Michel Foucault´s The Archaeology of Knowledge was published in March 1969; Discipline and Punish in February 1975. Although only separated in time by six years, the difference in tone is stark: the former is a methodological treatise, the latter a call to arms. What accounts for the radical shift in Foucault´s approach? Several transitions took place during this period. Foucault returned to France from Tunisia, first to the experimental University of Vincennes and then to a prestigious chair at the Collège de France. Tunisia was a political awakening for him, and he returned to a France much changed by the turmoil of 1968. He quickly became involved in activist work, particularly concerning prisons but also around health issues such as abortion rights, and in his seminars he built research teams to conduct collaborative work, often around issues related to his lectures and activism. Foucault: The Birth of Power makes use of his Collège de France courses, newly available documents at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as well as archival material relating to his activism and collaborative research, to provide a detailed intellectual history of Foucault as writer, researcher, lecturer and activist. Through a careful reconstruction of Foucault´s work and preoccupations, Elden shows that, while Discipline and Punish may be the major published output of this period, it rests on a much wider range of concerns and projects. This is an essential companion to Foucault´s Last Decade (Polity, 2016).
"Foucault: The Birth of Power opens an illuminating window into the process of political awakening and philosophical transformation as intellectual history. Drawing on lectures, talks, and unpublished as well as published material, Stuart Elden has assembled a massive archive to substantiate this pivotal period in the development of one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century." Caren Kaplan, University of California, Davis Stuart Elden's book, Foucault: The Birth of Power, is a brilliant prequel to Elden's masterful book on the later Foucault, Foucault's Last Decade. Here, Elden offers a meticulous, erudite reading of the early years of Foucault at the Collège de FranceÑa critical time in his arc of research that brought together seminars and conferences on disciplinary power with deep political engagement and activism on behalf of prisoners. With his unmatched knowledge of Foucault, Elden unearths key intellectual moments, such as Foucault's close engagement with Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche which would strongly influence his first year of lectures at the Collège on the will to know. From there, Elden carefully traces Foucault's intellectual journey to the mid-1970s, the publication of Discipline and Punish and the lectures on psychiatric power. The Birth of Power is the perfect reading companion to the period in Foucault's arc of research that has come to be known as power-knowledge." Bernard Harcourt, Columbia University
Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick and Monash Warwick Professor in the Faculty of Arts, Monash University.