Michel Foucault (born Paul-Michel Foucault) (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984) was a French philosopher, social theorist, historian of ideas, and literary critic. His philosophical theories addressed what power is and how it works, the manner in which it controls knowledge and vice versa, and how it is used as a form of social control. Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, social anthropology of medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His writings on power, knowledge, and discourse have been widely influential in academic circles.
Born in Poitiers, France, in 1926, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV and then the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors—philosophers Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, Madness and Civilization. After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced two more significant publications, The Birth of the Clinic and The Order of Things, which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, a theoretical movement in social anthropology from which he later distanced himself. From 1966 to 1968, he lectured at the University of Tunis, Tunisia before returning to France, where he involved himself in several protest movements and left-wing groups. He went on to publish The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality. Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by HIV/AIDS; he was the first public figure in France to have died from the disease, with his partner Daniel Defert founding the AIDES charity in his memory.
Foucault rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels later attributed to him, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity. One of Foucault's later projects, which he called the "genealogy of knowledge", is heavily influenced by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (being a direct allusion to Nietzsche's "genealogy of morality").