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Philip Barker. Michel Foucault: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii + 160. Paper, $19.00.
The significance and value of an analyst's contribution to intellectual life and understanding is to be found in the influence his or her ideas exert on forms of thought and analysis. In the case of Michel Foucault the impact of his work is felt in a wide range of disciplinary fields, including philosophy and history, disciplines to which he explicitly directed his attention, as well as other areas of intellectual endeavor, notably, sociology, criminology, political science, cultural studies, feminism, architecture, and literary analysis. Indeed, there are now few disciplinary fields that have not experienced the Foucault effect.
Writing an introduction to Foucault's work is not an easy task. There are so many interpretations and issues to address, and there are already a large number of texts published on his work. Undaunted by the magnitude of the task, Philip Barker has produced a fine text, one that simultaneously manages to offer a clear introduction to the key elements of Foucault's work as well as provide food for thought for those already relatively familiar with the Foucaultian legacy. In an impressively wide-ranging text, Barker opens his discussion with a consideration of the question of how we are to read Foucault. Reflecting on Foucault's discussion of the author function, discourse, the circulation and meaning of texts, as well as the difficulties of commentary, Barker introduces the reader to the features of a "Foucauldian style of textual criticism." From here the text proceeds to cover such key substantive concerns in Foucault's work as the articulation of power, truth and strategy (Chapter 2) and discipline, subjectivities and selves (Chapters 3 and 4), before turning to a discussion of Foucault's "archaeological strategy," conception of historical analysis, and critical interrogation of the sovereign subject (Chapter 5). In the two final chapters of the book Barker seeks to encourage the reader to be more than a passive consumer of Foucault and to develop a "critical interaction" with Foucault's work. Through a series of brief reflections on philosophy, the politics of theory, and the notion of "thinking against," Barker, drawing on a text by Longinus, attempts, with a good deal of success, to put into practice Foucault's idea of "thinking differently" (Chapter 6). The book ends on a more personal and somewhat self-indulgent note, but one hopefully that will still encourage introductory readers to get to grips with Foucault's work for themselves.
Barker has succeeded in producing a concise and generally stimulating introduction to Foucault's work, and it should encourage readers to try to make sense of Foucault's work for themselves. An introduction can do nothing more than open up some of the possible themes and issues to be found in the work of a thinker, and there is no substitute for engaging directly with the rich range of possibilities present in Foucault's several texts.
University of Portsmouth