Then & Now
Published on May 30, 2019
In this introduction to Foucault I look at the poststructuralist philosopher’s influences and context (Nietzsche, Levi-Strauss & Sartre, among others), and summarise his position through his three most influential works, The Order of Things, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality. Foucault’s thought takes two approaches that are loosely related – the archaeological and the genealogical. The most important concept is that power and knowledge are intimately linked.
For Foucault, different time periods – what he calls epistemes – have different underlying assumptions, codes, and rules, mostly unconscious or at least structural, about how to think about things in the world.
Foucault analyses the way we’re discipline by power in the same way. In her introduction to Discipline and Punish, Lisa Downing puts like this: Foucault analyses the ‘means by which the body is made to conform to the utilitarian ends of social regimes thanks to the operations of disciplinary power.’
Finally, the central question outlined in vol. 1 is that of the ‘repressive hypothesis’. The narrative dominant in the 70s argued that where Westerners were once sexually oppressed, we have become slowly more liberated, more liberal. Is it really that simple? Like the rest of his work, Foucault questions this progressive, teleological narrative.
To conclude I take a quick look at Foucault’s thoughts on the multidirectional character of power.
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