Foucault’s seminars at the Collège de France

All of Foucault’s lecture courses at the Collège de France have been published and translated into English. Thirteen courses were delivered over a fourteen-year period from 1970-84 – Foucault took 1976-77 as a sabbatical year.

Much less is known about his seminars. Until 1981, Foucault ran a seminar class in parallel to the lectures. It was usually held on Monday afternoons or early evening. From 1981-82 he opted to increase the number of lecture hours instead, which is why the courses from The Hermeneutic of the Subject onwards have first and second hours for each week. In the course summaries which Foucault wrote for the Annuaire du Collège de France each year he reported both on the lecture course and, usually, on what had been done in the seminar. These summaries were available as pdfs on the Collège de France site but they seem to have been removed (several were mislabelled when they were available). They were collected in Résumé des cours in 1989, included in chronological order in Dits et écrits in 1994, and translated in the first volume of Essential Works in 1997. They were also included in each of the published courses.

But the Annuaire does not just report on what had happened in the current academic year, but also lists the courses to be delivered in the next. With his lectures, Foucault usually stuck to the announced topic, but occasionally not – ‘The Birth of Biopolitics’ in particular doesn’t reflect the topic very well, though Foucault kept the original title even if the material changed. Some of the course summaries did not provide the course title, but the editors took the ones preannounced.

As far as I know, the seminar titles which were announced have not been collected, and it took a little work with the Annuaire to find them, so I’ve put this list together in the hope someone else might find it useful. 

Foucault’s Seminars at the Collège de France [pre-announced titles]

1970-71: Le fonctionnement du système pénal en France à partir du XIXe siècle

1971-72: Psychiatrie et pénalité au XIXe siècle

1972-73: Pierre Rivière et ses œuvres

1973-74: Explication de textes médicaux et juridiques du XIXe siècle

1974-75: L’expertise médico-légale en matière psychiatrique

1975-76: L’Utilisation des techniques psychiatriques en matière pénale

1976-77: no seminar [sabbatical year]

1977-78: La médicalisation en France depuis le XIXe siècle

1978-79: Problèmes de méthode en histoire des idées

1979-80: Libéralisme et Étatisme à la fin du XIXe siècle

1980-81: Problèmes du libéralisme au XIXe siècle

1981-82: no seminar

1982-83: no seminar

1983-84: no seminar

With regards to the seminars this is interesting for a few reasons – mainly that Foucault usually had a clear idea of what he intended, but that his reports suggest he didn’t always follow that exactly. In English, the I, Pierre Rivière book and The Foucault Effect give some indications of what was done. Foucault of course would publish on the ‘dangerous individual’, and some of the early seminars provide material he discussed in his lectures. In French, several of the people who presented their work went on to publish it.

Some of these seminars led to collaborative publications, which I’ve listed here.

I discuss some of this in my books Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade, but I think a lot more could be done to uncover what actually took place in these seminars.

Perhaps the most interesting thing announced, but not ultimately fulfilled, was the 1978-79 seminar on ‘Problèmes de méthode en histoire des idées’.

And it’s striking to me, looking at the list, how much of this was focused on the 19th century.

The full list, with references and a few comments follows:


Lecture course: La volonté de savoir (published as Leçons sur la volonté de savoir – Lectures on the Will to Know)

The course was given the title of ‘The Will to Know’, and ‘Lectures on the Will to Know’ was used when it was published to avoid confusion with the first volume of the History of Sexuality, which also used this title. In the summary Foucault puts the phrase ‘morphologie de la volonté de savoir [morphology of the will to know]’ in quotes, so this might also have been chosen for its publication.

Seminar title announced: Le fonctionnement du système pénal en France à partir du XIXe siècle, Mondays, 3.45pm, from 4 January (Annuaire du Collège de France, 70, p. 634)

Report: “This year’s seminar was generally confined to the study of penality in France in the nineteenth century. It dealt this year with the first developments of a penal psychiatry in the period of the Restoration. The material used was largely the text of the medico-legal experts’ opinions submitted by the contemporaries and disciples of Esquirol”.


Lecture course: Théories et institutions pénales – Penal Theories and Institutions 

Seminar title announced: Psychiatrie et pénalité au XIXe siècle, Mondays, 5.30pm, from 29 November (Annuaire du Collège de France, 71, p. 668)

Report: “In the Monday seminar we continued the study of medico-legal practices and concepts of the nineteenth century. One case [Pierre Rivière] was singled out for a detailed analysis and a subsequent publication…”


Lecture course: La société punitive – The Punitive Society 

Seminar title announced: Pierre Rivière et ses œuvres, Mondays 5.30pm, from 6 November (Annuaire du Collège de France, 72, p. 724)

Report: “This year’s seminar was devoted to preparing the Pierre Riviere dossier for publication”.


Lecture course: Le pouvoir psychiatrique – Psychiatric Power

Seminar title announced: Explication de textes médicaux et juridiques du XIXe siècle, Mondays 5.30pm, from 5 November (Annuaire du Collège de France, 73, p. 645)

Report: “The seminar was devoted alternately to two topics: the history of the hospital institution and hospital architecture in the eighteenth century; and the study of medico-legal appraisal in psychiatric cases since 1820”.


Lecture course: Les anormaux – Abnormal

Seminar title announced: “L’expertise médico-légale en matière psychiatrique”, Mondays 5.30pm, from 8 January (Annuaire du Collège de France, 74, p. 693)

Report: “This year’s seminar was devoted to an analysis of the transformations of psychiatric expert opinion in penal cases from the great affairs of criminal monstrosity (prime case: Henriette Cornier) to the diagnosis of ‘abnormal’ delinquents”.


Lecture course: « ll faut défendre la société » – Society Must Be Defended

Seminar title announced: “L’Utilisation des techniques psychiatriques en matière pénale”, Mondays 5.30pm, from 5 January (Annuaire du Collège de France, 75, p. 657)

Report: “This year’s seminar was devoted to a study of the category of ‘the dangerous individual’ in criminal psychiatry. The notions connected with the theme of ‘social defense’ were compared with the notions connected with the new theories of civil responsibility, as they appeared at the end of the nineteenth century”.


sabbatical year


Lecture course: Securité, territoire, population – Security, Territory, Population 

Seminar title announced: “La médicalisation en France depuis le XIXe siècle”, Mondays 5.30pm, from 28 November (Annuaire du Collège de France, 77, p. 743)

Report: “The seminar was devoted to a few aspects of what the Germans, in the eighteenth century, called Polizeiwissenschaft that is, the theory and analysis of everything ‘that tends to affirm and increase the power of the state to make good use of its forces, to obtain the welfare of its subjects’, and, above all, ‘the maintenance of order and discipline, the regulations that tend to make their lives comfortable and to provide them with the things they need for their livelihood’…” 


Lecture course: Naissance de la biopolitique – The Birth of Biopolitics

Seminar title announced: “Problèmes de méthode en histoire des idées”, Mondays 4pm, from 8 January (Annuaire du Collège de France, 78, p. 37)

Report: “The seminar was devoted this year to the crisis of juridical thought in the last years of the nineteenth century…”.


Lecture course: Du gouvernement des vivants – On the Government of the Living

Seminar title announced: “Libéralisme et Étatisme à la fin du XIXe siècle”, Mondays 4pm, from 19 November (Annuaire du Collège de France, 79, p. 747)

Report: “This year’s seminar was devoted to certain aspects of liberal thought in the nineteenth century…”


Lecture course: Subjectivité et vérité – Subjectivity and Truth 

Seminar title announced: “Problèmes du libéralisme au XIXe siècle”, Mondays 4pm, from 16 February (Annuaire du Collège de France, 80, p. 822)

Report: does not mention the seminar


Lecture course: L’herméneutique du sujet – The Hermeneutic of the Subject 

No seminar

[The title was preannounced as L’herméneutique de sujet (Annuaire du Collège de France, 81, p. 718), which is the title it was published with, but when Foucault talks about it in the summary he indicates L’herméneutique de soi. Foucault’s lectures in the USA in 1980 were entitled ‘About the Beginning of the Hermeneutic of the Self’.]


Lecture course: Le gouvernement de soi et des autres – The Government of Self and Others

No seminar

No course summary published: “Le cours a porté sur: Le gouvernement de soi et des autres” (Annuaire du Collège de France, 83, p. 441)


Lecture course: Le courage de la vérité: Le gouvernement de soi et des autres II – The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II

No seminar

No course summary published: “Le professeur est décédé le 25 juin 1984” (Annuaire du Collège de France, 84, p. 473)

There are a lot more resources on this site relating to Foucault – bibliographies, audio and video files, some textual comparisons, some short translations, etc.