Madness and Civilization (1961)

Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason was written by French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault and published in 1961. In it, Foucault offers a deep and complex treatment of the role of madness in Western society in which he seeks to identify the cultural, intellectual, and economic structures that dictate how madness is constructed. Like many of Foucault’s works, Madness and Civilization focuses on the classical period from 1660 to the end of the 19th century—a period that he saw as the birthplace of many of the characteristic institutions and structures of the modern world.

Discipline and Punish (1975)

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was published in 1975 with the French title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison. The book was first published in English in 1977. Discipline and Punish is a history of the modern Western penal system in which Foucault seeks to analyze punishment in its social context, and to examine how changing power relations affected punishment. Typical of Foucault’s works in that it was received with a wide range of reactions—generally more positively in France than elsewhere—it is nonetheless widely credited for initiating a useful discussion of the history of penology and causing people to rethink long-held assumptions about penal reform from the 19th century onward.

The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 (1976)

The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1 was the first of what would ultimately become a four-volume study of sexuality in Western culture. Volumes 2 and 3 of Foucault’s survey were published in 1984. Volume 4 was published posthumously in 2018. In Volume 1, which is sometimes given the subtitle The Will to Knowledge, Foucault suggests that Western society was far more open in discussing sexuality from the 17th century on than is generally believed.

Popular pages: The Archaeology of Knowledge