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Power and Knowledge: Foucault for Historians

Image of the Panopticon

You’ve likely heard him mentioned in lectures or quoted in readings. Maybe you’ve read some of his work. Michel Foucault is one of the most frequently cited authors in the humanities. His impact on a wide range of disciplines is profound. But who was Foucault and why should you care? In this seminar, we will explore how Foucault intervened in many different historical fields, including madness and medicine, prison and punishment, sexuality and the self. We will also look at how historians have made use of Foucault’s ‘toolkit’ – concepts such as biopower and governmentality – in their own research and writing. Our aim will be to examine how historians have adapted, elaborated, and critiqued Foucault, notably in the areas of gender, race, and colonialism. We will track Foucault’s changing conceptualizations of power and knowledge, and we will consider what we might learn from Foucault in terms of the politics of doing history and thinking otherwise. In terms of format, this is a seminar course. For each historical subject or concept we take up, we will read Foucault and pair him with the work of several historians who engage Foucault on the same topic. There will be occasional mini-lectures by the instructor, but, in the spirit of Foucault, who much preferred the collective work of the seminar over the lecture, our primary mode will be intensive seminar discussion. 

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6
Canada

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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.