Foucault and Althusser: Epistemological Differences with Political Effects


  • Andrew Ryder University of Pittsburgh



Michel Foucault was at times critical of the Marxist tradition, and at other times more sympathetic.  After his dismissal of Marx in The Order of Things, he conceded the existence of a more compelling, non-humanist version of this discourse.  Louis Althusser’s innovations are crucial for the existence of this second Marxism.  While consideration of the relation between Foucault and Althusser varies between those who emphasize relations between State and capital, and conversely those who inscribe Marxist considerations into a micro-political account, the distinction between the two thinkers takes place earlier in the development of their respective outlooks.  Foucault initially emphasized Marxism as an anthropological eschatology; he revises this argument, commending the possibility of an epistemological mutation of history inherent in Marx’s thought.  I locate crucial distinctions between Foucault and Althusser in the early work of the 1960s as inflecting relations in the seemingly more proximate work of the 1970s.  In this approach, we can better examine Foucault’s non-Marxist contentions in order to consider the reciprocal distinctions and contributions between these two forms of anti-humanism, providing the necessary groundwork for debates regarding the nature of subjectivity, the State, and revolution.

Author Biography

Andrew Ryder, University of Pittsburgh

Andrew Ryder is a Postdoctoral Associate of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. He has published numerous articles on phenomenology, psychoanalysis, political thought, and modern French literature, especially regarding Bataille, Lacan, Sartre, Levinas, and Lingis. He is presently completing a book titled Irreducible Excess: Politics, Sexuality, and Materialism.




How to Cite

Ryder, A. (2013). Foucault and Althusser: Epistemological Differences with Political Effects. Foucault Studies, (16), 134–153.