Liberator of the Past

To historians he seemed to be a philosopher, to philosophers an historian. But in spite of the difficulty of categorising the late Michel Foucault (1926-84), or perhaps because of that very difficulty, he has had a considerable impact on historical writing and deserves to have more.

After a triple training as a philosopher, a psychiatrist and an historian of science, Foucault made his reputation with a history of insanity (Madness and Civilisation, 1961). He went on to study the history of prisons (Discipline and Punish, 1975), and the history of sexuality, as well as commenting at length on problems of method in what others called the history of ideas but he insisted on describing as an 'archaeology' of 'genealogy', concerned with 'discourse' or discursive practice.

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