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on 7 February 2004
Foucault is much talked about; few people seem to read his own work. This may be so, because Foucault has the reputation of being difficult to grasp. This book, however, consists of carefully selected extracts and interviews. This makes Foucault more approachable. If you have always wanted to read Foucault, but did not dare to, this is a good start.
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on 26 January 1998
This book offers a good overview of Foucaults writings, making the reader (at least me) wanting to dig deeper into several of the subjects Foucault addressed. A shortcoming is that, considering the wealth of Foucault's ouevre, some of the chapters are too condensed to be used as more than an "intellectual appetizer". I assume that for the reader who is not familiar with Foucault at all, some other book like "Foucault for Beginners" might be more useful for getting an overview. Starting from there one might want to read more anyway.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 October 2011
Frstly, Foucault *is* difficult - there's no getting around the fact that he's frequently, and not unintentionally, opaque, complex and, sometimes, just deliberately tricksy. Rabinow writes a coherent introduction here to place Foucault into context, and reviews all his works, drawing together pertinent themes.

The book itself offers selected extracts from the longer works, and full essays in some cases such as 'What is an author?'. My criticism is that it would have been helpful to have had brief introductions to each selection/essay as well, putting it into specific context.

Whether you choose to see Foucault as a post-modernist or a post-structuralist, or accept his own negation of any kind of classifying 'grand narrative', it's practically impossible to be a student or scholar today and not engage with his thinking.
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on 6 February 1999
If you're wondering about Foucault, this is a great book to pick up. Not all of the concepts make sense immediately, as it is a reader and Foucault is complicated, but it's still worth a look. Pick out some favorite chapters and then read further.
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on 23 June 2016
Foucault is certainly not an easy read, but the book is worth it for the introduction alone, by the editor, Paul Rabinow.

Some key insights from Foucault:

- it is not possible to reach an absolute understanding of anything, because one cannot stand outside history and/or society. There is no such thing as (an idealised) human nature.

- therefore there are no universal truths or models (neither Marxism nor Christianity nor science), and there is no point in trying to find them (as this leads to oppression in one form or another)

- but we can at least interrogate ruling 'norms' and power, to unmask the domination and political violence which is usually going on beneath the surface

- sexual behaviour through the ages is another place where these things are played out. And there are three poles of sexual behaviour: acts, pleasure and desire. Christianity put the 'accent on desire and tries to eradicate it', in distinction to the Graeco-Roman focus on 'acts'. The 'modern formula is [also] desire, which is theoretically underlined and practically accepted, since you have to liberate your own desire. Acts are not very important [hence the boom in internet porn], and pleasure - nobody knows what it is!'

- modernity is 'the will to heroise the present' (as against the past). Modern man is not trying to discover himself but to invent himself.

- Western history since the Enlightenment has been characterised by 'different modes by which .... human beings are made subjects', and this goes back to 'dividing practices' (eg separating out delinquents, immigrants etc) and 'scientific classification'

- the 'human sciences' are part of the problem because they objectify the subject through power and knowledge structures (measuring, judging etc) which take power and autonomy away from the ordinary person.

- Foucault does not reject reason but rather 'refuses to see reason as either our hope or our nemesis'. It is merely a tool.

- the growth of the nation-state led to a concern to control increasingly almost every aspect of citizen life, starting with issues of economy and order. And this disciplinary 'bio-power' is focused on the human species and more particularly on the human body. This is linked to the rise of capitalism, which requires this mechanisation of humans. The result is the drive to isolate, control and 'normalise' everything.

- So, what is to be done? Foucault explicitly rejected political labels and was unpopular with both left and right. He disdained prescription or advocacy, but he did indicate generally that the problem of our time is 'to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualisation which is linked to the state. We have to promote new kinds of subjectivity through refusal of this kind of individuality which has been imposed on us for several centuries.'

So he identifies problems but not solutions, because his whole approach is to undermine and expose totalising 'solutions'. He did not sentimentalise the past but committed himself to a rigorous analysis of modern rationality, organisation and subjectivity. Like Weber, he saw 'a form of critical historicism as the only road to preserving reason' and an ethic of responsibility.

I might put it thus: he pointed out that the new Emperor - modernist reason - is equally guilty of oppression (as the old God of religion and absolutism). All we can do is to be continually aware of the historic forces which control us, and which are often manipulated (consciously or unconsciously) by those with power, whether they are politicians, intellectuals or scientists.

I think that Foucault failed to see that financial capitalism would grow to become the monster which it is today, and therefore underplayed the role which the state or state-type power must exercise to moderate the de-personalising oppression of massive-scale corporatism. One might add that the contemporary obsessive drive to digitise everything is the logical conclusion of a terrible de-humanising ideology which masks itself as a neutral 'technology'. What is the end purpose of technology? It seems to be only to isolate and 'normalise' (ie mechanise) people, while facilitating infantile (static, purely visual) entertainment and convenience (though it does enhance communication).

(Foucault died in 1984 at the young age of 57, so he did not live to see the unleashing of almost unbridled globalising capitalism nor its necessary twin, distance-banishing technology. Nor did he foresee or understand the potentially major new force of environmentalism.)

The old problem remains: 'quis custodiet custodes?'
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on 26 July 1999
Being a reader, this is even a bit more difficult to understand than average Foucault books. However, it boils his philosphies down to one major point: truths are relative and because of this, establishing truths are excercises in power. Foucault makes a good argument and stands to be exactly right if indeed there are no absolutes.
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on 16 April 2016
This book is a great introduction to Foucault's thought and work for people who are unfamiliar. The book is composed of a selection of essays and extracts from Foucault's work with a great introduction written by the editor. I would recommend this book as a beginners introduction to Foucault before takling his main texts such as Madness and Civilisation, The Order of Things, or Discipline and Punish.
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on 26 February 2014
This is a great help if you are starting out reading Foucault - don't skip the introduction by Rabinow, it is very useful.
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on 2 January 2016
Truly enjoyed this book, arrived within days of being purchased. Thanks
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on 11 December 2015
interesting read
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