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Michel Foucault

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Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was born in Poitiers, France. Widely revered, particularly in America, his ideas fall roughly into three phases of work: ideas on discourse and knowledge, ideas about power and political control, and ideas about the self. Throughout his work, Foucault does not separate philosophy from history - for him, "history is the medium in which life today is conducted" (McHoul).

In terms of ourselves studying communications, Foucault's ideas on Power are probably the most important.


This quote from "Foucault In Cyberspace: Surveillance, Sovereignty, and Hard-Wired Censors" ( summarises his conceptions of power. The page gives a good background in Foucault's relevance to today's society, and in particular, the internet.
" of Foucault's most interesting contributions was to challenge a particular notion of power, power-as-sovereignty, and to juxtapose against it a vision of "surveillance" and of "discipline." At the heart of this project was a belief that both our analyses of the operation of political power and our strategies for its restraint or limitation were inaccurate and misguided. In a series of essays and books, Foucault argued that, rather than the public and formal triangle of sovereign, citizen and right, we should focus on a series of subtler, private, informal and material forms of coercion organised around the concepts of "discipline" and "surveillance." The paradigm for the idea of surveillance was the Panopticon, Bentham's plan for a prison constructed in the shape of a wheel around the hub of an observing warden, who at any moment might have the prisoner under observation through a nineteenth century version of the closed circuit TV. Unsure of when authority might in fact be watching, the prisoner would strive always to conform his behaviour to its presumed desires; Bentham had struck upon a behavioralist equivalent of the superego, formed from uncertainty about when one was being observed by the powers that be. The echo of contemporary laments about the 'privacy-free state' is striking. To this Foucault added the notion of discipline -- crudely put, the multitudinous "private" methods of regulation of individual behaviour ranging from workplace time-and-motion efficiency directives to psychiatric evaluation."

In Foucault's conception of power, we are not necessarily compelled to act as we do by some external agency. Instead, through society's disciplines of schools, hospitals, prisons and the military, we have internalised it to become self-governed or "normalised". It makes for depressing reading.


Here's some further URLs, plus the book I used as a starting point for my presentation.

McHoul, G. & Grace, W. (1998). A Foucault Primer. University of Otago Press: Dunedin.

A good summary of his thinking - it covers much more than I have been able to above:

I pulled this paper ("Manipulation and Control of the Kakanui River, New Zealand") up in a search - it uses Foucault (in part) to explain people's relationships to a river - the Kakanui river in North Otago, no less.

A further exposition (by a criminologist, it seems) of Foucault's views on Power:

Here's a dictionary of terms that Foucault uses.

Found this site on Michel Foucault while searching for something else.