Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 by Michel Foucault is a selection of previously published essays and interviews. It is a work of nonfiction and reflects on Foucault's other works and intellectual history. Several important thinkers are discussed in the work.
As there are some elements of intellectual autobiography in the work, an important character is Michel Foucault himself. Paul-Michel Foucault (1926–1984) was a French critical theorist who wrote about history, philosophy, and society. He was born to an upper-middle class family in Poitiers, France. He obtained degrees from the prestigious French universities École Normale Supérieure and at the University of Paris (Sorbonne). In the 1960s he published four books which exemplify his earlier "archaeological" or historiographical approach to knowledge, The History of Madness (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). In the 1970s, he began to focus more closely on the nature and ubiquity of power and how it shapes institutions and ideas.
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) was a major influence on Foucault's work, especially in his earlier period. Saussure was a Swiss linguist and semiotician important to the history of linguistics and the interdisciplinary approach to humanistic studies known as structuralism. Saussure's most influential work was Course in General Linguistics (Cours de linguistique générale), published posthumously in 1916. His work is important for its emphasis on synchronic studies of language as a series of differences and for his description of language as a system of signs with an arbitrary relationship between signifier and the signified.
Bentham (1748–1832) was an English philosopher and social reformer who founded the political, moral, and social philosophy known as utilitarianism. One important aspect of his philosophical system was its emphasis on rationality and quantification based on data in order to create systems that promoted "the greatest good for the greatest number." Bentham imagined a type of prison-building known as the "panopticon" in which one guard could observe all the prisoners, but the prisoners cannot tell whether they are being watched at any given time. Foucault saw this form of surveillance as a metaphor for an essential mechanism of power and control in a society which depends not on universal surveillance but on internalization of its possibility.