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

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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: #112,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
Research in the sciences requires funding. Funding comes from the people in power. And, so, can we not say that people in power dictate scientific direction?

Likewise, schools are forced to teach to what curriculum the state structures for their students. And state testing ensures that teachers only teach what material the state intends. For if the scores students receive on such tests start to slip, the school itself can be closed. Even textbooks are presented from the perspectives or people in power (see Howard Zinn's People's History). Students must speak standard or "proper" English in such establishments (they must conform to the dominant mode of discourse) even though it has since been established that language is what comes from, and is re-created by, culture. As such, any time we attempt to suppress a person's speech, or limit the use of their language, we are, in a sense, covertly killing off a part of their culture (we are covertly using our power for culturally oppressive purposes).

Psychologists, too, we see, invent sicknesses for those who do not assimilate to the norms of society (a "deviant" who does not adhere to the dominant social ideals). Children, especially, are now more medicated than ever. Money, of course, is then made from the manufacturing of such medicines, which are then given to society's citizens as a means to "correct" their "sicknesses", which, often times, are nothing more than socially constructed psychological sicknesses (not actual physical ailments).

Many people, who often commit non-violent "crimes" (primarily drug possession), are then packed into the prisons, redefining the concept of what it is to be a "criminal".
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