Confession, Voice and the Sensualization of Power: The Significance of Michel Foucault’s 1962 Encounter with Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  • Lauri Siisiäinen University of Jyväskylä


Michel Foucault is known for his critiques of the intertwinement of empirical knowledge, perception and experience, and power. Within this general framework, this article focuses on a fairly unnoticed text of Foucault’s: his 1962 Introduction to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Dialogues. The article shows that Foucault’s Introduction is central for more than one reason: Firstly, it is apparently the first piece, in which Foucault focuses in detail on confession as an individualizing mode of power and truth-utterance. Secondly, in this text, Foucault treats confession as an empirical, sensual and affective form of power. Thirdly, in this early text, Foucault presents what can be called his critique of phonocentrism, i.e., of the interrelated centrality of voice, hearing, authenticity and “presence.” We find out that Foucault elaborated this critique (from the starting point of his archaeology of knowledge), already before Jacques Derrida introduced the actual term “phonocentrism,” and made it generally known. Finally, we will see that Foucault’s seminal 1970s genealogies of confession, sexuality and pastoral power revisit as well as revise the earlier insights discovered in the Introduction.

Author Biography

Lauri Siisiäinen, University of Jyväskylä
Lauri Siisiäinen (PhD) is an Academy of Finland post doctoral research fellow working at Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä. He is also a member of the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Political Thought and Conceptual Change. His research deals, above all, with 20th century continental political theory, with special emphasis on the issue of the senses, sensuality, political agency and power. These are also the main areas of Siisiäinen’s publications, both in Finland, as well as internationally.