Foucault, Michel Paul

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Foucault, Michel Paul


Born Oct. 15, 1926, in Poitiers. French philosopher, cultural historian, and writer on theories of culture; an adherent to the school of French structuralism.

Foucault taught philosophy at the universities of Clermont-Ferrand and Paris and, from 1970, at the Collège de France. The principal theme of Foucault’s works is the analysis of cultural-historical formations, which he calls epistemes. In Words and Things (1966; translated into English as The Order of Things, 1970) Foucault distinguishes three such epistemes—the Renaissance, classical rationalism, and the contemporary episteme—in the history of modern Western European culture. The qualities that distinguish each episteme depend, according to Foucault, on the relationship between “words” and “things”—a relationship that determines people’s conceptual frame of reference, or world view, and modes of cognitive and practical action in a given cultural-historical period. The epistemes differ in their organizational structure; concepts acquire different meanings in different epistemes, and transitions occur by leaps. Foucault coined the term “archaeology of knowledge” for the discipline that deals with these systems of thought, and the phrase is used as the title of one of his works; in it, Foucault sets out the methodological principles of such study and examines the connection between the historical study of scientific knowledge and the analysis of social formations.

While his concepts demonstrate the historical limitations of modern bourgeois culture, Foucault fails to correlate the replacement of one episteme by another with the dialectic of social processes; the result is that his studies are confined within the framework of the personal aspects of social interaction. The same also applies specifically to Foucault’s works on the history of psychiatry and medicine. Among those influenced by Foucault’s ideas was a group of adherents to the New Criticism that was formed in France around the journal Tel quel.


Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Paris, 1961.
Naissance de la clinique. Paris, 1963.
Raymond Roussel. Paris, 1963.
L’archéologie dusavoir. Paris, 1969.
L’ordre du discours. Paris, 1971.
Surveiller et punir. Paris, 1975.
La volonté du savoir. Paris, 1976.
In Russian translation:
Slova i veshchi: Arkheologiia gumanitarnykh nauk. Moscow, 1977.


Avtonomova, N. S. Filosofskie problemy strukturnogo analiza v gumanitarnykh naukakh. Moscow, 1971.
Sakharova, T. A. Ot filosofii sushchestvovaniia k strukturalizmu. Moscow, 1974.
Guedez, A. Foucault. Paris, 1972.
Lecourt, D. Pour une Critique de l’epistémologie: Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault. Paris, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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