Lycée Henri-IV, 23 Rue Clovis, 75005 Paris, Francia
Uppsala University, Uppsala, 752 36 Uppsala, Svezia
Cimetière de Vendeuvre-du-Poitou, Route des Sablières, 86380 Vendeuvre-du-Poitou, Francia
Paul-Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984), generally known as Michel Foucault, was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic.
Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Though often cited as a post-structuralist and postmodernist, Foucault rejected these labels, preferring to present his thought as a critical history of modernity. His thought has influenced academics, especially those working in communication studies, sociology, cultural studies, literary theory, feminism, and critical theory. Activist groups have also found his theories compelling.
Born in Poitiers, France, into an upper-middle-class family, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV, at the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser, and at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), where he earned degrees in philosophy and psychology. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, The History of Madness (1961). After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Order of Things (1966), publications which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, from which he later distanced himself. These first three histories exemplified a historiographical technique Foucault was developing called "archaeology".
From 1966 to 1968, Foucault lectured at the University of Tunis before returning to France, where he became head of the philosophy department at the new experimental university of Paris VIII. Foucault subsequently published The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). In 1970, Foucault was admitted to the Collège de France, a membership he retained until his death. He also became active in a number of left-wing groups involved in campaigns against racism and human rights abuses and for penal reform. Foucault later published Discipline and Punish (1975) and The History of Sexuality (1976), in which he developed archaeological and genealogical methods which emphasized the role that power plays in society.
Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by HIV/AIDS; he became the first public figure in France to die from the disease. His partner Daniel Defert founded the AIDES charity in his memory.
Foucault's first biographer, Didier Eribon, described the philosopher as "a complex, many-sided character", and that "under one mask there is always another". He also noted that he exhibited an "enormous capacity for work". At the ENS, Foucault's classmates unanimously summed him up as a figure who was both "disconcerting and strange" and "a passionate worker". As he aged, his personality changed: Eribon noted that while he was a "tortured adolescent", post-1960, he had become "a radiant man, relaxed and cheerful", even being described by those who worked with him as a dandy. He noted that in 1969, Foucault embodied the idea of "the militant intellectual".
Foucault was an atheist. He was also a fan of classical music, particularly enjoying the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and became known for wearing turtleneck jumpers. After his death, Foucault's friend Georges Dumézil described him as having possessed "a profound kindness and goodness", also exhibiting an "intelligence [that] literally knew no bounds." His life-partner Daniel Defert inherited his estate.