Over the past several years I have been working on Foucault, so far leading to two books for Polity Press – Foucault’s Last Decade was published in April 2016; Foucault: The Birth of Power in January 2017.
A new project, under the working title of The Early Foucault, was begun in late 2016 (more information here). A side project on Georges Canguilhem, for a book in Polity’s Key Contemporary Thinkers series is also underway (more details here).
There are interviews about the first book with Eugene Woulters at critical-theory.com; 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].
A review of Foucault’s Last Decade by Kurt Borg is in Foucault Studies; one of Foucault: the Birth of Power at the LSE Review of Books by Syamala Roberts. 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).
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.
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).