This article offers the first comprehensive analysis of the ways in which the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) employed the terms ‘technology’ and the ‘technique’ over the course of his intellectual career. His use of these words in his mature writings, it is argued, reflects a profound ambivalence: Foucault sought to denounce the pernicious effects of what he called modern ‘technologies of power,’ but also deliberately evoked the more positive values associated with ‘technology’ to develop a philosophical standpoint shorn of the ‘humanist’ values he associated with existentialism and phenomenology. The article situates Foucault’s condemnation of power technologies within the broader skepticism towards ‘technological society’ that pervaded French intellectual circles following World War II. In the first phase of his career (1954-1960), Foucault built on these attitudes to articulate a conventional critique of technology’s alienating effects. Between 1961 and 1972, the theme of ‘technology’ fell into abeyance in his work, though he often suggested a connection between the rise of technology and the advent of the ‘human sciences.’ Between 1973 and 1979, ‘technology’ became a keyword in Foucault’s lexicon, notably when he coined the phrase ‘technologies of power’. He continued to use the term in the final stage of his career (1980-1984), when his emphasis shifted from power to ‘technologies of the self.’ The essay concludes by addressing Paul Forman’s thesis on the primacy of science in modernity and of technology in modernity, suggesting that in many respects Foucault is more of a modernist than a postmodernist.
With thanks to Philippe Theophanidis for this item