Foucault On Psychoanalysis: Missed Encounter or Gordian Knot?

  • Mark G. E. Kelly


Foucault’s remarks concerning psychoanalysis are ambivalent and even prima facie contra-dictory, at times lauding Freud and Lacan as anti-humanists, at others being severely criti-cal of their imbrication within psychiatric power. This has allowed a profusion of interpretations of his position, between so-called ‘Freudo-Foucauldians’ at one extreme and Foucauldians who condemn psychoanalysis as such at the other. In this article, I begin by surveying Foucault’s biographical and theoretical relationship to psychoanalysis and the sec-ondary scholarship on this relationship to date. I pay particular attention to the discussion of the relationship in feminist scholarship and queer theory, and that by psychoanalytic thinkers, as well as attending to the particular focus in the secondary literature on Fou-cault’s late work and his relationship to the figure of Jacques Lacan. I conclude that Fou-cault’s attitude to psychoanalysis varies with context, and that some of his criticisms of psychoanalysis in part reflect an ignorance of the variety of psychoanalytic thought, partic-ularly in its Lacanian form. I thus argue that Foucault sometimes tended to overestimate the extent of the incompatibility of his approach with psychoanalytic ones and that there is ultimately no serious incompatibility there. Rather, psychoanalysis represents a substantively different mode of inquiry to Foucault’s work, which is neither straightforwardly ex-clusive nor inclusive of psychoanalytic insights.

Author Biography

Mark G. E. Kelly
Mark G. E. Kelly is Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. He is the author of several books on the thought of Michel Foucault, most prominently The Political Philosophy of Michel Foucault (Routledge, 2009), as well as other Foucauldian works including, most recently, For Foucault: Against Normative Political Theory (SUNY, 2018).


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