AHA 2024

Penn Press at AHA 2024

Becoming Foucault

Becoming Foucault

The Poitiers Years

by Michael C. Behrent

15 b/w

  • Hardcover
  • 9781512825145
  • Published: December 2023



Though Michel Foucault is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century, little is known about his early life. Even Foucault’s biographers have neglected this period, preferring instead to start the story when the future philosopher arrives in Paris.

Becoming Foucault is a historical reconstruction of the world in which Foucault grew up: the small city of Poitiers, France, from the 1920s until the end of the Second World War. Beyond exploring previously unexamined aspects of Foucault’s childhood, including his wartime ordeals, it proposes an original interpretation of Foucault’s oeuvre. Michael Behrent argues that Foucault, in addition to being a theorist of power, knowledge, and selfhood, was also a philosopher of experience. He was a thinker intent on making sense of the events that he lived through. Behrent identifies four specific experiences in Foucault’s childhood that exercised a decisive influence on him and that, in various ways, he later made the subject of his philosophy: his family’s deep connections to the medical profession; his upbringing in a bourgeois household; the German Occupation during World War II; and his Catholic education.

Behrent not only reconstructs the specific nature of these experiences but also shows how reference to them surfaces in Foucault’s later work. In this way, the book both sheds light on a formative period in the philosopher’s life and offers a unique interpretation of key aspects of his thought.