[Paleopsych] CHE: Foucault Scholars Gain a New Society and Journal
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Fri Apr 1 20:28:39 UTC 2005
Foucault Scholars Gain a New Society and Journal
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.8
By RICHARD BYRNE
Martin Parkins has held a number of jobs, including prominent
positions in the corporate side of book publishing and in
nongovernmental organizations dedicated to serving refugees, and also
as a teacher in New York City public schools. But his latest task is
to be the champion of the philosopher Michel Foucault, who died in
1984 at the age of 57.
In September 2004, Mr. Parkins was chosen as the first executive
director of the new Foucault Society. The society, which unveiled
its Web site this month, will promote the French thinker's ideas
inside academe and beyond it into the public square. Plans for a
resource center and archive in New York City devoted to Foucault's
work are also under way.
The organization already boasts a who's who of prominent Foucault
scholars on its board of advisers, and will convene its first
symposium on May 13 (a one-day gathering called "Foucault Now!") at
the New School University in New York City. Mr. Parkins cites a "real
resurgence in interest in Foucault" -- which also includes a new
independent electronic journal devoted to his work -- as a factor in
the society's fast start.
"That's why we've come so far so quickly," he said in a recent
In addition to the Web site and first symposium, a second symposium at
the New School -- dealing with Foucault, the body, and gender --
already is planned for October.
As much of French philosophy and criticism's high tide of influence in
the 1960s and 1970s has receded slowly from American academe in recent
decades, Foucault's influence continues to grow. His most prominent
works in English translation -- 1965's Madness and Civilization: A
History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1973's The Birth of the
Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, 1977's Discipline and
Punish: The Birth of the Prison, and the three volumes of The History
of Sexuality (1976 and 1984) -- continue to hold great appeal for
philosophers, historians, and literary critics. But his
often-provocative ideas about organizational power and resistance to
it have percolated into a variety of other disciplines as well,
including criminal justice, medicine, and queer studies.
"Foucault died 21 years ago, and the 20th century has passed," said
Richard Lynch, the coordinator of the Foucault Circle, a small
group of American academics devoted to discussing Foucault's ideas.
(The circle recently held its fifth annual meeting at Rollins College,
in Orlando, Fla.) "Now the question is being asked, Does Foucault
belong in the canon? My feeling is that interest in Foucault is not
just a flirtation, but the beginning of a recognition of his
importance for a number of different disciplines ... and also that his
work is of enduring importance."
A Place to Publish
The new society is only one new player in the Foucault arena. The
other addition to the field is a new electronic journal, Foucault
Studies, which published its first issue in December 2004.
Editorial duties for the journal are split among three editors, who
reside on three continents: Stuart R. Elden, a lecturer in geography
at the University of Durham, in England; Clare O'Farrell, a lecturer
in the school of Cultural and Language Studies in Education at
Queensland University of Technology, in Australia; and Alan Rosenberg,
a professor of philosophy at Queens College, of the City University of
The journal was founded, Mr. Rosenberg said, because "there was a real
need for younger scholars working on Foucault to find a place to
publish." The lack of such places, he added, is partly because the
thinker "crosses so many boundaries." Thus, a journal dedicated solely
to Foucault's work was needed.
According to Mr. Rosenberg, the editors of Foucault Studies approached
a number of academic publishers without success. Then they had the
idea to place the journal online. So far, he said, the distances
between the editors have created "only one or two problems."
"Editing the journal this way would have been impossible without the
Internet," he said.
The journal's inaugural issue contains a translation of a 1974 lecture
given by Foucault ("The Crisis of Medicine or the Crisis of
Anti-Medicine?"), as well as a number of articles and reviews. Of
particular interest to those interested in the development of the
French philosopher's thought is a review essay by Brad Elliott Stone,
a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, on the only
two English translations issued thus far of Foucault's lectures at the
College of France in the mid-1970s. (To date, six volumes of
Foucault's lectures at the college have been published in French.)
Mr. Lynch, who contributed two bibliographical works to the first
issue of Foucault Studies, says that the lectures are keys to
unraveling Foucault's growth as a thinker. While Foucault's books were
conceived "as works of art," he observes, the lectures "let you hear
him thinking out loud."
Beyond the Academy
One of the goals of the Foucault Society, Mr. Parkins said, is to push
Foucault's ideas into arenas far from academe. Like his colleagues at
Foucault Studies, he hopes to attract students and younger scholars to
the organization. He would also like to engage artists, activists, and
people in other professions in discussions about Foucault.
"Our board of advisers is a little too academic right now," he
conceded. "We're working on that. ... We need diversity."
Mr. Parkins believes that his own varied experiences in and out of
academe may help bridge that gap. He has a B.A. in philosophy and an
M.A. in religion from Yale University. He also holds an M.B.A. from
the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and
an M.S. in education from Hunter College, of the City University of
New York. "I have a very diverse background," he says, "but a strong
business background, a lot of strategic planning and nonprofit
Among the society's goals is to secure a home for itself and the
resource center that it envisions for Foucault scholars. Yet Mr.
Parkins says that the society is seeking an institution that will
grant it significant autonomy as well.
"A lot of what we're going to do is probably going to be cutting edge,
and is probably going to be controversial," he said. "I'm counting on
that, actually. Too close an affiliation with any major organization
or institutions risks having them dictate the programming, or withdraw
support, or any of that game-playing."
One of the key ideas in Foucault's thought is that power is too fluid
to be possessed, but rather it must be used. Mr. Parkins says that the
philosophy behind the society hews closely to that idea. "The point is
not to beatify Foucault," he said, "but to use his ideas and methods."
2. mailto:Richard.Byrne at chronicle.com
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