Revising Foucault: The history and critique of modernity

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (5):545-565 (2010)
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Abstract

I offer a major reassessment of Foucault’s philosophico-historical account of the basic problems of modernity. I revise our understanding of Foucault by countering the influential misinterpretations proffered by his European interlocutors such as Habermas and Derrida. Central to Foucault’s account of modernity was his work on two crucial concept pairs: freedom/power and reason/madness. I argue against the view of Habermas and Derrida that Foucault understood modern power and reason as straightforwardly opposed to modern freedom and madness. I show that Foucault held a much more complex view of these pairs, a view encapsulated in his term ‘reciprocal incompatibility’. By revising our interpretation of Foucault’s work on modernity in this way, we open the way to much more effective deployments of his critical apparatus.

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