1926 - 1984

"Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society."

- Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault, who refused to be put into any one category, maintained that “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not at the beginning.” Undeniably one of the most influential intellectuals of his time, in 1970 he became chairman of the History of Systems and Thought at the Collège de France. His writings and critical studies have had enormous impact on disciplines such as psychoanalysis, history, philosophy, medicine, linguistics, prison systems, and the human sciences. Foucault examined the codes and concepts by which societies operate and define themselves – especially the "principles of exclusion" such as the distinctions between sane/insane or gay/straight. By studying these social attitudes in relation to institutions (asylums, hospitals, prisons) he theorized that one could trace the development of power. Thus, there was no one history – only the recorded history of supremacy. His books included Madness and Civilization (1961) which charted western society’s attitudes toward the insane, The Order of Things (1966), The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) – a methodological response to his critics, and Discipline and Punish (1975) which explored the rise of penal institutions. His 3 volume History of Sexuality (An Introduction, The Uses of Pleasure, and The Care of the Self - 1976 -1984, collectively) explored the relation between morality and sexuality. It was also among the first works to view homosexuality in a societal context. In 1960 he met philosopher David Defert who would become his life-partner of 20 years. An outspoken homosexual, Foucault died of complications from HIV in 1984.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Atheist

Nations Affiliated France Sweden Poland Germany United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present)

Field(s) of Contribution






Social Justice


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell