Foucault Today: History, Politics, Philosophy

Wintersemester 2023/24 Seminarplan Seminar Dienstags & Donnerstags 14-16 Uhr Alte Universität, Raum 01 065

Please read the syllabus carefully!

Almost forty years after his early death, Michel Foucault is still one of the towering figures of the 20th century in the humanities and social sciences. A controversial thinker, his works continue to polarise scholars. The seminar offers an in-depth introduction to his unique way of intertwining wide-ranging philosophical ideas with detailed histories which un-earth “subjugated knowledge” in the service of sharp political critique.

For two reasons, Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction from 1976 will be at the centre of our seminar discussion. First, it contains his philosophical conception of power in its mature form and his historical diagnosis of an epochal change of the nature of power: from sovereign power to disciplinary power and further to bio-politics. Second, it also contains the influential and politically provocative thesis that sexuality is not naturally given but politically repressed in our societies. On the contrary, sexuality is a historically constructed phenomenon that has been fostered by politics to exert power. Struggles for sexual liberation are therefore unwittingly complicit with the very powers they try to oppose.

In addition to a close reading of The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, we will look at Foucault’s methodology when it comes to analysing discourses and practices as well as his development of the political diagnosis in the so-called “governmentality lectures.” Of course, we will discuss criticisms of his views, too, specifically from feminist and post-colonial perspectives.

Allgemeine Literatur zur Vorbereitung

Allen, Amy: The Power of Feminist Theory. Domination, Resistance, Solidarity. Boulder: Westview Press 1999.

Foucault, Michel: The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon Books 1978 [1976]. You will have to buy this book before the seminar starts!

Gutting, Garry: Foucault. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2005.

Kelly, Mark G. E.: Foucault and Politics. A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh 2014.

Vogelmann, Frieder: Critique as a Practice of Prefigurative Emancipation. In: Distinktion 18.2 (2017), 196–214.


There are no special requirements.


For a detailed account of what you have to do to pass the seminar, please read the syllabus once it becomes available.

All core texts will be made available via ILIAS.