Michel Foucault (1926–1984)

Paul-Michel Foucault was born on October 15, 1926, in Poitiers. His father was a doctor, and he had a standard provincial upbringing. He was educated at the elite Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) in Paris from 1946 to 1950, where he studied philosophy and psychology and was briefly a member of the French communist party. Foucault observed clinics at the Sainte-Anne mental asylum whilst he was at the ENS. After graduating, Foucault taught psychology at Lille University. In 1955 he went to Sweden as the head of the French cultural delegation to Uppsala. He wrote much of Madness and Civilization, his first major work, at the University of Uppsala. Foucault was transferred to Poland, then to Hamburg.

Madness and Civilization was presented as his doctoral thesis in 1960 and was published in 1961. Foucault became a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1960. This appointment represented the beginning of his career as a public intellectual. He joined the editorial board of the French critical journal, Tel Que. Other works followed: a study of the poet Raymond Roussel (1963), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) Discipline and Punish (1975) and his multi-volume History of Sexuality. Foucault taught in Tunisia and at the University of Vincennes before his appointment to a Professorship in the History of Systems of Thought at the highly prestigious College de France in 1970.

Foucault was not only an intellectual and philosopher, but also a political activist. He was involved in a wide range of protests and campaigns: against the war in Algeria, against racism, against the Vietnam War, for prison reform. For much of the 1970s his political work occupied him almost entirely. Foucault was openly gay and lived with his long-term partner Daniel Defert. He died of an AIDS-related illness in 1984.