Theories of Foucault Term Paper

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¶ … Foucault'

Michael Foucault was born in France, on October 15, 1926 to a surgeon father, who wanted his son to enter the same profession. Academically brilliant, the young man was awarded his degree in Philosophy in the year 1948, and in 1950, his degree in Psychology. The next few years saw him working towards another degree, this time in psychopathology, a subject that interested him deeply. Michael Foucault worked in a psychiatric hospital, and also taught the French language at a college in Sweden. In the year 1959, he presented his paper for receiving his Doctorate, and this was entitled, 'Folie et deraison: Histoire de la folie y l'age classique, or 'Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age, 1961'. It was through this text that the genius was able to present to the world his idea that it is difficult to separate madness and reason into objective categories.

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During the late 1960's, Michael Foucault became the Head of Philosophy at the university of Paris, and this was the time when some of the most influential thinkers of the time were brought together to air their views without fear of reprisal. He soon formed the Prison Information Group, an organization that would lend its voice to the concerns of prisoners. It must be noted that this great philosopher and thinker worked at the outset with a critical history of the present times, at first with an archaeological mode, and then later on with a genealogical mode. Therefore, it must also be stated that his epistemological studies reiterated on the fact that the framework of knowledge and production would automatically change with the history of such practices as science, philosophy, art and literature. Michael Foucault also believed that institutional power, when it is closely linked with knowledge, would give rise to individual human subjects, who would be then subject to disciplinary rules and regulations.

Archaeology and Genealogy:

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It was when Michael Foucault published his work 'Discipline and punish' that he entered what is popularly known by thinkers and philosophers and researchers across the world as his 'genealogical period', which occurred immediately after his widely recognized 'archaeological period'. In the year 1969, Michael Foucault published his work 'The Archaeology of Knowledge', which is known as one of the most methodical treatises at that time that explains the historical approach tha6t the philosopher took when he wrote his 'The History of Madness', 'The Birth of the Clinic', and the 'Order of Things'. The archaeological theory in essence states that the systems of thought and of knowledge are in general completely governed and controlled by the rules of man, rules that are way beyond the simple rules of grammar and logic, and which operate beneath the consciousness of individual human beings. These rules that govern the systems of thought in effect define a sort of system of conceptual possibilities which would in turn define the boundaries of thought and knowledge within a specified domain and within a specified period of time.

Therefore, felt Michael Foucault, his work 'The History of Madness' must be read by interested persons as an intellectual extension and excavation of the several radically different discursive formations that predominated thought about madness right from the seventeenth to the eighteenth through the nineteenth century. This great thinker preferred to use archaeology as one of the most essential methods to illustrate his thoughts, because of the simple fact that archaeology would be able to support a historiography that would not rest on the primacy of the consciousness of separate individuals; rather, it would give the historian of thought the freedom of choice to operate at an unconscious level, so that it would effectively displace the primacy of the subject that was to be found in phenomenology and in traditional methods of historiography.

One problem remained however, and this was that archaeology's critical force would be constrained and restricted to the comparison of the different formations of discursive of different periods of time. This would mean that there would be a contingency in a particular way of thinking, because it would reveal the important fact that previous ages may have thought rather differently from the present ages, although with similar levels of effectiveness and efficiency. However, archaeological theory and analysis would reveal nothing at all about the reasons why there are transitions from one way of thinking to another, through the ages, and this would mean that the archaeological theory ignored completely the most forceful case for the contingency of the present day entrenched and contemporary positions.

History of Modern Sexuality:

The Chapter of the 'History of Modern Sexuality' is a work by Michael Foucault, in which the great thinker and philosopher lays down his various thoughts and propositions on 'power'. According to Foucault, the issue in question is "of forming a different grid of historical decipherment by starting from a different theory of power." Rather than putting this theory forward as a sort of an individual construct, Michael Foucault stated that it would be a matter "of advancing little by little toward a different conception of power through a closed examination of an entire historical material."

Several historians and thinkers state that it was essentially Michael Foucault who was responsible for perpetuating theories on human sexuality and the study of sexuality, as well as certain concepts on themes such as feminism and queer theory, which had never before come out into the open. According to Foucault, the history of sexuality in the Western part of the world was not in actuality characterized by the increased repression of the natural and free biological drive present in all human beings, but rather, by the 'transformation of sex into discourse'. This practice, felt Michael Foucault, probably began with the Christian practice of confessing one's sins to the priest, in which acts, thoughts as well as desires would have to be described in great detail to the priest listening in the Confessional.

Although confessions of this kind remained popular with Catholics, Protestants also joined in over time, substituting their personal examinations of conscience to confessions. It was during the later half of the eighteenth century, stated Foucault that sexuality as such started to become a matter of concern outside the religious circles, as this was the period of time when political authorities tried to encourage steady population growth, while educational authorities started to worry about the impact that masturbation would have on children's health. Medical authorities on the other hand started to demonstrate the sexual deviance of the time, while 'fertility' apparently became the focus of a woman's life. Foucault propagated the theory that modern sexuality is all about power, and that this power was not restrained to the authorities that regulate the power, but extended to and inherent in any form of sexual relationship. This power is closely connected to one's 'will to know', said Michael Foucault.

Discipline and Power:

Today, Michael Foucault's theory on discipline and power seem to possess even more relevance than at the time when it was propagated. They appear to offer thinkers a renewed critique of power that can be directed against the despotic nature of power that exists under the terms 'capitalism' and 'state socialism', as also against a more orthodox left opposition. The focal point of the theory on discipline and power was the prison, which was taken by Foucault as an apparatus that epitomized the problem of power as he happened to see it. The prison, 'an institute of despotism' as Foucault put it, has remained undamaged and unaffected for a great many years today, and Reformists, for example, have only managed to perfect its various mechanisms, while Stalinists have managed to simply reproduce it in the shape of the atrocious 'Gulag'. The prison, according to the great thinker, is the "extreme form" of the various "disciplinary" forms of power, whose wide boundaries would encompass several different aspects of society, like for example, the family, the school, the asylum, the police, the army, and the factory and so on.

Foucault is known to have often asked him and others, what is power if it cannot be strengthened in such a way that instead of impeding progress of mankind, it would be able to actually facilitate his progress? How can power be made to increase its forces, and thereby to increase those of society, instead of impeding them in any way? The productive increase of power would, therefore, be possible only if it can be made o exercise frequently at the very base of such power, the foundation of human society. Discipline, in the same way, can be seen in two forms: one the discipline blockade, or the enclosed institution that has been erected on the very edges of society, and attuned towards arresting negative functions, and the other, a functional mechanism that would make discipline an improvement on the exercise of power.


Religion has also played a major role in Michael Foucault's theories, although this is a dimension that has often been neglected.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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