While Michel Foucault 's work has always been about the nature of power in society, his more particular concern has been with power 's relationship to the discursive formations in society that make knowledge possible. Power here is not the conventional power of institutions and leaders, but the "capillary" modes of power that controls individuals and their knowledge, the mechanisms by which power "reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives."1 It is in discourse, according to Foucault, that power is both most manifest and hardest to identify.
Discourse is where everything that relates to power and knowledge, including his own work, is buried.2 Thus, in his first three "historical" works, Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, and The Order of Things,3 Foucault examines the discourses surrounding the "development" of psychiatry, medicine, and the human sciences, respectively.
I use the words "historical" and "development" guardedly in relation to Foucault 's oeuvre because his approach is not historical in the traditional sense of the word - tracing the development and progressive refinement of ideas in a particular field. Rather, he tells us, his method focuses on discontinuities in the history of thought:
Beneath the great continuities of thought... one is now trying to detect the incidence of interruptions. Interruptions whose status and nature vary considerably... they suspend the continuous accumulation of knowledge, interrupt its slow development, and force it to enter a new time... they direct historical analysis away from the search for silent beginnings, and the never-ending tracing-back to the original precursors, towards the search for a new type of rationality and its various affects... ; they show that the history of a concept is not wholly and
Bibliography: Sheridan Smith. London: Tavostock, 1972. York: Pantheon Books, 1973 Foucault, Michel New York: Vintage Books. 1965. Pantheon Books, 1980.