing on Foucault might be located within the tradition of the laudatory essay that characterised a certain strand of… …   The Deleuze dictionary

  • Foucault, Michel — (1926 84)    by John Marks   Michel Foucault and Deleuze enjoyed an intense philosophical friendship, and much of Deleuze s writing on Foucault might be located within the tradition of the laudatory essay that characterised a certain strand of… …   The Deleuze dictionary

  • Foucault, Michel — (1926 1984)    philosopher    As a philosopher, Michel Foucault attempted to show that the basic ideas usually taken to be permanent truths about human nature and society change in the course of history. His studies challenged the influence of… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Foucault, Michel — (1926–1984) French historian and philosopher. Born in Poitiers, Foucault was educated at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, taught in Germany, Sweden, and Algiers, and held chairs at Clermont Ferrand and Vincennes, before being appointed… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Foucault, Michel — See Structuralism (french) and after …   History of philosophy

  • Foucault, Michel — ► (1926 84) Filósofo francés. Su proyecto teórico constituye un esfuerzo por repensar la tradición cultural posrenacentista desde una perspectiva que podría denominarse etnológica. Obras: Histoire de la folie à l´âge classique (1961), Les mots et …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • FOUCAULT, Michel — (1926 1988)    very influential French philosopher who promoted a highly RELATIVISTIC conception of the prevailing assumptions about what is to count as knowledge and as acceptable discourse. His views are expounded in The Order of Things (1970) …   Concise dictionary of Religion

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