Michel Foucault is perhaps the most widely influential critical social theorist of the last fifty years. His ground-breaking studies of both psychiatric and penal incarceration and of the history of sexuality, and his elaboration of concepts of governmentality and biopolitics have established new objects of study and provided methodological models for a wide variety of emergent and established fields. Trained as a philosopher, Foucault was fundamentally an historical epistemologist who argued that truth has a history, both internal and external. In each of his many projects, he attempts to account not for the history of a science as a sequence of discoveries but for the constitution of an historically determinate form of knowledge. He describes its historical, social, and intellectual preconditions, its way of distinguishing statements that can be considered true or false, and above all the effects of social control it generated. Our reading of Foucault, in turn, will look to understand both the sources of the power of his analyses and their limits, to determine what their own truth-effects might be, and to question the forms of new disciplinary knowledge and political activism they might support.
In this course we will read most of Foucault’s major works (The History of Madness, The Order of Things, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality Volume I), as well as selected essays and excerpts from his recently published seminars (most importantly Security, Territory, Population). Short papers will be designed to ensure active engagement with the readings, and a final paper will allow each student to develop an analysis of a selected aspect of Foucault’s work.