Michel Foucault: Key Concepts

Michel Foucault: Key Concepts

Michel Foucault: Key Concepts

Michel Foucault: Key Concepts


Michel Foucault was one of the twentieth century's most influential and provocative thinkers. His work on freedom, subjectivity, and power is now central to thinking across an extraordinarily wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, history, education, psychology, politics, anthropology, sociology, and criminology. "Michel Foucault: Key Concepts" explores Foucault's central ideas, such as disciplinary power, biopower, bodies, spirituality, and practices of the self. Each essay focuses on a specific concept, analyzing its meaning and uses across Foucault's work, highlighting its connection to other concepts, and emphasizing its potential applications. Together, the chapters provide the main co-ordinates to map Foucault's work. But more than a guide to the work, "Michel Foucault: Key Concepts" introduces readers to Foucault's thinking, equipping them with a set of tools that can facilitate and enhance further study.


Dianna Taylor

Foucault the experimenter

Michel Foucault was not a systematic thinker. He referred to himself as an “experimenter” as opposed to a “theorist” (1991a: 27); eschewed the labelling of his work in terms of existing categories; and asserted that “thinking differently” and self-transformation, rather than “validating what is already known”, lay at the core of his philosophical work (1990b: 910). “I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am,” Foucault states in a 1982 interview:

The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that
you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book
what you would say at the end, do you think you would have the
courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love rela
tionship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we
don’t know what will be the end.

(1988: 9)

In addition to being unsystematic, Foucault’s work also challenges fundamental aspects of the Western philosophical tradition. As he sees it, philosophers have exerted much intellectual time and effort and devoted many pages to creating a dualistic and overly simplified worldview that valorizes aspects of human existence that provide us with a false sense of our own ability to gain certainty about the world, and to thereby become masters of it and ourselves. This worldview imbues us with a false and misguided sense of security that, nonetheless, because it is preferable to the threat that uncertainty appears to . . .

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