Michel Foucault (French: [miÊÉl fuko]; born Paul-Michel Foucault) (15 October 1926 â 25 June 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions.
Born in Poitiers, France to an upper-middle-class family, Foucault was educated at the LycĂ©e Henri-IV and then the Ăcole Normale SupĂ©rieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, The History of Madness. After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced two more significant publications, The Birth of the Clinic and The Order of Things, which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, a theoretical movement in social anthropology from which he later distanced himself. These first three histories were examples of a historiographical technique Foucault was developing he called archaeology which he would later give a comprehensive account of in The Archaeology of Knowledge.
From 1966 to 1968, Foucault lectured at the University of Tunis, Tunisia before returning to France, where he became head of the philosophy department at the new experimental university of Paris VIII. In 1970 he was admitted to the CollĂšge de France, membership of which he retained till his death. He also became active in a number of left-wing groups involved in anti-racist campaigns, anti-human rights abuses movements, and the struggle for penal reform. He went on to publish The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality, his so-called genealogies which emphasized the role power plays in the evolution of discourse in society. Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by HIV/AIDS; he was the first public figure in France to have died from the disease, with his partner Daniel Defert founding the AIDES charity in his memory.
Foucault rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels later attributed to him, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity. His thought has been highly influential for both academic and activist groups.
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