no longer an exclusively vicarious one.

Friday, January 28, 2005

English Ext1: Foucault: fact sheet

Foucault (1926-1984) – key theories and context
Foucault's thought explored the shifting patterns of power within a society and the ways in which power relates to the self. He investigated the changing rules governing the kind of claims that could be taken seriously as true or false at different times in history. He also studied how everyday practices enabled people to define their identities and systematize knowledge; events may be understood as being produced by nature, by human effort, or by God. Foucault argued that each way of understanding things had its advantages and its dangers. Foucault’s context:
Born in Poitiers, France and grew up in Vichy France under German occupation. After the war, he studied philosophy and psychology at École Normale Supérieure, a prestigious French academy. Although suffering from acute depression, he excelled.
Like many of his colleagues, he joined the powerful French Communist Party from 1950-53, but never actively participated in his cell – he was disturbed by Stalin’s policies.
His first book was published in 1954, but he would later disavow it. After teaching briefly, he traveled to Sweden and Germany until 1960. Completing his doctorate, he met Daniel Defert, with whom he lived in a non-monogamous partnership for the rest of his life. His thesis was published in 1961 as Madness and Civilisation.
He followed Defert to Tunis and published another book, The Order of Things, in 1966, which brought him widespread fame. By now Foucault was militantly anti-communist, and tired of being labelled a 'structuralist'.
The two returned to France in 1968, just as the student revolts broke out, and Foucault was deeply affected by the unrest in schools and in the general working public. That year, he helped form the Prison Information Group to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns.
In 1969 he published The Archaeology of Knowledge, a book discussing discourse and its role in creating history.
In 1970 Foucault 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. This fed into a marked politicisation of Foucault's work, with a book, Discipline and Punishment published in 1975 about the prison system and disciplinary methods.
In the late 1970s political activism in France tailed off, with the disillusionment of most Maoists, several of whom underwent a complete reversal in ideology, becoming the New Philosophers, often citing Foucault as their major influence.
Foucault began to spend more time in the US, especially at UC Berkeley. Foucault found a community within the gay culture in San Francisco, although he would not have identified as gay. Foucault died of AIDS-related complications in Paris in 1984. Three volumes of The History of Sexuality were published the year he died.
Key theories:
Power/Knowledge/Truth: Foucault argues that there are complex links between knowledge, truth and power. For Foucault, power is not something that is owned but which is exercised. “Domination” is not of one person over another, but a shared belief that determines what is “wrong” and “right”. Foucault claims belief systems gain momentum (and hence power) as more people come to accept the particular views associated with that belief system as common knowledge.
Biopolitics/Biopower: ‘For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question.’
Eventalisation: Making visible a singularity at places where there is a temptation to invoke a historical constant, an immediate anthropological trait or an obviousness that imposes itself uniformly on all. It means uncovering the procedure of causal multiplication: analysing an event according to the multiple processes that constitute it, revealing the anonymous space or epistème (body of ideas that determine “knowledge” at a particular time) forming the context of an event.
Role of Discourse (language): Objects of study and concepts, rather than creating groups, are themselves a product of discourse, and therefore, cannot define the groupings. Practices, rather than determining discourse, are determined by it.


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