Foucault News

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

Jarryd Bartle, In defence of Michel Foucault, Unherd, January 27, 2022

Blaming French theory for the extremes of the American Left has been a popular line for that last few years. Public intellectual Jordan Peterson has blamed “postmodern neo-Marxism” for the rise of a hypersensitive yet coercive activism, connecting the term to everything from safe spaces, to cultural appropriation, to campus protests.
[…]

Let’s focus on the ultimate fall guy for ‘wokeism’, the French philosopher Michel Foucault. If you were to read anti-woke commentary about Foucault, you would be under the impression that his main insights are: nothing is true, all truth is power and all claims to truth are oppressive. This is a deliberately misleading.

Despite what you’ve been told, Foucault was not a rabid ‘activist’ bent on tearing down scientific institutions, but a historian of ideas. His work documents how knowledge changes over time, how some ideas become valorised whilst others get pushed to the margins, and how expertise shifts as a result of cultural and historical change.

He was not denying truth, but helping to place it within a broader historical context. Truth could not help being “a thing of this world”, he wrote. Every society had a regime of truth, and a “general politics” of truth. These are simply types of discourse which society “accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

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