Foucault in Tunisia: The encounter with intolerable power

Medien, Kathryn (2020). Foucault in Tunisia: The encounter with intolerable power. The Sociological Review, 68(3) pp. 492–507.



In September 1966, 10 years after Tunisia officially gained independence from French colonial rule, Michel Foucault took up a three-year secondment, teaching philosophy at the University of Tunis. This article offers an account of the time that Foucault spent in Tunisia, documenting his involvement in the anti-imperial, anti-authoritarian struggles that were taking place, and detailing his organizing against the carceral Tunisian state. Through this account, it is argued that Foucault’s entrance into political activism, and his associated work in developing a new analytic of power, was fundamentally motivated by his encounter with the neocolonial operatives of power that he witnessed and resisted while in Tunisia. In tracing the anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles taking place concurrent to Foucault’s development of his analytic of power, albeit struggles that are shown to not take centre stage in his subsequent works, this article concludes by suggesting that taking seriously the scholar-activist archive presented may offer us a set of radical Foucauldian tools for resistance.

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