Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Historiography Seminar 8: Michel Foucault - Power and Knowledge

SEMINAR EIGHT: Michel Foucault: Power and Knowledge (after a lecture on `Not a Historian: Michel Foucault’)

Michel Foucault once responded to a question about his disciplinary approach (it was in response to a journalist, so we should probably take his interlocutor into account) that he was `not a historian; but then, nobody’s perfect’. It is usually assumed that he was being ironic (or even sarcastic). Does working on `the past’ make a scholar a historian, whatever his or her formal scholastic affiliation may be? Whatever he was, how do you account for Foucault’s influence among historians over the last thirty years?


Foucault, M., Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (London, 1977) [Part 3, Chapter 1: Docile Bodies [HF4100.F6] SLC photocopy

Foucault, M., The History of Sexuality. Volume 1. An Introduction (London, 1978), 53-73 (`Scienta Sexualis’); 92-102 `(Method’)

Background Seminar Reading:

Burke, P., What Is Cultural History? (London, 2004), 49-73

Cooper, D., `Productive, Relational and Everywhere? Conceptualising Power and Resistance within Foucauldian Feminism’, Sociology 28 (1994), 435-454

Goldstein, J., ‘Foucault Amongst the Sociologists: The Disciplines and the History of the Professions’, History & Theory, 23 (1994), 170-92

Hughes-Warrington, M., Fifty Key Thinkers on History (London, 2000), 93-101

Iggers, G. G. & Wang, Q. E., A Global History of Modern Historiography (London, 2008), Ch. 6, passim.

O’Brien, P., `Crime and Punishment as Historical Problems’, Journal of Social History, 11:4 (1978), 508-520

Jones, C., & Porter, R. (eds), Reassessing Foucault: Power, Medicine and the Body (London, 1994)

Munslow, A., The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies (London, 2000), pp. 107-111

Roth, M. S., `Foucault’s “History of the Present”’, History and Theory, 20:1 (1981), 32-46

Questions for Seminar Preparation (may also be used as essay titles):

  1. What was `Foucault’s “History of the Present”’? (Michael Roth).
  2. How useful to historians is the Foucauldian insight that ‘knowledge is power’?
  3. `The obligation to confess is now relayed though so many different points, is so deeply engrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that the truth, lodged in our most secret nature, demands only to surface’. (History of Sexuality, p.60) Discuss.
  4. Give an account of Foucault’s place in a global history of late twentieth-century historiography.

1. Works by Foucault (incl. posthumous publications):

Foucault, M., The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London, 1970)

Foucault, M., The Archaeology of Knowledge (London, 1972)

Foucault, M., The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (London, 1973)

Foucault, M., Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (London, 1967)

Foucault, M., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. D. F. Bouchard (Ithaca, NY, 1977)

Foucault, M. (ed.), I, Pierre Rivière: A Case of Parricide in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1978)

Foucault, M., A History of Sexuality (3 vols, London, 1984-90)

Foucault, M., Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-77, ed. C. Gordon (Brighton, 1980)

Foucault, M., The Foucault Reader, ed. P. Rabinow (Harmondsworth, 1984)

Foucault, M., Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-84 ed. L. Kritzman (London, 1988)

Foucault, M., Foucault Live (Interviews 1966-84), ed. S. Lotringer (New York, 1989)

Foucault, M., Dits et écrits, 1954-1988, édition établie sous la direction de Daniel Defert et François Ewald avec la collaboration de Jacques Lagrange, 3 vols (Paris, 1994)

Foucault, M., The Hermeneutics of the Subject. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982, ed. F. Gros (New York, 2005)

2. Works on Foucault, and Discussions of His Work:

Arac, J. (ed.), After Foucault: Humanistic Knowledge, Post-Modern Challenge (New Brunswick, NJ, 1991)

Bernauer, J. & Rasmussen, D. (eds), The Final Foucault (Cambridge MA, 1988)

Burchell, G., & Gordon, C. (eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (London, 1991)

Burke, P. (ed.), Critical Essays on Michel Foucault (Aldershot, 1992)

Gutting, G. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge, 1994)

Hartsock, N., `Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?’, in Feminism/Postmodernism Linda J. Nicholson ed., (New York: 1990), pp. 157-175

Diamond, I., & Quinby, L. (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance (Boston, 1988)

Fine, R., ‘Struggles against Discipline: The Theory and Politics of Michel Foucault’, Capital and Class, 9 (1979), 75-96

Goldstein, J. (ed.), Foucault and the Writing of History (Oxford, 1994)

McNay, L., Foucault. A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, 1994)

Megill, A., ‘The Reception of Foucault by Historians’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 48 (1987), 117-41

Merquior, J.G., Foucault (London, 1991)

Mitchell, D., Critical and Effective Histories. Foucault's Methods and Historical Sociology (London, 1994)

Noiriel, G., ‘Foucault and History: The Lessons of a Disillusion’, Journal of Modern History, 66 (1994), 547-68

O’Brien, P., ‘Michel Foucault's History of Culture', in L. Hunt (ed.), The New Cultural History (Berkeley, 1989), 25-46

Poster, M., Foucault, Marxism and History: Modes of Production, Modes of Information (Cambridge, 1984)

Rousseau, G. S., `Whose Enlightenment? Not Man’s. The Case of Michel Foucault’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 6:2 (1972), 238-56

Skinner, Q. (ed.), The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences (Cambridge, 1990)

Strozier, R. M., Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity. Historical Constructions of Subject and Self (Detroit, 2002)

Weeks, J., `Foucault for Historians’, History Workshop Journal 14 (1982), 106-119

3. The Subject of Michel Foucault:

Dews, P., `Power and Subjectivity in Foucault’, New Left Review, 1:44 (1984),

Dreyfus, H. L. & Rabinow, P. (eds), Michel Foucault. Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago, 1982), esp. 208-226

Eribon, D., Michel Foucault (Cambridge MA, 1991, London 1992)

Foucault, M., `Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault’, in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, eds. L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton (Amherst MASS, 1982)

Macey, D., The Lives of Michel Foucault (London, 1994)

Miller, J., The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York, 1999)

Nick, C., `Body-Subject/Body-Power: Agency, Inscription and Control in Foucault and Merleau-Ponty, Body and Society, 2: 2. (1996), 99-116

4. Foucault and the Feminists:

Diamond, I. & Quinby, L., Feminism & Foucault: Reflections on Resistance (Boston, 1988)

Grosz, E. `Bodies and Knowledges. Feminism and the Crisis of Reason', in A. Alcoff and E. Potter (eds) Feminist Epistemologies (London, 1993)

Hekman, S. J. (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of Michel Foucault (Philadelphia, 1996)

McClaren, M., `Foucault and the Subject of Feminism’, Social Theory and Practice, 23:11 (1997), 109-128

McNay, L., Foucault and Feminism. Power, Gender and the Self (Cambridge, 1992)

Ramazanoğlu, C., Up Against Foucault. Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism (London, 1993)

Sawicki, J., Disciplining Foucault. Feminism, Power, and the Body (London, 1991)