48 pages 1 hour read

Michel Foucault

Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1975

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Key Figures

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher and literary critic whose work explored systems of power, knowledge, and sexuality. Foucault’s writing mirrored the philosophical school of post-structuralism, which undermined the structuralist theory that all aspects of culture were the result of a broader system of power. Foucault’s study of history emphasized discontinuity over structuralism; he was interested in historical anomalies and rejected a linear understanding of events over time. He was highly critical of Marxism, which relied upon a structuralist understanding of power, instead embracing relativism and building upon the works of Nietzsche. Despite Foucault’s love of discontinuity, much of his work relied upon a cause-and-effect structure of historical events.

His emphasis on the disconnectedness of history reflects his personal deviation from a traditionalist culture in 20th-century France. The radical social philosopher had capitalistic roots. Foucault came from a long line of surgeons, and his father hoped that his son would carry the tradition forward. Later in life, Foucault tried to downplay his family’s wealth and socially-conservative politics; when asked about his father, Foucault called him a bully. Rejecting his father’s career, Foucault attended the University of Paris (Sorbonne), where he studied philosophy and psychology.