Over the several years I have been working on a multi-volume study of Foucault’s work for Polity Press. Three volumes have been published so far – Foucault’s Last Decade in April 2016; Foucault: The Birth of Power in January 2017; and The Early Foucault in June 2021. A book on the 1960s – The Archaeology of Foucault – is in progress and updates on the research are here.
As the project has developed I have reorganised online material, and the main page which includes the aims of each book can be found here.
Please note – what follows is an archive of this page. See here for the updated page.
This book offers a detailed account of the last decade of the work of Michel Foucault, in order both to situate his key works in relation to each other, and to outline an intellectual history of his final project on the history of sexuality. It works in a textual and contextual way, offering close readings of Foucault’s works and situating them in relation to his life, political activism and collaborative projects at the Collège de France. The arguments of those works will be carefully reconstructed, filling in details and making links between published works, lecture material and unpublished projects.
Foucault’s Last Decade will draw on all published and several unpublished writings of Foucault, including his lecture courses at the Collège de France and material archived in France, as well as interviews. It seeks to outline how the originally conceived thematic plan for the History of Sexuality was abandoned; how it led Foucault through work on governmentality and technologies of the self; how he came to write the more chronological historical study he was working on at his death; and to open up some of the possibilities he himself left unexplored or under-developed. It will discuss the key concerns of his work throughout this period; what he argues in well-known and unjustly neglected works; and the kinds of analyses his work makes possible.
The introductory chapter treats the early 1970s, tracing the theme of power in Foucault’s work, and showing how this led to his book Discipline and Punish in 1975 [Update: this material has now been moved to The Birth of Power]. The next chapters outline the themes in his lectures relating to the different subjects of sex as a knowledge and discipline and how these are crystallized in the programme of work proposed in the first volume of the History of Sexuality. The arguments of that text will be discussed in detail, but the book will also draw on the extant materials beyond the book itself to indicate where Foucault anticipated going with these ideas. Beginning in Chapter Five, the book then looks at how Foucault’s project got into difficulties around the notion of confession, and led him to rethink its orientation. It therefore shows how the question of rule and regulation generally, and politics and ethics particularly, became concerns over the last few years of his life. As such the book goes beyond the History of Sexuality series itself, to weave in his arguments concerning governmentality and technologies of the self, which this book suggests were part of an overall research project on Foucault’s part.
Foucault: The Birth of Power
This book offers a detailed account of the work of Michel Foucault in the period 1969-74. Post-1968 is an important moment in Foucault’s career, as it sees him return to Paris after a period in Tunisia, to a highly charged political situation. He is initially at the new University of Vincennes and then is elected to the Collège de France in 1970. At this time he becomes actively involved in struggles around prisons, health and asylums. His initial three lecture courses at the Collège treat Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages and modernity, and complicate any straight-forward sense of a replacement of archaeology by genealogy. His political activism at the time partners his academic concerns. Reading these courses alongside the political work allows a close tracing of the emergence of the theme of power, and shows how all this led to his book Discipline and Punish: completed in August 1974 and published in early 1975.
Foucault – The Birth of Power therefore can be seen as a prequel to Foucault’s Last Decade... That book traced the project of the History of Sexuality; this book examines his early Collège de France courses and three interlinked political inquiries. But it also stands as an independent inquiry: these are not Volume I and II of a single study. How did Foucault’s work shift from the dry, historical and conceptual work of the late 1960s – The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge – to the politically-charged interventions of the 1970s? This is the key issue that this book seeks to examine. In this period Foucault becomes not just a theorist of the political, but a politicised theorist.
Updates – Foucault: The Birth of Power
I’ve been making a series of posts on these projects as I’ve been working on them.
- Aug 10th 2015 – initial work and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
- Aug 28th 2015 – work on early period at the Collège de France and another visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale
- Sept 17th 2015 – drafting discussion of Théories et institutions pénales and on activist work on health and asylums
- Oct 2nd 2015 – collaborative work and a complete draft of Chapter One on the Lectures on the Will to Know and related materials
- Oct 21st 2015 – more on his early Collège de France work and drafting Chapter Two on Théories et institutions pénales
Updates – Foucault’s Last Decade
- July 22nd 2013, on the opening parts of the introduction, building a timeline as a work tool, etc.
- July 29th 2013, on the first chapter ‘Introducing Power’ and Foucault’s lectures on Nietzsche.
- August 9th 2013, on the ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ lectures and the 1974 Rio lectures on medicine.
- October 25th 2013, on the Psychiatric Power course and drafting the second chapter (an amendment of the proposal’s plan, above).
- November 25th 2013, on initial work for the third chapter, ‘Pervert, Hysteric, Child’
- December 30th 2013, continuing work on the third chapter, a little of chapter five, initial work on La société punitive, and on lettres de cachet.
- January 10th 2014, finishing the draft of Chapter Three, a bit more on La société punitive, drafting Chapter Four on ‘Society Must be Defended‘, and some work on Foucault’s collaborative projects.
- February 7th 2014, working on La société punitive, Surveiller et punir and Discipline and Punish.
- February 24th 2014, drafting Chapter Five on the first volume of the History of Sexuality; incorporating material on the problem of confession; some difficulties in writing a book.
- March 9th 2014, finishing the draft of Chapter Five, moving onto some later lecture courses.
- April 6th 2014, lots of small details, and a temporary hiatus.
- July 24th 2014, after a long break, returning to the project and drafting Chapter Six.
- September 5th 2014, further work on Chapter Six, including Foucault’s collaborative projects and his writings on Iran; and drafting Chapter Seven on Du governement des vivants and Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling
- November 5th 2014, working with the translation On the Government of the Living in Chapter Seven, a review for Berfrois and a forthcoming essay in Historical Materialism, and beginning work on Chapter Eight, with a reading of Subjectivité et vérité.
- December 1st 2014, further work on Subjectivité et vérité, including for a lecture at Nottingham Contemporary gallery; initial work on The Hermeneutic of the Subject; the relation between lecture courses and History of Sexuality II and III.
- December 22nd 2014, completing a draft of Chapter Eight, including discussion of The Hermeneutic of the Subject and Technologies of the Self, audio and video recordings, and some issues of dating.
- January 5th 2015, drafting the first half of Chapter Nine on the two different historical plans of the History of Sexuality and volumes II and III as published. Some comments on the two versions of ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress’.
- January 21st 2015, drafting the sections on the final two lecture courses, the various discussions of Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment?’, reference work in the British Library, and searching for obscure texts of Foucault’s.
- January 23rd 2015, a nearly complete first draft of Foucault’s Last Decade
- February 11th 2015, lots of work on the manuscript
- April 23rd 2015 – a second book on The Birth of Power, work at the Bibliothèque Nationale, and a meeting with Daniel Defert
- May 12th 2015 – work with the Semiotext(e) archive and submission of the Foucault’s Last Decade manuscript for review (see also three updates on the days I spent at the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley, working through the texts and recordings they have – May 4th, May 5th and May 6th 2015).
- May 19th 2015 – finishing work with the Semiotext(e) archive.
- June 26th 2015 – other work while waiting for the reports, and the draft cover blurb
- July 13th 2015 – revision of manuscript and resubmission, and table of contents
“Foucault’s La Société punitive”, Monash University, 3 March 2014 (audio). This is a better recording than the next, which is substantially the same material.
“Foucault’s La Société punitive”, University of Melbourne, 4 March 2014 (audio).
“Foucault’s Third Course on Governmentality”, Department of Political Economy/Centre for International Security Studies (CISS), University of Sydney, 26 February 2015 (audio).
“Before the Punitive Society: The Inquiry of Théories et institutions pénales”, ‘Time Served: Discipline and Punish forty years on’, Galleries of Justice, Nottingham, 11 September 2015 (audio)
Foucault, Porshnev and the Revolt of the Nu-Pieds, Historical Materialism conference, 7 November 2015 (audio; introduction by Alberto Toscano)
Foucault’s Collaborative Projects: Hospitals, Habitat, Public Infrastructure, Cities, Space and Development seminar, Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics, 10 November 2015 (audio, introduction by Murray Low)
The above video, taken from a lecture at Nottingham Contemporary gallery in November 2014, while mainly focusing on Subjectivité et vérité, also introduces and discusses the project as a whole.