Michel Foucault

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Michel Foucault on June 10, 1971

Paul-Michel Foucault [ miˈʃɛl fuˈko ] (born October 15, 1926 in Poitiers , † June 25, 1984 in Paris ) was a French philosopher of post-structuralism , historian , sociologist and psychologist . He is considered one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century and is u. a. Founder of power and knowledge theory discourse analysis . His work has a great influence on numerous humanities, cultural and social science disciplines worldwide.


Childhood, school days and studies

Foucault was the second child of Paul-André Foucault , surgeon and university professor of anatomy, and Anne-Marie Foucault, née Malapert. In opposition to his father, he broke the tradition of becoming a doctor. He made the decision to study history. After completing school in Poitiers , he began in 1946 to study philosophy and psychology at the elite École normal supérieure in Paris. Louis Althusser became his philosophy teacher . From 1947 he attended events with Maurice Merleau-Ponty . In 1949 he earned a degree in psychology from the Sorbonne . In 1951 he passed the entrance examination in philosophy for universities and in the same year he succeeded Merleau-Ponty. Paul Veyne , Jacques Derrida and Gérard Genette took part in his lectures .

At the same time, he did internships at the Sainte-Anne Hospital and Fresnes Prison . He learned to carry out electroencephalographic experiments and thus acquired additional psychiatric training with a diploma in 1952/53 . In 1950 he became a member of the French Communist Party . Foucault attended lectures by Jacques Lacan and read Heidegger , Marx , Freud and Nietzsche . In 1954 he published the translation of Dream and Existence by Ludwig Binswanger and at the same time his first own text Psychology and Mental Illness (French: Maladie mental et personnalité ). Conflicts with party comrades and an incipient friendship with Georges Dumézil - who already worked in Sweden - prompted him to leave the Communist Party and France. In 1954 he took over in Uppsala ( Sweden ) a proofreading for Romance .

From 1955: The first activities and publications

This was followed by stays abroad in Warsaw (as director of the center français ) and Hamburg (1959/60 as director of the Institut Français ). From 1960 he was a private lecturer in psychology at the University of Clermont-Ferrand . His dissertation was published in 1961 under the title Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Eng. Madness and society ). In it he addressed the history of madness and the creation of a demarcation between mental health and illness and the associated social mechanisms. Foucault's PhD supervisor was Georges Canguilhem .

In 1962 Foucault was appointed to a professorship in Clermont-Ferrand ; There he met his future partner Daniel Defert , with whom he had an open relationship until his death.

In 1963, Foucault became a member of the editorial board of Critique, along with Roland Barthes and Michel Deguy . He also took up close contacts with the literary criticism movement Tel Quel , with whose intentions he largely identified.

In 1966 Foucault took over a teaching position at the University of Tunis . With Les mots et les choses (Eng. The order of things ) in 1966 he achieved his first great success. In his following work L'archéologie du savoir (dt. Archeology of knowledge ) in 1969 he systematically reflected the methodology of this work.

In 1968 Foucault returned to France and became a lecturer and head of the philosophy department at the newly founded Reform University Paris VIII in Vincennes , which had emerged from the 1968 movement.

In 1969, Foucault gave the lecture What is an author at the Collège de France ? , who made an important contribution to the debate about the role of the author in modern literature (see Death of the Author ).

Michel Foucault's grave in the Vendeuvre-du-Poitou cemetery, his father's grave to the left

From 1970: Professor at the Collège de France

In 1970 he was appointed to the Chair of the History of Thought Systems at the Collège de France , which he held until his death in 1984, which was caused by his advancing AIDS disease. As usual at the Collège, he redefined his work area. In his inaugural lecture L'ordre du discours (Eng. The order of discourse ) he formulated a research program whose concept of discourse marks a transition between the archeology of knowledge and the later power analysis work. He campaigned for the rights of prisoners in public. In 1975 his book Surveiller et punir was published. La naissance de la prison (Eng. Surveillance and punishment . The birth of the prison ) with an analysis of the development of disciplinary techniques and power practices in modern times.

From 1976: The will to know

In 1976 he published the first part - La volonté de savoir (Eng. The will to know ) - of his last comprehensive work Histoire de la sexualité (Eng. Sexuality and truth ). From this phase of his work, Foucault took a closer look at the relationship between power and knowledge (see also the sociology of knowledge ).

This was followed by a longer break in publishing, during which he went back further and further into history in his research. The question of human desire gives way to discussion of the generation of human desire or of the desiring human being .

It was not until 1983 that volumes two and three of Sexuality and Truth appeared : L'usage des plaisirs (Eng. The use of lusts ) and Le souci de soi (Eng. Care for oneself ), in which he examined how sexual behavior differs from the classical Greek thought as an area of ​​moral judgment and choice.

The fourth and last volume Les aveux de la chair (Eng. The Confessions of the Flesh ) was already largely edited at this point. This volume examines the role that hermeneutics and the purifying unraveling of desire - in the early centuries of Christianity - played in the constitution of sexual experience. The text was not released for publication by the heirs until 2018 due to Foucault's quasi-testamentary wish not to allow “posthumous publications”.

In 1977 the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera asked Foucault to write a column for her. To do this, he traveled to Tehran in Iran in 1978 , days after the Black Friday massacre . As proponents of the developing Iranian revolution, he met opposition leaders such as Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari and Mehdi Bāzargān and discovered popular support for the Islamic revolution. After his return to France he was one of the journalists who visited the Ayatollah Khomeini before he returned to Tehran. Foucault's article showed awe of Khomeini's Islamist movement, for which he was heavily criticized in the French press, including by exiled Iranians. Foucault's response was that Islamism should become a major political force in the region and that the West should treat it with respect rather than hostility. Also in 1978, in an article in Le Nouvel Observateur magazine, Foucault called on the left to abandon their fears of an Islamic government in Iran. Thereupon an Iranian woman living in exile criticized Foucault's uncritical attitude towards the Islamic revolution in Iran in a letter to the editor. In a brief reply the following week in the same newspaper, Foucault wrote that he refused to share the Iranian woman's criticism of political Islam. Because: "The first condition to face Islam with some intelligence is to stay away from hatred." Foucault accused the woman of hating Islam - at a time when the Khomeiny regime was already involved To cover up women and to impose death sentences on political dissidents. In April 1978 Foucault traveled to Japan , where he studied Zen Buddhism under Omori Sogen at the Seionji Temple in Uenohara . He then went on longer lecture tours in the USA and, together with Pierre Bourdieu, was committed to the Polish Solidarność . In the spring of 1984 Foucault gave his last lectures at the Collège de France. In June of the same year he died of the consequences of his AIDS illness.


Stone in memory of Michel Foucault, created by the artist Tom Fecht

Foucault investigated how knowledge is created and achieved, how power is exercised and how subjects are constituted and disciplined. Foucault is also known for the introduction of new terms such as dispositive , bio-power , panoptism and governmentality or the precise and terminological use of expressions such as power, knowledge, discourse or archive . His analyzes focused on the “history of the present”, “ethnology of our culture” and the historical development of “truth games”. Specifically, he examined, among other things, the history of the term madness and the social practices associated with it, especially exclusion; also the concept of disease and the development of medical techniques, the emergence of the human sciences and their basic concepts, the institutions of prisons and punishment procedures, and the fueling of speech about sexuality .

Foucault also commented on cross-border forms of literature, in particular with regard to Stéphane Mallarmé , Georges Bataille , Maurice Blanchot , Raymond Roussel , Jean-Pierre Brisset and Marquis de Sade .

He also dealt with the possibilities of political intervention and the possibility of self-design by subjects, especially in the "use of lust".

Representation in detail

Basic concepts

In the implementation and later methodological explanation of his analyzes, Foucault developed or coined central terms, which he sometimes referred to as "tools": archeology and genealogy, discontinuity / event, experience, what can be said, discourse , power / knowledge , epistemes , subject constitutions, disciplinary power, “Systems of degrees of normality”, governmentality , dispositive , bio-politics / bio-power , technologies of the self, sexuality dispositive , pastoral power , subpower .

Extension of the conventional concept of power

In the early 1970s, Foucault turned to the subject of social power relations and expanded the conventional concept of power, which from his point of view was too closely related to a moral , i.e. H. legal point of view and the question of discipline . Rather, power can be understood as the “productive ability” of and as a balance of power between people.

Such a view no longer asked about the moral and legal legitimacy of the exercise of power by sovereign subjects, such as powerful persons or the state, who use coercive measures to do so. Instead, the actions of each individual became the subject of investigation. Foucault came to the conclusion that subjects exercise power with certain practices (such as a punitive practice) within discourses . So he addressed the manner of action rather than the causes of power.

In summary, he used the term power to describe:

“[E] in an ensemble of actions that are directed towards possible action, and it operates in a field of possibilities for the behavior of acting subjects. It offers incentives, seduces, seduces, facilitates or impedes it, it expands or restricts the possibilities for action, it increases or decreases the likelihood of actions, and in the borderline case it forces or prevents actions, but it is always directed at the acting subjects insofar as they act or can act. It is action oriented towards action. "

Power and knowledge

In his 'archaeological phase', Foucault described knowledge “as an effect of the rule structures of discourses”. This notion of knowledge "as [...] a reflection of an actual reality or as a critical yardstick and corrective for the accusation of domination" thus became the "tool" of certain political action.

He changed his mind from the 'genealogical phase' with the publication of Surveillance and Punishments in 1975 . In the meantime he considered power to be a subjective faculty that determined the intersubjective relationship in discourses. So knowledge was now incorporated as a component, i.e. that is, it was part of the structures of the discourse. Therefore, he now described knowledge as an "inevitable contingent result of the balance of power and intrinsically powerful access to the world."

Power produces knowledge and every power relationship creates a 'field of knowledge' and, conversely, every knowledge presupposes power relationships and creates power relationships. When examining these relationships, it should be borne in mind that she viewed the object from the position within these relationships.

"The knowing subject, the object to be recognized and the modes of cognition (form) the effects of those fundamental power / knowledge complexes and their historical transformations"

Discourse and Discourse Analysis

Foucault has decisively coined the term discourse that runs through his publications. His methodological concept of a “discourse analysis” remained vague or changed over time.


Foucault introduced the concept of governmentality during his lecture at the Collège de France in the academic year 1977–1978. He describes a type of power that is closely linked to the concept of government . This is described as a complex of discourses and practices / procedures. On the other hand, governmentality describes the result of a historical process.

Foucault assumes that governance will change with the emergence of modern nation states. The Christian-religious power technique of the pastorate is combined with political power techniques. While the former is interested in the salvation of individuals, the latter aim to optimize social organization. Modern government links the leadership and self-leadership of individuals with the rule over the population of a state ( bio-power ), so that Foucault also calls it “leadership of leadership”. Foucault examines neoliberal governmentality as an example .

The analysis of governmentality replaces a theory of the state in Foucault, since he does not see the state as an independent phenomenon, but as a product of historically evolved, specific power relations.

The research direction of governmentality studies ties in with the concept of governmentality .

Influences from other philosophers

Immanuel Kant , Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Karl Marx , Friedrich Nietzsche , Martin Heidegger and Louis Althusser are decisive for Foucault , whereby Foucault dealt critically with Hegel and Marx and set himself apart from them.


Madness and society

Madness and Society: A History of Madness in the Age of Reason (French: folie et déraison ) was published in 1961 - Foucault's first major book, which he wrote during his time in Sweden. It looks at the way the concept of insanity has changed throughout history.

Foucault thematized the mechanisms of segregation of "other" by enlightened, rational societies. Madness as the “other of reason” is excluded from it and silenced and subjected to complex procedures of rational control and discipline . The occidental-modern rationality has an exclusive and repressive function. He dealt in detail with the development of the modern clinic and the history of the prison. He did not find any development for the better or an increase in reasonableness, but only a change marked by breaks within the framework of time-related, contingent constructs.

For Foucault, a culture is defined by rejecting what is outside of the box and defining cultural boundaries. Foucault names four areas of occidental exclusion: sexuality, madness, dreams, and the Orient .

Foucault begins with an analysis of the Middle Ages, when lepers were separated from society. Later, patients with "madness" were increasingly treated like lepers before. A systematic exclusion would still only take place in the age of classical music. In the 17th century people began to lock them up. After all, madness has been defined as a mental illness in the context of psychiatric science.

Foucault describes how the madman developed from an accepted, integrated part of the social order to a person who is included and excluded:

“Therefore one can say that madness from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance was present within the social horizon as an aesthetic or secular fact; in the seventeenth century there followed a period of silence and exclusion that began with the incarceration of the mad. [...] Finally, the twentieth century curbs madness, reduces it to a natural phenomenon that is connected to the truth of the world. Both the misguided philanthropy with which all psychiatry approaches the insane and the lyrical protest against it derive from this positivistic attitude. "

Foucault looks at psychiatric treatments, especially those of Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke . He claims that their methods are no less in control than previous treatments. The retreat to the country propagated by Tuke punishes the madman until he learns normal behavior. Similarly, Pinel's treatment of the madman through aversion therapy works . Their efforts were less aimed at treating the disease than at reconciling the patient with social conformity, integrating them into the world of work and submitting them to the prevailing patriarchal moral standards.

The birth of the clinic

Foucault's second larger book The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of the Medical Gaze (French Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical ) was published in 1963. In continuation of madness and society , the birth of the clinic traces the development of medicine and especially the institution of the clinic , by which mainly university teaching hospitals are meant. The concept of the gaze (French: regard ) triggered some follow-up discussions; Foucault distances himself from him in archeology of knowledge .

The order of things

Foucault's The Order of Things : An Archeology of the Human Sciences. (French. Les Mots et les choses. Une archeologie des sciences humaines ) was published in 1966. The German title corresponds to Foucault's wish, who wanted the title L'Ordre des Choses for the French edition , but refrained from doing so at the request of the publisher Pierre Nora .

The book begins with a lengthy discussion of the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez and its complex arrangement of lines of sight, the hidden and the visible. The picture review introduces an analysis of several epochs: the Renaissance , the “classical age” (a term commonly used in France for the epoch, which roughly covers the period from the middle of the 17th century to 1800) and the modern age, the Foucault in order of things from around 1800 to the 20th century. Over this period of time, Foucault considers in particular the emergence or change of three areas of knowledge that establish themselves in this period: natural history (or from 1800 biology ), knowledge of riches (or from 1800 economics ), grammar (or from 1800 the philology ).

In the synchronous comparative consideration of these sub-areas, Foucault discovers a number of parallels for which he coined the new term episteme . The episteme are the historical a priori of knowledge. His core thesis is that the different areas of knowledge examined in a particular epoch are more strongly influenced by these epochal parallels than by their respective history.

In addition to this scientific-historical or epistemological topic, which Foucault also describes as archaeological , the concept of man is one of the core topics of the book. Around 1800, with the replacement of natural history by biology, knowledge of riches by economics and general grammar by philology, humans became the central figure of integration in the sciences. In this sense, Foucault speaks of the fact that humans did not exist before 1800.

Foucault does not ask himself whether and to what extent science can objectively arrive at knowledge:

"So the question of its progress towards an objectivity of described knowledge will not be dealt with, in which our current science could [...] recognize itself."

Rather, science develops more or less stable discursive formations and conceptual coordinates, which determine what - still contingent - is debatable, understandable, true or false. However, science does not necessarily break with the accumulated knowledge from earlier times, even if it changes its knowledge formations throughout history. Foucault thus partly discredited the idea of ​​continuous progress and contrasts it with a contingent change in formative structures.

"The evolutionary historicity, which is a matter of course for many, depends itself on the functioning of power."

- Surveiller et punir

The order of things made Foucault known as an intellectual figure in France and soon afterwards also internationally.

Archeology of knowledge

The study on the archeology of knowledge (French: L'Archéologie du savoir ), published in 1969, is Foucault's most extensive methodological publication. It appeared before Foucault was elected to the Collège de France and determines the method that he had used in his specific studies.

He describes his approach as working on “ archives ” or as “archeology” of discourse formations. The cultural studies method discussion usually speaks of discourse analysis .

Foucault sees the archeology of knowledge as a complementary alternative to the conventional history of ideas , which at the same time, however, was similarly criticized and reformed by its supposed proponents , for example through contextualism or the conceptual history , so that a certain generation effect has been assumed, which is due to a post-totalitarian demarcation is characterized by naive ideas and critically reflects on the production or use of supposedly neutral ideas or objective truths. Foucault is less interested in the individual creators of ideas ("authors"). One can combine Foucault's slogan about the “death of the author” with his metaphor about the death of the concept of “man” brought forth by the human sciences. In this respect, Foucault's approach is similar to structuralist approaches in psychoanalysis, ethnology, and linguistics. However, it includes a diachronic (historical) perspective. Foucault feels close to the Annales school of historiography . Their interest in the history of mentality, demographic and other developments over long periods also makes the individual work of people less prominent. Even Georges Canguilhem and Gaston Bachelard looks close to Foucault.

In addition to author, subject and human science orientations, numerous other terms from the classic history of ideas are excluded, such as influence, work or tradition. According to Foucault, their applicability was preceded by epoch-specific “discursive” guidelines. While the term discourse only means ensembles of linguistic or written utterances (discursive practices) and their immanent rules, the term dispositive (which Foucault only refers to in later lectures and works) extends the discourse to non-discursive practices , which are institutional or socially influence the options for action of others.

Foucault's concept of power was still “ juridically discursive” at this point in time . Its main characteristic is that it is restrictive. He denies by making use of the pronounced ban. This notion changed in the years that followed. From surveillance and punishment onwards , he contrasts it with the strategically productive idea of ​​power.

Monitor and punish

Surveillance and Punish was published in 1975 under the title Surveiller et punir . In it, Foucault continues his investigations into polymorphic power, its techniques and modes of action v. a. continued with the example of the prison. The panopticon designedby Jeremy Bentham is a prototype for him: an "ideal" prison in which the observer can observe every cell inmate. In this book, Foucault works out the historical development of physical and emotional violence. By means of torture, the body was cruelly beaten up until the 18th century and tortured to the point of slow death. The staged drama was followed with interest by the population. Later, humans were increasingly perceived as being with a soul, who were recognized as having a certain ability to learn. In the incorporeal punishment system, the pain was eliminated. Punishment is aimed at the future and its main function is prevention. Emotional violence serves as a disciplinary measure. The punishment is tailored to the offense. There is a need to individualize the punishment, which takes into account the circumstances and intent of the offender. The perpetrator himself, his nature, his way of life and thinking, his past and his will are modulated. The punishment brings development for the violent. He learns in solitary confinement through reflection or work. The prison is used to keep the violent people under surveillance. Social uprooting is considered part of the penalty. Society is defined as the class of rulers and ruled. The rulers define the laws and thus social morality. Their judgment is based on language that is partially incomprehensible to the outlaws. The rulers set the guiding principle: "Whoever wants to live has to work". The ruled are starving and murder in order to survive. With sedentariness, murders decrease and thefts and property crimes increase. The violent criminals are unwilling to work and the unemployed. The judiciary uses the criminal code (1810) as a basis and an apparatus for overseers, priests, psychologists and psychiatrists to exercise violence. Coercive measures and exercises are used as an instrument of punishment. The individual becomes a legal subject. Cure and improvement are expected through the technique of cramping and through the application of dressage methods.

Later this all-seeing gaze shifted to the subjects. An example of this is the function of pastoral power that the “good shepherd” exercises when he examines the conscience of his sheep - a technique that is then “internalized”. Foucault also pursues the subject of subjectification through power relations in the analysis of so-called biopower and governmentality .

In other writings, Foucault expresses himself on the subject of utopias and social counterparts, which he calls heterotopias .

Sexuality and truth

Foucault originally planned his work Sexuality and Truth in six volumes, but only three volumes were published as monographs during his lifetime. Recent documents indicate that an LSD trip, undertaken in May 1975 in Death Valley near Zabriskie Point , thwarted Foucault's plans, and he then destroyed the first book in his history of sexuality .

The will to know

The first volume, published in 1976, uses the discourse on sex to analyze the working methods of power structures. Talk about sex has been constantly fueled, from medieval confessional catalogs to modern psychoanalysis . The development in the 19th century is given special consideration in this volume. A distinction is made here between four main elements or dispositives to which special attention is devoted to the production of knowledge: homosexuality , masturbation , woman's hysteria and perversion . In conclusion, Foucault remarks that the irony of the sexual dispositif is precisely to set an example for people that it is about their (sexual) liberation.

In this context he speaks about the "implantation of perversions". It is a mutually reinforcing dynamic of the authority that continually designs new "perversions" in a pathologizing manner, and that of those who do justice to these pathological categories and can even reinforce them. This creates a "trait" that is understood as the "nature" of the pervert and is treated accordingly.

In this work he distinguishes himself from his earlier, juridical-discursive concept of power, according to which power was understood as repressive and aimed at obedience (e.g. to laws). The strategic-productive conception of power that he shaped, on the other hand, emphasizes that power relationships are multiple, arise and operate everywhere . They are inherent in all other types of relationships (e.g. economic) and thus permeate circulating knowledge.

The use of lusts

In the second volume (1984) Foucault deals with the sexual ethics and in general the “use of lust” of ancient Greece . Foucault pays special attention to homosexuality and boyhood love and their moral and ethical mechanisms. For the Christian ideal of asceticism , he found a root in Hippocratic dietetics (program of measures for a healthy life); however, these are not historical continuities .

The concern for yourself

In the third volume, Foucault continues the investigation of the second volume. He emphasizes the general meaning of "self-care" in the ethics of Greco-Roman antiquity, which he recognizes as the "culture of oneself" as a central motif of the ancient practices of freedom. The subject areas in which Foucault examines this motif are the interpretation of dreams , communion with others, and again the body, the woman and the boy.

The confessions of the flesh

The fourth and final volume, The Confessions of the Flesh (French: Les aveux de la chair ), remained unpublished for 34 years due to a testamentary decree because Foucault spoke out against posthumous publications and was only published in France in February 2018 and in June 2019 in the German translation. The book follows on from the two previous volumes. Foucault dedicates himself to texts from early Christianity, for example by Augustine or Ambrosius of Milan . This discourse on sexuality is, similar to the texts from Greco-Roman antiquity, about asceticism and renunciation.

More fonts

In addition to the larger works mentioned, there are numerous smaller works, including works on literature and commentaries on current events (see e.g. ideas reports ), lesser-known works such as a monograph on Raymond Roussel and numerous lectures at the Collège de France that were only published after his death. Since Foucault had forbidden posthumous publications in his will, the documentation of the word “published” in the form of a lecture, especially the existing tapes, were used for the edition.

Impact history


Foucault can not be clearly assigned to a philosophical direction and has often turned against such attempts. Still, it is common today to refer to Foucault as a post-structuralist . Although he used structuralist thoughts and procedures, especially in the archeology of knowledge , he was not a structuralist , as he himself repeatedly emphasized: “In France certain half-witted commentators insist on labeling me as a structuralist. I couldn't get it into their tiny heads that I didn't use any of the methods, terms, and keywords that characterize structuralist analysis. "

The same applies to his relationship to Marxism . In the 1950s he was a member of the Communist Party for a short time . He later distanced himself from Marxism.

Time context

Foucault's theses, which undermine traditional philosophical thought, and their political implications always sparked passionate discussions. Foucault was one of the first to vehemently reject the then current Marxist thought figures and theories of history with their vocabulary of terms such as dialectics , ideology , alienation or “progressive consciousness”. This brought him into opposition to the French left and its figurehead Sartre, as well as to the theorists of the Frankfurt School .


Foucault's concept of discourse is explicitly discussed. Based on his theory, numerous approaches to discourse analysis have been developed in various disciplines. In German-speaking research, z. B. to mention the names Jürgen Link , Siegfried Jäger and Rainer Diaz-Bone . Discourse analysis has only become an established method in the humanities and social sciences in recent years, and works based on Foucault are increasingly emerging.

Foucault's methodology of analysis was also received in the archeology of knowledge , which is, however, a retrospective methodological reflection and criticism and is not very suitable as a methodological textbook.

Criticism of Foucault

  • Foucault's thinking is attributed by Marxists - also because of Foucault's criticism of Marxism - to a logic of advanced capitalism. At the same time it was criticized that he was questioning critical thinking through a fictionalistic codification of subjective knowledge, i.e. through indistinguishability.
  • After the success of The Order of Things, Jean-Paul Sartre attacked Foucault in a sensational review. Sartre, who as a representative of existentialism felt obliged to humanism , directed his criticism of Foucault's rejection of humanism. From Foucault's perspective, humanism in the 20th century is theoretically sterile and practically and politically - in the East as in the West - a reactionary mystification. In the educational system in particular, it cuts people off from the reality of the technical-scientific world. It should be noted, however, that Foucault's criticism focused less on humanism per se and more on the human sciences .
  • The philosopher Jürgen Habermas sees Foucault in the Foucault-Habermas debate in the tradition of a radical critique of reason , which, based on Nietzsche , led to the French neo-structuralists. Foucault's power theory gets caught up in irresolvable self-contradictions.
  • The linguist, social and linguistic philosopher Noam Chomsky , who, like Foucault, had worked on French grammar and logic of the Baroque era, had dealt with similar topics in political philosophy and with this u. a. In 1971, when he led a television debate on anthropology, Foucault admitted that he was still the most comprehensive and substantial of the French poststructuralists and postmodernists; However, large parts of his work are unclear, wrong or only repeat known, rather trivial thoughts and research results of others in pretentious rhetorical preparation.
  • In 1998, the German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler hit Foucault and his work with harsh criticism. Wehler sees Foucault as a bad philosopher who is wrongly enjoying great resonance in the humanities and social sciences. His work is not only inadequate in its empirical-historical aspects, but is also permeated in numerous places by conceptual confusions and internal contradictions. Foucault's work also suffers from Frankocentrism , which can already be seen from the fact that Foucault did not take note of the work of central theorists in the social sciences such as Max Weber and Norbert Elias .
Wehler's main criticism of Foucault's discourse theory is that the discourses would become independent. Subjects are not the discourses themselves, but the carriers of the discourses, which Foucault does not speak of. Wehler considers Foucault's concept of power to be “undifferentiated to despair”. Foucault's thesis of the “disciplinary society” is only possible because Foucault knows no differentiation between authority , coercion, violence , power , domination and legitimacy . In addition, this thesis is based on a one-sided selection of sources (psychiatric institutions, prisons) and leaves out other types of organization such as factories .
Overall, Wehler comes to the conclusion that Foucault "because of the endless series of shortcomings in his so-called empirical studies [...] is an intellectually dishonest, empirically absolutely unreliable, crypto-normativist 'rat catcher' for postmodernism".
  • The political scientist Urs Marti, who published a book about Foucault in 1999, believes that Foucault represented an anarchist nihilism based on Friedrich Nietzsche . However, he appreciates the “liberating impulses” that emanated from his work, especially his “archaeological-genealogical” analyzes of the human sciences and the aspects of governance. He was not a representative of the Counter-Enlightenment, but had considered it absurd to see the Enlightenment as a cause of totalitarianism .
  • In Bürger und Irre 1969, Klaus Dörner attested Foucault a restrictive structuring of reality. It is also inadmissible to reject all efforts made by the Enlightenment as ideological, since no more socially changing practice can be developed. Sartre argued similarly when he accused Foucault of a fatalistic view of history that made political practice impossible.
  • Foucault was also accused of being overly selective with historical data, which made it possible for him to carry out his periodizations.
  • Michel de Certeau has taken up Foucault's theories in numerous writings and both criticized and developed them further. In The Art of Action , in particular , he counteracts Foucault's surveillance concept with a focus on everyday practice as a creative scope in which a form of freedom is formed that remains hidden from sociological research as well as from control mechanisms and monitors.
  • The sociologist Daniel Zamora accused Foucault of having given neoliberalism cues with his criticism of the exclusion mechanisms of the welfare state . He only had exclusion in mind, but neglected exploitation as its basis; furthermore, he described the welfare state as too expensive. In doing so, he had actively contributed to its destruction and at the same time contributed to the inability of the left to oppose it. Foucault's defenders accuse Zamora of an ahistorical, superficial and ideological reading of his writings.

See also


Individual publications by Foucault (selection)

  • Maladie mental et personnalité. Presses universitaires de France, Paris 1954; from 2nd edition 1962: Maladie mental et psychologie .
    • Psychology and mental illness. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1968.
  • Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique: folie et déraison. Plon, Paris 1961.
    • Madness and society. A story of madness in the age of reason. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1969.
  • Naissance de la clinique: Une archéologie du regard médical. Presses universitaires de France, Paris 1963.
    • The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of the Medical Eye. Hanser, Munich 1973.
  • Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines. Gallimard, Paris 1966.
    • The Order of Things : An Archeology of the Human Sciences. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1971.
  • La pensée du dehors. In: Critique. Revue: 1966, pp. 523-546.
  • Ceci n'est pas une pipe. In: Les cahiers du chemin. 1968, H. 2, pp. 79-105.
    • This is not a pipe . With an afterword by Walter Seitter , Hanser, Munich 1974; Ullstein, Frankfurt / M. 1989; Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1997, ISBN 3-446-18904-1 .
  • L'archéologie du savoir. Gallimard, Paris 1969.
    • Archeology of knowledge. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1973.
  • L'ordre du discours: Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France prononcée le 2 decembre 1970. Gallimard, Paris 1972.
  • From the subversion of knowledge. Hanser, Munich 1974 (combines documents on Foucault's educational path up to the end of the sixties and on his turn to politics after the Paris May).
  • Writings on literature. Nymphenburger, Munich 1974.
  • Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison. Gallimard, Paris 1975.
  • Histoire de la sexualité / Sexuality and Truth :
    • Vol. 1: La volonté de savoir. Gallimard, Paris 1976.
      • The will to know. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1983.
    • Vol. 2: L'usage des plaisirs. Gallimard, Paris 1984.
      • The use of lusts. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1986.
    • Vol. 3: Le souci de soi. Gallimard, Paris 1984.
      • The concern for yourself. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1986.
    • Vol. 4: Les aveux de la chair. Gallimard, Paris 2018.
      • The confessions of the flesh , Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2019.
  • Microphysics of Power. About criminal justice, psychiatry and medicine. Merve, Berlin 1976 (contains various texts and interviews by Michel Foucault).
  • with Gilles Deleuze : The thread is broken. Merve, Berlin 1977.
  • Dispositive of power. Michel Foucault on sexuality, knowledge and truth. Merve, Berlin 1978.
  • About friendship as a way of life: an interview with Michel Foucault. Merve, Berlin 1984.
  • From the light of war to the birth of history. Merve, Berlin 1986 (contains lectures from January 21 and 28, 1976 at the Collège de France in Paris).
  • What is education? In: Eva Erdmann, Rainer Forst, Axel Honneth (eds.): Ethos der Moderne. Foucault's Critique of the Enlightenment. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1990, pp. 35–54.
  • What is criticism? Merve, Berlin 1992.
  • Introduction to Ludwig Binswanger: Dream and Existence . With an afterword by Walter Seitter . Gachnang & Springer, Bern-Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-906127-31-1 .
  • Dumézil's structuralism . In: Tumult 18: Georges Dumézil - historian, seer (Ed. Walter Seitter ). Turia & Kant, Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-85132-054-9 .
  • La vérité et les formes juridiques. 1994.
    • The truth and the legal forms. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2003.
  • Discourse and Truth: Problematising Parrhesia. 6 lectures given in the fall of 1983 at the University of Berkeley, California. Merve, Berlin 1996.
  • with Walter Seitter : The spectrum of genealogy , Philo, Bodenheim 1996, ISBN 3-8257-0025-9 .
  • The painting of Manet. Merve, Berlin 1999.
  • The anthropological circle. Merve, Berlin 2003.
  • Analytics of Power. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2005.
  • To dream of his desires. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006.
  • Criticism of government. Writings on Politics. Selected and provided with an afterword by Ulrich Bröckling . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2009.
  • The heterotopias. The utopian body. Two radio lectures. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2013.

Lectures at the Collège de France

  • La Volonté de savoir (1970–1971) - ( On the will to know. Translated from the French by Michael Bischoff . Berlin 2012).
  • Théories et institutions pénales (1971–1972). - ( Theories and institutions of punishment . Translated from the French by Andrea Hemminger. Berlin 2017)
  • La Société punitive (1972–1973) - ( The criminal society. Translated from the French by Andrea Hemminger. Berlin 2015).
  • Le Pouvoir psychiatrique (1973–1974) - ( The power of psychiatry. Translated from the French by Claudia Brede-Konersmann and Jürgen Schröder. Frankfurt a. M. 2005).
  • Les Anormaux (1974–1975) - ( The anomalies. From the French by Michaela Ott, Frankfurt a. M. 2003).
  • Il faut défendre la société (1975–1976) - ( In defense of society . Translated from the French by Michaela Ott. Frankfurt a. M. 1999).
  • Sécurité, territoire et population (1977–1978) - ( History of governmentality I: security, territory, population. Translated from the French by Claudia Brede-Konersmann and Jürgen Schröder. Frankfurt a. M. 2004).
  • Naissance de la biopolitique (1978–1979) - ( History of Governmentality II: The Birth of Biopolitics. Translated from the French by Jürgen Schröder. Frankfurt a. M. 2004).
  • Du Gouvernement des vivants (1979–1980) - ( The government of the living , translated from the French by Andrea Hemminger. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2013).
  • Subjectivité et vérité (1980–1981) - ( Subjectivity and truth. Translated from the French by Andrea Hemminger. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2016).
  • L'Herméneutique du sujet (1981–1982) - ( Hermeneutics of the subject. Translated from the French by Ulrike Bokelmann. Frankfurt a. M. 2009.)
  • Le Gouvernement de soi et des autres (1982–1983) - ( The government of the self and the others. Translated from the French by Jürgen Schröder. Frankfurt am Main 2009).
  • Le Gouvernement de soi et des autres: le courage de la vérité (1983–1984) - ( The courage to truth. The government of the self and the others II. Translated from the French by Jürgen Schröder. Frankfurt a. M. 2010).

[Note: Foucault had a research semester in 1976/77 and therefore did not give a lecture.]

Smaller fonts

  • Writings , Frankfurt a. M., 2001 ff., 4 volumes (French edition Dits et Ecrits , Paris, Gallimard, 1994, 4 volumes).


Philosophy bibliography : Michel Foucault - Additional references on the topic




Individual aspects


Web links

Primary literature

Commons : Michel Foucault  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Secondary literature



  1. Hartmut Rosa, David Strecker and Andrea Kottmann: Sociological Theories. 2nd edition UTB, Stuttgart 2013, p. 276 f.
  2. Archived copy ( Memento from February 25, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Daniel Defert on Michel Foucault: "He always fought with the police" . In: taz. October 13, 2015.
  4. Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . Beck, Munich 1999, p. 185.
  5. Heather Dundas: Foucault in Death Valley . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung . October 8, 2017.
  6. "Ethics is a battleground". In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur. February 4, 2018, accessed February 5, 2018.
  7. Cf. Didier Eribon : Michel Foucault (translation: Betsy Wing); Cambridge, MA; Harvard UP, 1991, pp. 281-85
  8. Cf. Didier Eribon : Michel Foucault (translation: Betsy Wing); Cambridge, MA; Harvard UP, 1991, pp. 285-88
  9. Cf. Kacem El Ghazzali: I criticized political Islam and identity politics. And suddenly I was considered "right". Why actually? " , Neue Zürcher Zeitung , Sept. 20, 2019
  10. Cf. Didier Eribon : Michel Foucault (translation: Betsy Wing); Cambridge, MA; Harvard UP, 1991, p. 310
  11. Jürg Altwegg, Geneva: Foucault's legacy: henceforth he will tell the truth . In: FAZ.NET . ISSN  0174-4909 ( faz.net [accessed April 11, 2020]).
  12. Michel Foucault: Lecture from January 14, 1976. In: Michel Foucault: Analytik der Macht . Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-518-29359-1 , pp. 108-125 (p. 113).
  13. Michel Foucault: Subject and Power. In: Michel Foucault: Analysis of Power . Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-518-29359-1 , pp. 240-263 (p. 256).
  14. Reiner Keller: Michel Foucault . Constance 2008.
  15. Michel Foucault: Monitoring and punishing. The birth of the prison . Frankfurt am Main 1977, p. 39 f.
  16. Michel Foucault: Die Gouvernementality , in: Michel Foucault: Analytik der Macht . Frankfurt am Main, 2005, ISBN 3-518-29359-1 , pp. 148-179 (pp. 171 f.).
  17. Michel Foucault: Subject and Power. In: Michel Foucault: Analysis of Power . Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-518-29359-1 , pp. 240-263 (pp. 247 ff.).
  18. Michel Foucault: Neoliberal Governmentality II. The theory of human capital. Lecture, session on March 14, 1979. In: Ulrich Bröckling (Ed.): Michel Foucault. Criticism of government. Writings on Politics. Frankfurt am Main 2010, pp. 177–203.
  19. ^ Clemens Kammler, Rolf Parr, Ulrich Johannes Schneider: Foucault Handbook; Life-work-effect. Verlag JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02192-2 , pp. 165-178.
  20. Ingeborg Breuer, Peter Leusch, Dieter Mersch: Worlds in the head. Profiles of contemporary philosophy . Rotbuch Verlag, Hamburg 1996, p. 141 f.
  21. Marcus S. Kleiner: Michel Foucault. An introduction to his thinking . Campus, 2001, p. 43ff.
  22. Michael C. Frank: Cultural fear of influence. Staging of the border in 19th century travel literature . Transcript, 2006, p. 31.
  23. Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . Beck, Munich 1999, p. 18.
  24. Arthur Still: Rewriting the History of Madness . Routledge, 1992, p. 119.
  25. After James Miller: The Passion of Michel Foucault . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1995, p. 142.
  26. Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . Beck, Munich 1999, p. 21.
  27. ^ Gary Gutting: Michel Foucault's archeology of scientific reason . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, pp. 139 f.
  28. Michel Foucault: The order of things. Frankfurt a. M. 1981, p. 24, cf. also p. 261: "The history of knowledge can only be formed on the basis of what it was at the same time, and not in terms of mutual influence, but in terms of conditions and a priori formed in time."
  29. ibid., P. 373: "Before the end of the eighteenth century man did not exist." And: "There was no epistemological awareness of man as such."
  30. a b Michel Foucault: The order of things. Frankfurt a. M. 2008, p. 24.
  31. For example Ralf Konersmann in: Michel Foucault: The order of the discourse . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2001; and keyword discourse analysis . In: Metzler-Lexikon literary and cultural theory . Metzler, Stuttgart 2001.
  32. Sebastian Huhnholz: Bielefeld, Paris & Cambridge? The origins of the history of science and the political and theoretical convergences of the discourse-historical methodologies of Koselleck, Foucault and Skinner . In: Ludwig Gasteiger et al. (Ed.): Theory and Criticism. Dialogues between different thinking styles and disciplines . Bielefeld, transcript 2015, p. 157-182 .
  33. ↑ Best known for this is the final part of the order of things .
  34. ^ Gary Gutting: Michel Foucault's archeology of scientific reason . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, pp. 227-231.
  35. Michael Ruoff: Foucault Lexicon . Munich 2007, p. 146.
  36. z. B. Michel Foucault: Other spaces .
  37. Arndt Peltner: Californian road trip to Death Valley: Michel Foucault on LSD In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur from June 2, 2019
  38. Andreas Tobler: "The sky has exploded and stars are raining down on me" In: Tages-Anzeiger of June 2, 2019.
  39. See also Michel Foucault, an interview. Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity. In: Ulrich Bröckling (Ed.): Michel Foucault. Criticism of government. Writings on Politics. Frankfurt am Main 2010, pp. 386-400.
  40. Sexuality and Truth: Fourth Volume: The Confessions of the Flesh by Michel Foucault - Suhrkamp Insel books book detail. Retrieved June 5, 2020 .
  41. Cord Riechelmann, The Law of Nature and Counter- Nature, FAS No. 26/2019 of June 30, 2019, p. 38 (review)
  42. "Ethics is a battleground". Martin Saar in conversation with René Aguigah. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur . 4th February 2018.
  43. Michel Foucault: The order of things . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2003 [first 1974], p. 15.
  44. Didier Eribon: Michel Foucault. A biography . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991, p. 69.
  45. ^ Achim Volkers: Knowledge and education at Foucault. Enlightenment between science and ethical-aesthetic educational processes. VS Verlag, 2008, p. 27.
  46. Didier Eribon: Michel Foucault. A biography . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991, p. 251.
  47. a b Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . 2nd edition, Bremen 1999, ISBN 3-406-45543-3 , pp. 58 and 129 f.
  48. Jürgen Habermas The philosophical discourse of modernity , Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, Frankfurt a. M. 1985, p. 279 ff.
  49. Cf. with other relevant contributions Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, John Rajchman (eds.): The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature. New Press, New York 2006, ISBN 1-59558-134-0 .
  50. Center for the Study of Complex Systems | UM LSA Center for the Study of Complex Systems. Retrieved June 5, 2020 .
  51. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The challenge of cultural history . Munich 1998, pp. 45-95.
  52. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The challenge of cultural history . Munich 1998, p. 81.
  53. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The challenge of cultural history . Munich 1998, p. 91.
  54. Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . 2nd Edition. Bremen 1999, p. 149 f.
  55. a b Urs Marti: Michel Foucault . 2nd Edition. Bremen 1999, pp. 130 and 165.
  56. Ingeborg Breuer, Peter Leusch, Dieter Mersch: Worlds in the head. Profiles of contemporary philosophy. Rotbuch Verlag, Hamburg 1996, p. 114.
  57. Urs Marti: Michel Foucault. Beck, Munich 1999, p. 23.
  58. Michel de Certeau: Art of Action. Merve Verlag, Berlin 1988.
  59. Peut-on critiquer Foucault? Interview with Daniel Zamora, Ballast, December 3, 2014 (French).
  60. ^ Foucault and Neoliberalism. Daniel Zamora, Michael C. Behrent, John Wiley & Sons . Hoboken 2016, ISBN 978-1-5095-0177-9 . Book presentation on the website of Wiley & Sons.
  61. ^ Review of Zamora's «Critiquer Foucault». Jan Teurlings, Journal for Media Studies, Diaphanes- Verlag, July 29, 2015; PDF , review by: Critiquer Foucault: Les Années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale. By Loic Wacquant, Jan Rehmann, Michael Scott Christofferson, Michael C. Behrent, Jean-Loup Amselle, Daniel Zamora, Brussels 2014, ISBN 978-2-8059-2067-7 .
  62. ^ Searching for Foucault in an Age of Inequality. Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, Alexander Arnold, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 18, 2015.
  63. Power alone doesn't do it either . Review by Cord Riechelmann in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on July 13, 2014, p. 40.
  64. ^ Review by Philipp Sarasin in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on December 30, 2011, by Martin Kindtner in Sehepunkte on January 17, 2012 and by Roman Veressov in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on January 25, 2012.