Historian and philosopher, Foucault was born in Poitiers, France, and educated in Paris. He taught throughout Europe and in 1960 went on to work at the University of Clermont-Ferrand until 1968 when he joined the University of Vincennes. In 1970 he became ‘Professor of the History of Systems of Thought’ at the Collège de France, a position he held until his AIDS related death in 1984.
Foucault was interested in detection and punishment as the means to ensure general obedience to society. In Discipline and Punish he gives a history of the ways in which society has tried to do this, particularly by surveillance and discipline.
In much of his work Foucault stated that social institutions such as hospitals and prisons are mechanisms by which a society can exclude sections of their population. By looking at these ‘exclusions’ one can gain an insight into how a society defines itself. This interest began early in his professional life, when he investigated how societies have dealt with mental illness throughout history.