Truth and Knowledge for Michel Foucault, with Ann Stoler
Great Books 31, Think About It | Podcast
Conversations on big ideas and great books hosted by Uli Baer.
Why is everyone talking about Michel Foucault these days? How can Foucault’s work have so many resonances in our contemporary world? What were his insights and discoveries that have influenced disciplines as diverse as cultural studies, gender and queer studies, or post-colonial studies? There is no doubt that Michel Foucault was one of the greatest thinkers of all time. His work —always critical— between philosophy and history, resists easy labels. Some regard him as a historian of knowledge, while others think he is a philosopher. He thought of his own method as genealogy, and I wanted to understand what this means. His celebrated four-volume work History of Sexuality, published between 1978 and 2018 —the final volume posthumously— and his conferences in the Collège de France —among others— are fundamental to understand how concepts such as knowledge, power, gender, sexuality, desire and affect are not neutral but culturally and historically determined.
Our guest today was able to attend some of Foucault’s conferences in Paris. Ann Stoler is Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York City. In this new episode, I talked with Ann about her first encounter with the work of the French philosopher to better understand some key points of his investigations. How can we think of “truth” as something historically and culturally specific, rather than an absolute, unending value. I learned how Foucault’s investigations influenced Ann Stoler’s pathbreaking work on the politics of knowledge, colonial governance, racial epistemologies, the sexual politics of empire, and the ethnography of the archives.