Biography of Michel Foucault

Paul-Michel Foucault was a French historian, psychologist, philosopher and social theorist, who was born on October 15, 1926, in Poitiers, France.

His father was Paul Foucault, a renowned French surgeon, who expected his son to follow in his footsteps, but Michel decided to study psychology and philosophy. This allowed him then be a professor at various French and American universities.

Michel Foucault became one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, whose ideas still have a great impact on people. And that allowed him to exert a great influence on the French cultural environment of his time.

In the 1960s, Foucault was considered part of the structuralism, a movement from which he distanced himself later. Foucault is known for his analyzes of power and the relationships between power, which led him to study social institutions and the ways they work.

Especially, he studied prisons, health systems and finally, under the same focus, human sexuality. The extensive knowledge of the humanities of the brilliant Michel Foucault has had a great influence on philosophy, psychology, politics, literary criticism and sociology.

Michel Foucault died in Paris, on June 25, 1984, at the age of 57, due to health complications caused by AIDS.

Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris

In 1946, Michel entered the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (École Normale Supérieure de Paris), as a gateway to an academic career in Humanities.

At that time, managing and understanding his homosexuality was not easy for Michel, just 20 years old. Therefore, after suffering some episodes of depression and having several suicide attempts, he was taken to a psychiatrist, being in treatment for a time.

This allowed him to discover psychology, a career that he studied together with a degree in philosophy, and from which he graduated in 1952. Upon completing his university studies, Foucault got a teaching position at his own house of studies, the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

But his stay there was brief, after accepting a teaching position in psychology at the University of Lille, where he taught from 1953 to 1954. Later, he went to Sweden to study for a doctorate, from which he finally graduated in Paris in 1961, presenting two theses, as was usual in France.

The main thesis was: “Madness and dementia: History of madness in classical times” and the secondary thesis was: Translation and Comments of: “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view”, by Kant.

College of France

Foucault taught in the College of France (Collège de France) the chair called: History of thought systems (Histoire des systèmes de pensée), inaugurated on November 30, 1969.

His inaugural class on December 2, 1970 was titled: The order of speech (L’ordre du discours), which was published in May 1971.

These kinds of History of thought systems They were weekly, between January and March, and had the participation of students, professors, researchers and the general public. With so many attendees, the classes took place in the amphitheater of the College, so Foucault said that this prevented him from contact with the public and limited the possibilities of exchange.

In his later years, he managed to include at the end of each class, a question session by the attendees. Michel Foucault gave his classes in History of thought systems from December 1970 until his death in June 1984.

Power according to Foucault

In the sixties, the theory of power was centered on the power exercised by the government or the state over its citizens. They were also seen from a Marxist perspective, through the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

That is to say, that power was seen from a political and economic point of view, to maintain social order or to provoke social changes. These theories viewed power on a macroscopic scale, ignoring or giving little importance to power relations in the lower layers of society.

Foucault considered these approaches simplistic, because power is not only exercised by the state or the capitalists. Power is also exercised by individuals and society as a whole, including groups and organizations.

Therefore, Foucault said: “power is everywhere and comes from everywhere.” For this reason, he rejected the traditional concept of power, where power is seen as something that can be possessed and raised as a weapon or a tool.

However, Foucault said that power is something that is exercised, and that power does not exist until it is acted upon. In other words, instead of thinking of power as a ‘thing’, Foucault sees it as a ‘relation’.

So, power is not something you have, but something you do to others, that is, an action that affects the actions of others. For this reason, Foucault recognizes that power has been the main force that gives structure to the social order and today, it still does.

Last years of life of Michel Foucault

During the last years of his life, Michel Foucault was criticized for changing his ideas and opinion throughout his life. What he defended himself by saying that it was a natural phenomenon, motivated by experience and the acquisition of knowledge.

During an interview in 1982, Foucault said, “Well, do you think I’ve worked hard all these years to say the same thing and not have changed?”

Foucault died at the Hospital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, on June 25, 1984, due to a serious illness of the nervous system caused by AIDS. Michel He was one of the first French personalities, who died from this disease.

Main works

Michel Foucault distinguished himself for being a fruitful writer and among his most relevant works are:

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