Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 657
In Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, Foucault discusses and interprets the conclusions to his seminal works Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality, among many others. In this collection of interviews, lectures, and essays, we see Foucault touch on the core issues and political underpinnings of his works.
Chapter 1: On Popular Justice: A Discussion with Maoists
Foucault debates the notion of a people’s court as a fair model of “popular justice.” He holds the idea of the court as inappropriate for dispensing justice and traces its false neutrality; genealogically speaking, entities that claim to act as neutral institutions generally function under the ideology of the oppressor. He maintains that it is the masses that must themselves have the discretion of pronouncing popular justice.
Chapter 2: Prison Talk
This interview is one of several in which Foucault discusses the core issues of Discipline and Punish (chapters 3 and 8 also address ideas central to this work). In the interview, he comments on penal labor, the dearth of historical studies on certain prisons, the shift of the prison from punitive to surveillance-centered, and the relations between class and criminality—the latter leading to the conclusion that the medical system has always served as an auxiliary to the penal system.
Chapter 3: Body/Power
In this interview, Foucault discusses the body and its relations of power. He touches on the sovereign body as a political reality in the seventeenth century, the phenomenon of the social body as material power that controls and regulates individual bodies, and the revolt of the sexual body as it continues to be a site of conflict. He separates himself from Marxist and para-Marxist interpretations of the body by first examining the body—not as a site of ideology but as a site of power.
Chapter 4: Questions on Geography
Foucault tackles The Archaeology of Knowledge and its radical methodology. Foucault’s discursive method of focusing on the dispersed formation of a number of statements rather than a particular object, style, or theme enabled the formation of a geographical mode of discourse.
Chapter 5: Two Lectures
Foucault discusses his two methodological tools: archaeology and genealogy. In the first lecture, he presents a viewpoint of history as a network of random minor events and consequent results rather than a line of constant progression. In the second lecture, he asserts that to interpret history in this way leads to the conclusion that power is an inextricable part of its causality.
Chapter 6: Truth and Power and Chapter 7: Powers and Strategies
In chapters 6 and 7, Foucault discusses the core concepts of Madness and Civilization. In the former, he outlines the structural aspect of his methodology, the implications of his works on everyday political struggles, and his progression from studying madness to studying criminality and delinquency. In the latter, Foucault denounces the parallelisms made between internment and the Marxist Gulag and expounds on fascist techniques of power.
Chapter 8: The Eye of Power
Foucault discusses his infamous use of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon in Discipline and Punish. The architectural structure was used as a metaphor to explore the internalized coercion in prisons, which is achieved through constant observation and isolation.
Chapter 9: The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century
Foucault outlines the materialities and medico-politics of the eighteenth century and how this proved instrumental in the reemergence and transformation of the hospital.
Chapter 10: The History of Sexuality and Chapter 11: The Confession of the Flesh
In these chapters, Foucault touches on The History of Sexuality. Outlined in these chapters is the history of the confession. Once exclusive to the Christian Church, the confession became diffused to secular culture—where it, as a form of knowledge, produced other forms of knowledge as it was practiced. The knowledge produced through that practice (e.g., desires, identities, emotions, etc.) produced more knowledge (e.g., ideas of sexual identity) which, in turn, was monitored, cultivated, and controlled, and so gave birth to a new form of power (the field of psychoanalysis).