Foucault Syllabus


Spring 2011 Syllabus

Mondays/Wednesdays 5:35-6:50

Professor Linda Martín Alcoff
Office: 1419 Hunter West
Office Hours: Mondays 2:00-4:00 and by appointment

Course Description:

Michel Foucault was one of the most important and influential philosophers of the last half of the 20th century. His work provided a new analysis of the modern forms of social oppression, and he developed an original account of the ways in which power circulates through knowledge systems. He offered a serious challenge to the way we conceptualize liberation, freedom, truth, and subjectivity. Foucault was not merely a critic but also an activist with a powerful sense of the open-ended possibilities for social transformation.

This course will provide an extensive analysis of Michel Foucault's works. A major question we will pursue is how to understand his claim that modern societies are characterized less by freedom and autonomy than by discipline and docility. We will also look carefully at his claim that there is a constitutive relationship between knowledge and power. We will also cover in some depth his analysis of sexuality and the construction of sexual identities.

Required books are available at Shakespeare Books on Lexington:

1. Discipline and Punish by Foucault

2. Fearless Speech by Foucault

3. Power/Knowledge by Foucault

4. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction

5. The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure

6. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography by David Halperin

Course Requirements:

Requirements include: attendance, participation in discussion, two in-class exams, four short 2-3 page papers, one class presentation, final 10-12 page paper, and observing classroom decorum.

Attendance and participation in discussion is required. It is very important for students to come to class having done the assigned readings in order to understand the lectures and make our discussions fruitful. Students who miss no more than 2 classes during the semester for whatever reason will receive a third higher letter grade at the end of the course, for example, going from a B- to a B or a B+ to an A-. This will not include the first week of class. (The reasons for absences have no effect on this bonus).

Short exams will be spaced throughout the semester to test your reading. Short papers will provide an opportunity for you to learn how to put philosophical ideas in your own words and develop philosophical argumentation. The final paper will allow you to cover a particular topic in the course readings in more depth.

Classroom decorum: Arrive on time. Do not go in and out during class time. Turn off all electronic devices, including cell phones, Ipods, and lap-tops. If you must eat or drink, do so quietly.

Final grades will be tabulated as follows: average of short papers 25%; average of exams 40%; final paper 25%; class presentation 10%.

Schedule of Readings

Jan. 31, Feb. 2: Introduction to Foucault’s work
“History of Systems of Thought” (hand out)
Discipline and Punish Part 1 Torture

Feb. 7: Discipline and Punish Part 2 Punishment
First Short Paper Assignment Handed Out: Due Feb. 14


Feb. 14, 16:
Discipline and Punish Part 3 Discipline
Power/Knowledge: “The Eye of Power”
Second Short Paper Assignment Handed Out Feb. 16: Due Feb. 23


Feb. 23:
Discipline and Punish Part 4, chapter 2 “Illegalities and Delinquency”
Power/Knowledge: “Prison Talk”

Feb. 28, March 2, 7:
Joseph Rouse “Power/Knowledge” (Hand-out)
Power/Knowledge: “On Popular Justice,” “Body/Power”, “Two Lectures,” “Power and Strategies”


March 14, 16: “The Concern for Truth” (hand-out)
Power/Knowledge: “Truth and Power,”
Selections from The Archaeology of Knowledge (Hand-out)
Third Short Paper Assignment Handed Out March 16: Due March 23

March 21, 23:
Power/Knowledge: “The History of Sexuality”
History of Sexuality Vol. 1, Part 1, 2, 3

March 28, 30:
History of Sexuality Vol. 1, Part 4, 5
Fourth Short Paper Handed Out March 30: Due April 4

April 4, 6, 11:
Power/Knowledge “The Confession of the Flesh”
The Use of Pleasure Introduction, Part 1, 2, 4, 5



April 27, May 2, 4:
David Halperin, “Saint Foucault”

May 9, 11:
Fearless Speech Part 1, 2

May 16, 18:
Fearless Speech Part 3, 4

Final Paper Due May 24