References

Short Foucault Biography
A short and thoughtful starting point.

Dictionary for the Study of the Works of Michele Foucault
Lois Shawver compiled this quite useful source. It is not very long and you will benefit by reading it all the way through (i.e. you will have a better grasp of the words and concepts in the other readings, as well as a broad idea of Foucault's main concerns). Some of the words are unfamiliar to you. Don't worry about that, just attend to the common ideas that develop in the definitions.

The Clinic
A remarkable visual/interactive tutorial by Casey Alt based on one of Foucault's important books. Spend some time with this fascinating work of philosophical art.

Michele Foucault
Brief description of Foucault's ideas and development.

Foucault FAQ
Begining answers to some basic questions about this thinker.

Gale Banks' Philosophy of Power
This has absolutely nothing to do with Michele Foucault. It just amuses me to list it here. But on the other hand, given Foucault's interest in the "technologies", perhaps there is a cobnnection to be found here after all. Just ask yourself, what is it in our relationship with the automobile that is so centrally connected with the ideas of power and freedom?

 

Michel Foucault

One of the perennial issues of social and political philosophy is the matter of the power that some people have over others. Many of our relationships, indeed our very ways of living, can be characterized as relations of power; teacher and student, parent and child, owner and worker, and it goes on indefinitely. Michele Foucault provides detailed descriptions of aspects of a society by examining the power relationships that sustain it.

The power relations that enclose our lives are not arbitrary. They inevitably serve to maintain the social structure in which they occur. For example, why does a teacher hold power over the student? It is the student who pays the tuition that provides the teacher’s salary. Yet in the modern educational system, we can clearly see a constant strong power imbalance between teacher over student. Note also that it is not the particular teacher and student who determine that relation. Rather, the power relations are built into the institution of education.

“Power relations are extremely widespread in human relationships. Now this does not mean that political power is everywhere, but that there is in human relationships a whole range of power relations that may come into play among individuals, within families, in pedagogical relationships, political life etc... Liberation is sometimes the political or historical condition for a practice of freedom. Taking sexuality as an example, it is clear that a number of liberations were required vis-à-vis male power...But this liberation does not give rise to the happy and full essence of a sexuality in which the subject has achieved a complete and satisfying relationship. Liberation paves the way for new power relationships, which must be controlled by practices of freedom." The ethics of the concern for self as a practice of freedom (1984)


If it is true that the power relations that shape our individual lives are features of institutions, then we stand to be misled by thinking of the individual self as a private object lodged in a unique body. Rather, as Michele Foucault indicates, the self is determined by interactions with other parts of the social system.

"My role - and that is too emphatic a word - is to show people that they are much freer than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been built up at a certain moment during history, and that this so-called evidence can be criticized and destroyed." 'Truth, power, self" (1982) in Technologies of the Self

Foucault sought to describe structures of power that inhibit our potential freedom and uncover ways to counter their oppressive effects. In this use of philosophical methods to induce social change, Foucault bears similarities to Karl Marx. An important difference between them is that Marx regarded economic relations to be the fundamental forces in social structures. Foucault did not.

One of Foucault’s unique marks on philosophy is his historical method of investigation. He traces ideas through periods of history in which they undergo change. In Madness and Civilization he traces the concept of reason by investigating the history of the insane asylum. In The Birth of the Clinic he looks back to practices of 18th century medicine in order to understand how concepts of observation and knowledge are related. These historical explorations of ideas make up a unique method for Foucault because he is not so much involved in giving an accurate description of the past as he is in isolating and dissociating current ideas by placing them into a different time. This is similar in some regards (and influence by) Neitzsche’s works such as The Genealogy of Morals.

 

 

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