Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Christopher R. Mayes, Revisiting Foucault’s ‘Normative Confusions’: Surveying the Debate Since the Collège de France Lectures, Philosophy Compass, Volume 10, Issue 12, pages 841–855, December 2015

DOI: 10.1111/phc3.12274

At once historical and philosophical, Michel Foucault used his genealogical method to expose the contingent conditions constituting the institutions, sciences and practices of the present. His analyses of the asylum, clinic, prison and sexuality revealed the historical, political and epistemological forces that make up certain types of subjects, sciences and sites of control. Although noting the originality of his work, a number of early critics questioned the normative framework of Foucault’s method. Nancy Fraser argued that Foucault’s genealogical method was ‘normatively confused’ as it implied political critique yet claimed to be value-neutral. Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor also questioned the normative basis of Foucault’s appeals to critique, arguing it was self-refuting as Foucault left no room for the subject to escape power. Although a debate among these scholars was planned for the mid-1980s, Foucault’s death in 1984 meant this could not occur. A number of edited volumes sought to fabricate a debate, with defenders of Foucault excavating his published monographs to construct responses to his critics. While the monographs remain the central texts of Foucault’s oeuvre, over the past decade his Collège de France lectures have been published and translated into English. This article offers a schematic survey of the influence of the Collège de France lectures in recasting different points in the debates over normativity, critique and resistance.

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