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Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 Paperback – November 12, 1980

4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Michel Foucault has become famous for a series of books that have permanently altered our understanding of many institutions of Western society. He analyzed mental institutions in the remarkable Madness and Civilization; hospitals in The Birth of the Clinic; prisons in Discipline and Punish; and schools and families in The History of Sexuality. But the general reader as well as the specialist is apt to miss the consistent purposes that lay behind these difficult individual studies, thus losing sight of the broad social vision and political aims that unified them.
Now, in this superb set of essays and interviews, Foucault has provided a much-needed guide to Foucault. These pieces, ranging over the entire spectrum of his concerns, enabled Foucault, in his most intimate and accessible voice, to interpret the conclusions of his research in each area and to demonstrate the contribution of each to the magnificent -- and terrifying -- portrait of society that he was patiently compiling.
For, as Foucault shows, what he was always describing was the nature of power in society; not the conventional treatment of power that concentrates on powerful individuals and repressive institutions, but the much more pervasive and insidious mechanisms by which power "reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives"
Foucault's investigations of prisons, schools, barracks, hospitals, factories, cities, lodgings, families, and other organized forms of social life are each a segment of one of the most astonishing intellectual enterprises of all time -- and, as this book proves, one which possesses profound implications for understanding the social control of our bodies and our minds.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st American Ed edition (November 12, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039473954X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394739540
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on October 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
Don't get me wrong - Foucault is an absolutely brilliant thinker and modern philosopher. His methods of utilizing classical thought and analysis in the study of modern problems (at least up to the mid-20th century) are fascinating and hugely insightful. He knows the causes and effects of power in all its manifestations, and he applies this knowledge to all manner of intriguing contemporary issues such as struggles against the state, the prison system, health care, sexuality, and geopolitics. (I would be especially interested in Foucault's take on the modern American prison-industrial-political complex.)
The problem with this book is in the presentation. I don't agree with other reviewers who state that this is a good summary or compendium of Foucault's works, because of its very fragmentary nature. Each of the chapters here can be considered distillations of Foucault's thoughts on key subjects. Most of the chapters are structured as interviews or dialogues but with no surrounding context. We have no explanation of who the interviewers are or from which angle they have approached Foucault's works. The chapters begin abruptly, often with the feel of an interview in progress, with no introductory explanations of the context for that portion of Foucault's efforts. Similarly, the chapters end abruptly with no wrapping up or conclusive explanations of the matter at hand. One chapter consists of two "lectures" given at different times, with zero explanation of the purpose of Foucault's visit to wherever the lecture was delivered, who the audience was, or the environment in which Foucault's presence was utilized.
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Format: Paperback
Excellent preliminary introduction to the thought of French philosopher Michel Foucault, who was situated at the forefront of French post-modernity and post-structuralism during the 1960's, grouped with other intellectuals such as Derrida, Lacan, Althusser, and Delueze.

For Foucault, (as it exists in modern societies) power is not an entity to be acquired, it is an instrument that is continually exercised. Power operates as knowledge through discourse, confession, observation, surveillance, etc. "Power for Foucault is not an omnipotent causal principle, or shaping spirit but a perspective concept" (245). Power is used and applied, not obtained.

This volume serves as a useful compendium to the ideas outlined in Foucault's major works, (i.e. Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, the Order of Things, Archeology of Knowledge, Birth of the Clinic, etc.). It is mostly a gathering of lectures and interviews with various scholars in the field of the history of systems of thought. The first essay (On Popular Justice) is a discussion with a Maoist organization about the applicability of people's courts and the use and relativity of the concept of justice. One gets the impression that Foucault is not entirely at home with this material. The second essay (Prison Talk) is an explication of the major ideas posited in Discipline and Punish, particularly the development of Bentham's Panopticon and the transmission of power as surveillance. A fascinating read, and one of Foucault's great breakthroughs in the social sciences. The third essay (Body/Power) provides further information about Discipline and Punish.
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Didn't understand half the stuff he's talking about - and multiple times Foucault concedes the same, saying he never really expects people to understand what he's saying, that his work is fragmentary in nature, and that he hasn't made himself clear. He's right on all three counts. I took notes over the whole book and what makes some bit of sense accumulated to about two pages. The rest is so contextualized that I'd have to have multiple degrees in French and Chinese history just to follow it.
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Finally, I found one book that sums up Foucault's philosophy, particularly his concept of "power/knowledge", in his own words. You can read a variety of his works to look for the common threads that form his overarching philosophy, or you can read a second-rate interpretation of his philosophy from others. OR, you can read this book.
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The relationship between knowledge, truth and power are critical elements in cross-cultural sociological study. Foucault details the relationship between these elements. The relationship between these elements relates directly to global media. If media is predominately produced in one geographic region and exported to another, power in terms of the right to representation, is automatically usurped by the production of truth, by the production of culture, production nationalistic images, by the production of media. Foucault's writings on the Archaeology of Knowledge and it's relationship to geography have a direct relation to geo-political structures and their interdependency with media forms and media audiences. Institutions, such as universities, which reinforce their own forms of knowledge, are likewise either undermined or reinforced by media forms. The relationship between these social components is never neutral, according to Foucault.
"Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization. And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising power." Power is much more abstract, by Foucault's definitions than any previous theorists described it. It is not necessarily a conscious, intentional application of force. Power can be the relationships between components of a society or the relationship between societies. This very subtly makes the analysis of power, more complex and yet more engaging.
Media continues the construction of knowledge. Universities and other such institutions begin the process and sanction it -- provide it "an expert system" by which it is validated. However, the media reinforces this validation by replicating it in mass quantity.
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