Childhood & Early Life
Paul-Michel Foucault was the second of the three children born into an upper-middle class family, in Poitiers, France. All the three children were raised as staunch Roman Catholics.
He studied at the Lycee Henry-IV for two years before he attended regular lycee, where he stayed until 1936. At school, he excelled in Latin, History, Greek and French.
In 1940, he joined the College Saint-Stanislas, an institution run by Jesuits. He earned his ‘baccalaureat’ from the institute, three years later.
After he graduated, he returned to the local Lycee Henry-IV, where he studied history and philosophy for a year under Louis Girard. In 1946, he enrolled at the leading, Ecole Normale Superieure. During his time at the institute, he became an insatiable reader and was largely unpopular with his peers.
In his early years, he was extremely depressed and always distressed due to the taboos surrounding homosexual activity, which he indulged in.
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In 1950, he joined the French Communist Party, but never became particularly involved in its activities. He left the party three years later.
From 1951 to 1954, he worked as a psychology instructor at the ENS and was also teaching psychology at the Universite Lille Nord de France. He was a popular lecturer with his students.
During this time, he also worked hard for his thesis as he was studying for a doctorate at the Fondation Thiers on philosophy and psychology. He would visit the Bibliotheque Nationale often and indulge in the works of Ivan Pavlov and Karl Jaspers.
In 1954, he published his first book, ‘Mental Illness and Personality’ and also wrote the introduction to Ludwig Binswanger’s paper, ‘Dream and Existence’.
In 1955, he traveled to Sweden, where he took up a job as national diplomat at the University of Uppsala. It was around this time that he also completed the first round of his thesis and he hoped that the University would accept it, but in vain. Disappointed, he left Sweden.
He went to Warsaw, Poland in October 1958, where he was made the head of the ‘Centre Francais’ at the University of Warsaw. During his stay in Poland, he was upset with the way the government functioned as a ‘puppet regime’ of the Soviet Union.
A sexual indignity forced him to leave Poland for West Germany, where he began teaching. In 1960, he took up vacant post in the department of philosophy at the University of Clermont-Ferrand.
During this time, he completed his doctoral thesis titled, ‘Madness and Insanity: History of Madness in the Classical Age’, which was published in 1961, which was later made into a book. The publication became a critical hit.
In 1963, he published a book dedicated to Raymond Roussel, which would be later printed in English titled, ‘Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel’. The same year, he published, ‘The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception’. The latter went on to gather a fad following.
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From 1963 to 1964, he was chosen to be among the ‘Eighteen Man Commission’ that got together to debate university reorganizations. Two years later, another one of his works, ‘The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences’ was published. This catapulted him to fame, making him an important figure in the structuralist wave.
In 1966, he taught psychology at the University of Tunis, in Tunisia. Two years later, he moved to Paris and was chosen as the head of the philosophy department at the ‘Centre Experimental de Vincennes’.
In 1969, he left Vincennes for ‘College de France’, where he gave his initial lecture the following year, which was subsequently published as ‘The Discourse of Language’. Here, he gave 12 weekly lectures a year.
He co-founded the ‘Group d’information sur les Prisons’ (GIP) along with Pierre Vidal-Naquet in 1971. The group focused on divulging the poor settings that prisoners lived in and was also greatly critical of the penal system. In the next three years, the membership of the group was up from 2000 to 3000.
In 1975, he published one of his best-known works, ‘Discipline and Punish’, which offered an insight into the history of the system of Europe. The following year, another one of his major works was published titled, ‘The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge’.
Towards the end of his life, he remained an active political activist focused on opposing abuse of human rights. During the Iranian revolution, he wrote a column for an Italian publication about the same, for which he traveled personally to Iran and was one of the journalists who covered Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamist movement.
In 1980, he was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Four years later, he published the second and third volumes of ‘Histoire de la sexualite’. However, he could not complete the fourth volume of the same. He delivered his last set of lectures at the College de France, before his death.
Personal Life & Legacy
Michel Foucault was a homosexual and indulged in sado-masochistic sexual activities with countless men. He also made heavy use of drugs during his lifetime.
He was extremely fond of classical music and was particularly fond of Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart.
He remained a staunch leftist for most part of his life.
Due to his countless sexual encounters with men and transvestites, he contracted HIV, which eventually developed into AIDS. He would often visit bathhouses and was a regular in gay-circles at the San Francisco Bay Area.
He initially suffered from continuous dry cough but after he was admitted to hospital, it was diagnosed that he was suffering from AIDS. He passed away due to complications from septicemia in Paris, France.
Following his death, his deliberations and works went on to inspire a horde of critical theorists along with influencing the structuralist and post-structuralist movements.
In 2007, he was enumerated as the ‘most cited scholar in the humanities’ by the ISI Web of Science.