Duncan Kelly, Foucault investigates, Times Literary Supplement, MAY 17, 2017
Duncan Kelly on the prodigious output of a writer who has influenced disciplines from classics to politics to psychology
Review Michel Foucault OEUVRES, I & II, Edited by Frédéric Gros et al.
In 1970, after various appointments in France, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Tunisia, the French philosopher and epistemologist Michel Foucault took a Chair at the Collège de France in Paris. His job title was Professor of the History of Systems of Thought, and his inaugural lecture offered a retrospect and prospect of what that meant to him. Yet only by the end of the 1970s, in a recap of a course given on the birth of modern “biopolitics”, published in English as “History of Systems of Thought” (1979), did Foucault explain what this meant more explicitly. Asking how, from the eighteenth century onwards, governmental practices had sought to rationalize the attention they paid to their subjects and citizens, he considered the range of policies and systems of thought that justified them, targeting the practical problems of governing a population (health, hygiene, care and welfare, births, deaths, diseases, etc). These were forms of “governmentality” and, he continued, they were “inseparable” as systems of thought from the dominant form of “political rationality” that overlay them, namely, modern “liberalism”. The history of systems of thought, it turns out, covers it all.