A short and thoughtful starting point.
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
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.
Brief description of Foucault's ideas and development.
Begining answers to some basic questions about this
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?
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.