Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 202

With Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault was one of the two leading figures in the loosely defined intellectual movement known as poststructuralism. His impact on literary studies, philosophy, and other disciplines has been enormous. Foucault in his works tried various strategies to study human beings. He attempted to avoid a merely structuralist analysis, which disposes of meaning altogether and substitutes a formal model of human behavior. He also dismissed the phenomenological tracing all meaning back to the meaning-giving autonomous, transcendental subject.

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His first major work, Folie et deraison: Histoire de la folie a l’age classique (1961; Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1965), discusses the structures of cultural exclusion and integration of madness. In his next book, Naissance de la clinique: Une Archeologie du regard medical (1963; The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perceptions, 1973), he turns his attention to the analysis of the body as corpse laid out before the doctor’s scrutiny. In The Order of Things and L’Archeologie du savoir (1969; The Archaeology of Knowledge, 1972), he explored the structures of discourse. At the time of his death, he was at work on a multivolume history of sexuality, several volumes of which had been completed.

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