Historian, psychologist, philosopher and social theorist. Michel Foucault was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, The ideas generated a great impact and exerted a great influence in all the French cultural atmosphere of the time.
He was recognized around the world for his ideas on social institutions, especially prisons, the health care system, and psychiatry, as well as for his studies of human sexuality. Ideas that, along with his own biography and work, we’ll go over throughout this article.
Brief biography of Michel Foucault
Born October 15, 1926 in the city of Poitiers, France and under the name Paul-Michel Foucault, this prestigious French thinker grew up in a formal environment where study and knowledge were considered essential. That Foucault’s father was a renowned French surgeon.
After an academic history full of ups and downs, Foucault was able to enter the famous École Normande Supérieure, Recognized for being one of the cradles of the best specialists and thinkers in the human sciences in France.
His stay at the École Normande was one of his most difficult stages. After suffering from depression and several suicide attempts, Foucault remained in the hands of a psychiatrist for a long time. During this period, he acquired a great passion for psychology, which led him to obtain a degree in psychology and philosophy.
At the end of his university studies, Foucault got a teaching position at the École Normande. However, his stay in this place was shortly after taking a post as professor of psychology at the University of Lille, also in France.
After several other professions, Foucault returned to France with the intention of completing his doctorate, during which time he accepted a position in the philosophy department of the University of Clermont-Ferrand.
Throughout this period of his life, Foucault became a prolific writer, being most of his texts focused on psychology, psychiatry and mental health. While his subsequent publications have focused on topics related to politics, social issues and sexuality.
Overcome structuralism and recent years
During the years in which he was interested in the structuralist current, Foucault was considered to be part of the current, being at the level of certain other great thinkers such as Jacques Lacan or Claude Lévi-Strauss. However, Foucault totally reject the idea of being seen as a supporter of structuralism.
In 1968 the famous student revolts of May broke out, events which marked Foucault deeply and after which he obtained a place at the head of the philosophy department of the new experimental university Paris VIII. From there began his years of strong political activism.
Finally, this sharp was chosen as a member of the prestigious academic body of the Ecole de France, Increase his participation in politics and travel the world to give classes and lectures, including his famous lectures and interviews in the United States and Iran.
During his later years of life, Foucault was criticized for changing his mind and opinion continually throughout his life, which he defended as a natural phenomenon due to experience and knowledge acquisition.
finally Foucault died in 1984 of AIDS, Not without having destroyed beforehand a large part of his manuscripts and strictly prohibited the publication of all those who could have “survived”.
Power according to Foucault
Although in his early days Foucault focused on primarily psychological and mental health topics, as well as the institutions that control him, his most important and recognized contributions are in the social sciences and politics. .
Because he lived through a time of great change and social upheaval, Foucault was very interested in the present to which he belonged. Carry out exceptional reflections on the systems and power relations of the time.
It should first be noted that in matters of power, Foucault it does not only cling to governmental or institutional powerBut covers the power relationships that occur in all areas of society, also known as social power.
This social power is made up of a large network of small spheres of power, located below great powers such as the government or the Church. According to Foucault, these sub-spheres of power lie on different levels and support each other to manifest in subtle and cunning ways.
Nevertheless, according to the own thinker, the main obstacle to the realization of a revolution is the maintenance of the relations of power as they were at the time, calling for the examination and analysis of these social power relations.
In one of his publications entitled The Microphysics of Power (1980), Foucault reviews these power relations through two different domain dynamics:
- Contract: It materializes in the power of oppressive and legal type. Based on the legitimacy of that.
- domination: It is established in terms of repression and submission.
Foucault insists that the conflict does not lie only in governmental power, but also in all the substructures with power relations within it that support it.
Following this idea, Foucault insists on the fact that the analysis of power relations must not start from government powerBut we have to start with the smallest sub-spheres of power that feed it and make its maintenance possible.
Finally, Foucault determines that the main role of thinkers lies within society, accompanying them in the struggle against the forms of power that exist there.
Main works of this philosopher
As discussed above, Foucault stood out for being a prolific writer. Below, we review some of his most relevant works.
1. History of madness in the classical period (1961)
Foucault’s first relevant work, in which he analyzes and reviews the treatment given to the concept of madness throughout history, emphasizing progress of the treatment administered to the patient.
2. Words and Things (1966)
In this work by Foucault, the thinker reflects on the distinction of all historical periods by presenting a series of fundamental fundamental conditions of truth which establish what is acceptable, and how these conditions they evolve and change over time.
3. The archeology of knowledge (1969)
Another of the French thinker’s most relevant works in which he examines or analyzes the functionality and power of sentences as basic units of speech.
4. Watch and Punish (1975)
Throughout this work, analysis and reflection on the functioning of penitentiary establishments are carried out, with the intention of understanding the evolution of the ways in which convicts are punished over the years.
5. History of sexuality (1976, 1984)
This work by Foucault is materialized in three different volumes in which the use of sexuality as a regime of power is reviewed, as well as the use of sexual pleasures throughout history.
When Foucault died in 1984, he wrote the fourth volume of these reflections, which dealt with sexuality and Christianity.