Over the past several years I have been working on Foucault, leading to a four-volume intellectual history of his entire career. The books are published by Polity Press – Foucault’s Last Decade was published in April 2016;  Foucault: The Birth of Power in January 2017. The Early Foucault, was begun in late 2016 and completed in October 2020, and was published in June 2021 (more information here and a Polity blog post here).

A fourth and final book on the 1960s, The Archaeology of Foucault (Polity 2023), completes the series (more here). A side project on Georges Canguilhem led to a book in Polity’s Key Contemporary Thinkers series, published in early 2019 (more details here).

Links to my series of updates on the research and writing of the books can be found at these links

There is also a longer piece about the writing of the books at Berfrois.

There are interviews about Foucault’s Last Decade with Eugene Woulters at; with Dave O’Brien for the New Books in Critical Theory series – download or stream; and with Thomas Roueché in Tank Magazine. A discussion with Peter Gratton, Eduardo Mendieta and Dianna Taylor is open access in Symposium; and there is a discussion with Antoinette Koleva in Foucault Studies, also in Bulgarian translation in Sociological Problems [Социологически проблеми]. There is a discussion with Dave O’Brien about Foucault: The Birth of Power at New Books in Critical Theory.

There is a two part interview on all the Foucault work with Anne Schult and Jonas Knatz at the Journal of the History of Ideas blog – part 1 and part 2

I also took part in a BBC Radio 3 programme on Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume IV, also with Shahidha Bari, Lisa Downing and Stephen Shapiro. It can be streamed here and downloaded here.

There are reviews of Foucault’s Last Decade by Kurt Borg in Foucault Studies, in Manchester Review of Books, by Ruben Pfizenmaier at KULT online (all open access) and Mattias Leanza in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (requires subscription). There are reviews of Foucault: The Birth of Power at the LSE Review of Books by Syamala Roberts (open access); by Audrey Borowski in Politics, Religion & Ideology, by Nancy Luxon in Perspectives in Politics (both require subscription), and by JM Moore in Justice, Power and Resistance (open access). A review of both books can be found in The Nation by Bruce Robbins and in 3am Magazine by Peter Gratton (along with Foucault’s The Punitive Society) – both open access. Both are discussed in a review essay by Mike Gane in Cultural Politics, which also looks at two of Foucault’s courses (requires subscription)In Thesis Eleven, Mitchell Dean reviews Foucault’s Last Decade and Ben Golder’s Foucault and the Politics of Rights; and Peter Beilharz reviews Foucault: The Birth of Power. Both reviews require subscription, unfortunately.

There are reviews of The Early Foucault by David Beer at The Fragment, Michael Maidan at Phenomenological Reviews (both open access), Colin Koopman at The Review of Politics (requires subscription) and Jasper Friedrich at Foucault Studies (open access).

Audio and video recordings are here.

Some translations, scans, textual analysis and links are available at Foucault Resources

Foucault’s Last Decade

On 26 August 1974, Michel Foucault completed work on Discipline and Punish, and  on that very same day began writing the first volume of  The History of Sexuality . A  little under ten years later, on 25 June 1984, shortly after the second and third volumes  were published, he was  dead.

This decade is one of the most fascinating of his career. It begins with the initiation  of the sexuality project, and ends with its enforced and premature closure. Yet in 1974  he had something very different in mind for  The History of Sexuality than the way  things were left in 1984. Foucault originally planned a thematically organised series of  six volumes, but wrote little of what he promised and published none of them. Instead  over the course of the next decade he took his work in very different directions,  studying, lecturing and writing about historical periods stretching back to  antiquity.

This book offers a detailed intellectual history of both the abandoned thematic  project and the more properly historical version left incomplete at his death. It draws on  all Foucault’s writings in this period, his courses at the Collège de France and  lectures elsewhere, as well as material archived in France and California to provide  a comprehensive overview and synthetic account of Foucault’s last  decade.

Foucault: The Birth of Power

Michel Foucault’s  The Archaeology of Knowledge was published in  March 1969; Discipline and Punish in February 1975. Although only separated in  time by six years, the difference in tone is stark: the former is a  methodological treatise, the latter a call to arms. What accounts for the radical shift  in Foucault’s  approach?

Several transitions took place during this period. Foucault returned to  France from Tunisia, first to the experimental University of Vincennes and then to  a prestigious chair at the Collège de France. Tunisia was a political  awakening for him, and he returned to a France much changed by the turmoil of 1968.  He quickly became involved in activist work, particularly concerning prisons  but also around health issues such as abortion rights, and in his seminars he  built research teams to conduct collaborative work, often around issues related  to his lectures and  activism.

Foucault: The Birth of Power makes use of his Collège de France  courses, newly available documents at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as well  as archival material relating to his activism and collaborative research, to  provide a detailed intellectual history of Foucault as writer, researcher, lecturer  and activist. Through a careful reconstruction of Foucault’s work  and preoccupations, Elden shows that, while  Discipline and Punish may be  the major published output of this period, it rests on a much wider range  of concerns and projects. This is an essential companion to  Foucault’s Last Decade(Polity,  2016).

The Early Foucault

It was not until 1961 that Foucault published his first major book, History of Madness. He had already been working as an academic for a decade, teaching in Lille and Paris, writing, organizing cultural programmes and lecturing in Uppsala, Warsaw and Hamburg. Although he published little in this period, Foucault wrote much more, some of which has been preserved and only recently become available to researchers.

Drawing on archives in France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA, this is the most detailed study yet of Foucault’s early career. It recounts his debt to teachers including Louis Althusser, Jean Hyppolite, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean Wahl; his diploma thesis on Hegel; and his early teaching career. It explores his initial encounters with Georges Canguilhem, Jacques Lacan, and Georges Dumézil, and analyses his sustained reading of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Also included are detailed discussions of his translations of Ludwig Binswanger, Victor von Weizsäcker, and Immanuel Kant; his clinical work with Georges and Jacqueline Verdeaux; and his cultural work outside of France.

Investigating how Foucault came to write History of Madness, Stuart Elden shows this great thinker’s deep engagement with phenomenology, anthropology and psychology. An outstanding, meticulous work of intellectual history, The Early Foucault sheds new light on the formation of a major twentieth-century figure.

The Archaeology of Foucault

On 20 May 1961 Foucault defended his two doctoral theses; on 2 December 1970 he gave his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France. Between these significant dates, he published four books, travelled widely and wrote extensively on literature, the visual arts, linguistics and philosophy. He taught both psychology and philosophy, beginning his explorations of the question of sexuality.

Weaving together analyses of published and unpublished material, much of which has only recently become available, this book is a comprehensive study of this crucial period of Foucault’s career. As well as his major texts, it discusses his initial visits to Brazil, Japan and the USA, his time in Tunisia, and his editorial work for Critique and the complete works of Nietzsche and Bataille.

It was in this period that Foucault developed the historical-philosophical approach he called ‘archaeology’. For Foucault ‘archaeology’ meant the elaboration of the archive, which he understood as the rules which make possible specific claims. In its detailed study of Foucault’s archive, this book is also an archaeology of Foucault in a more literal sense, as a digging down, an uncovering, both excavation and reconstruction.

This book completes a four-volume series of major intellectual histories of Michel Foucault, exploring newly released archival material and covering the French thinker’s entire academic career. Foucault’s Last Decade was published by Polity in 2016; Foucault: The Birth of Power followed in 2017; and The Early Foucault in 2021.

44 Responses to Foucault

  1. Pingback: Foucault books – reorganisation of webpages | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Top posts on Progressive Geographies this week and a link to Derek Gregory’s piece on Paris | Progressive Geographies

  3. Pingback: Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 6 – working on The Punitive Society, drafting Chapter Three, work on Chapter Six and giving some talks | Progressive Geographies

  4. Pingback: Top posts on Progressive Geographies this week | Progressive Geographies

  5. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power update 8 – working at the IMEC archive and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale | Progressive Geographies

  6. Pingback: Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 9 – restructuring the drafts of Chapters Four and Six | Progressive Geographies

  7. Pingback: Foucault books received – including his first book Maladie mentale et personnalité | Progressive Geographies

  8. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 10 – Chapter Five and a complete first draft | Progressive Geographies

  9. Pingback: Foucault and the Politics of Health – Collaborative research and activism – UCL, 12 Jan 2016, 12.30pm | Progressive Geographies

  10. Pingback: Foucault and the Politics of Health: Collaborative research and activism – audio recording of UCL talk | Progressive Geographies

  11. Pingback: Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 11: clearing the decks and beginning to move from Foucault to Shakespeare | Progressive Geographies

  12. Pingback: Manifesto of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons translation in Viewpoint | Progressive Geographies

  13. Pingback: The Biopolitics of Birth: Michel Foucault, the Groupe Information Santé and the Abortion Rights Struggle – in Viewpoint Magazine | Progressive Geographies

  14. Pingback: Foucault: the Birth of Power Update 12: Another trip to Paris and submission of the manuscript | Progressive Geographies

  15. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade Update 26: advanced copy received and some final reflections | Progressive Geographies

  16. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 14 – receiving the reader reports, and working on Farge and Foucault, Le désordre des familles | Progressive Geographies

  17. Pingback: A fairly clear desk as I begin the final revisions of Foucault: The Birth of Power | Progressive Geographies

  18. Janet Abbey says:

    I thought I remembered Foucault’s long discussion on Confession from his College de France 1974-75 lectures. Also in reading Blacklist Foucault’s entire genealogy of confession was re-invented by Eric Maddox in his interrogation techniques to capture Saddam. It is astonishing how closely Maddox parallels Foucault in this as a naive questioner in the military. Blacklist is not a book anyone would think to look in for this so it is quite a surprise to find it there waiting for a reader and student of Foucault. It’s a quick read and thrilling in Maddox’s intellectual twists and turns as he invents surprising ways of obtaining the information the military needs up to the last minute.

    • stuartelden says:

      That’s interesting – I didn’t know the Blacklist book. Confession is a major theme of Foucault’s Last Decade, because I suggest it is the key to both the original and subsequent plans of the History of Sexuality, and the challenge of working on it led to many of the twists and turns of his work in this period.

  19. Pingback: End of day two of final revisions of Foucault: The Birth of Power | Progressive Geographies

  20. Janet Abbey says:

    It’s one of those quick ghost written with a hired writer when some subject is hot like getting Saddam. No reason any of us would read it but I just happened to be interested in the making of the movie as I was working on Twilight and the actors in that movie and their expanding plans.

  21. Pingback: Another long day revising Foucault: The Birth of Power | Progressive Geographies

  22. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power resubmitted | Progressive Geographies

  23. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power cover and description (forthcoming early 2017) | Progressive Geographies

  24. Pingback: Foucault and Shakespeare, Terrain and forthcoming talks | Progressive Geographies

  25. Pingback: An early Christmas present – an advance copy of Foucault: The Birth of Power | Progressive Geographies

  26. Pingback: Most popular posts and pages in 2016 | Progressive Geographies

  27. Pingback: Stuart Elden: Shakespeare and Philosophy, March 16 | Kingston Shakespeare Seminar

  28. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power now available worldwide | Progressive Geographies

  29. Pingback: A year in review – publications, writing, talks, etc. | Progressive Geographies

  30. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power reviewed by Audrey Borowski in Politics, Religion & Ideology | Progressive Geographies

  31. Pingback: Ruben Pfizenmaier reviews Foucault’s Last Decade at KULT online | Progressive Geographies

  32. Pingback: Recent reviews of my Foucault books – Mike Gane, JM Moore and Nancy Luxon | Progressive Geographies

  33. Pingback: Mattias Leanza review of Foucault’s Last Decade in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (requires subscription) | Progressive Geographies

  34. Pingback: Beginning work on ‘The Archaeology of Foucault’ | Progressive Geographies

  35. Pingback: Mitchell Dean on Foucault’s Last Decade; Peter Beilharz on Foucault: The Birth of Power in Thesis Eleven | Progressive Geographies

  36. Pingback: Stuart Elden, ‘The Archaeology of Foucault’, Modern French Research Seminar, University of Cambridge (online), 31 January 2022 | Progressive Geographies

  37. Pingback: Indo-European Thought project update 3: Paris – Foucault, Canguilhem, Dumézil | Progressive Geographies

  38. Pingback: Indo-European Thought project update 5: Reading Saussure | Progressive Geographies

  39. Pingback: Indo-European thought project update 6: beginning the Leverhulme fellowship, my self-imposed guidelines for writing and time-discipline, and some summer cycling and writing | Progressive Geographies

  40. Pingback: Indo-European thought project update 7: Working on Dumézil’s teaching, a few research resources, and some archival work in Paris | Progressive Geographies

  41. Pingback: Stuart Elden, The Archaeology of Foucault – Polity, December 2022 | Progressive Geographies

  42. Pingback: Indo-European thought project update 8: working on Barthes, Lévi-Strauss and the Mission Paul Pelliot | Progressive Geographies

  43. Pingback: Indo-European thought project update 9: Dumézil’s courses; Benveniste’s teaching records; Barthes, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida; and a forthcoming article on “Foucault and Dumézil on Antiquity” | Progressive Geographies

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