Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher and literary critic. Michel Foucault paved the way for post-modernism. His theories dealt with the tussle between power and knowledge.
According to Foucault, knowledge is controlled by people who have power. So the discourse of knowledge is driven by power. In other words, it has been argued by Foucault that knowledge is not purely free or autonomous from power. Thus knowledge also becomes a form of social control.
Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, 1975, talked about a history of prison and punishment carried out by a lawful state to create a sense of fear among the people of the state. The book used the metaphor of prison to argue that the state controls people not by capturing their bodies but the state controls people by capturing their minds and their souls.
It meant that the government uses fear of the penalty attached to a crime to control the minds of people. So the site of control and oppression has shifted from the body to the mind or soul. The book also brought forward an idea of surveillance. Surveillance is the act of watching over or spying on a person or multiple persons.
According to Michel Foucault, surveillance is the weapon used by a nation or state to control the lives of free citizens through fear, conditioning, consensus and ideology.
Surveillance is a more intelligent and subtle form of control based on the minds of people rather than their physical bodies. So the book following the metaphor of prison argues that life itself is a prison and our souls and lives are prisoners in this prison because the state ultimately wants to control people rather than letting people be.
The History of Sexuality, 1976, argues that sexuality is not a determined or fixed fact. Sexuality is a social construct that can be changed. So men and women can experience within their lives a transformation of genders.
In a way, this book liberated the idea of homosexuality from the shackles of orthodox laws and traditions. According to the book, sexuality is not a fixed concept but is a rather fluid and malleable concept.
Michel Foucault did not have complete faith in the judiciary institution. According to him, the idea of justice is also attached to power. It is ultimately a desire for power that controls knowledge and justice. Michel Foucault’s other notable works include Madness and Civilization, 1964, The Order of Things, 1966.