Practicing Foucault : truth, conduct and politics

Target group

PhD students in the humanities (history, literary studies, philosophy) whose research can benefit from an encounter with the work of Michel Foucault. Prior engagement with the work of Michel Foucault is recommended.

Organising Committee

- Prof. Dr. Steven Vanden Broecke : Department of history, Institute for Early Modern History, Ghent University ()
- PhD students Egon Bauwelinck, Department of History, Research Group Meta- and Public History, Ghent University () and Michiel Van Dam, Department of history, Institute for Early Modern History, Ghent University ()
Coordination: Egon Bauwelinck

Scientific Committee

- Prof. dr. Gita Deneckere, Department of history, Ghent University ()
- Prof. dr. Alexander Roose, Department of literary studies, French literature, Ghent University ()
- Prof. dr. Steven Vanden Broecke, Department of history, Ghent University ()
- Prof. dr. Kornee van der Haven, Department of literary studies, Dutch literature, Ghent University ()
- Prof. dr. Maarten Van Dyck, Department of philosophy and moral sciences, Ghent University ()


First of all, we invited experts from Ghent University as well as external speakers to give a masterclass in tune with their current research, inviting them to explain how they have extended, translated, criticised or otherwise appropriated insights and notions found in Foucault’s lectures. Secondly, we have invited doctoral researchers whose research deals with the kinds of questions raised here, to discuss their own advances, challenges, and questions with each other and with the invited speakers. Thirdly, in preparation for the masterclasses, excerpts of the Foucault lectures will be read and discussed collectively.


This doctoral seminar wishes to explore the difficulties and challenges faced by historians in their engagement with Foucault’s heuristic concepts. Which challenges and difficulties does the historian face when appropriating concepts such as “governmentality” or “parrhêsia”? Each of the three terms in the title of this doctoral school proposal raises important questions for historical analysis.
Concerning the relation between truth and politics, one may more closely consider how the intended function of truth-telling in a social context has changed over the past few centuries. Historians have suggested that, since the 16th century, exposing ‘the people’ to ‘the truth’ has been re-cast as a form of social technology through which a population’s core allegiances can be maintained and altered. One may also consider the changes which the creation of positive social sciences introduced in the 19th-century discourse of politically functional truth-telling, for instance in the modern worker’s movement. Concerning the relation between truth and conduct, one may also suppose historical changes, both on the level of self-conduct and the conduct of others. On the issue of self-conduct, we have been confronted (pace Foucault’s own emphasis on Greco-Roman history) with the persistence of issues of sincerity, ethics, and an aesthetics of existence in modern practices of truth-telling. We have also become fascinated by the way in which novel modes of scholarly enquiry, such as historiography or psychology, have been co-opted as fulcrums of revolt and counter-conduct. At the same time, we find that historiography has also functioned as a way of framing the conduct of others as something to be managed in time.
Concerning the relation between conduct and politics, we may more closely attend to the way in which past discourses have conceptualised notions of class (e.g., ‘the workers’, ‘the people’) in terms of specific manners of conduct, rather than in simple socio-economic terms. In other words, which socio-political dimensions have past actors given to the ethical or aesthetic dimensions of self-government?


Maarten Van Dyck teaches epistemology (including a course on Michel Foucault) and metaphysics in Ghent University. He is a director of the Sarton Centre for History of Science (Ghent University). His PhD is entitled “An archaeology of Galileo’s science of motion”. His research interests focus on the notion of “scientific revolution”, approached historically, conceptually and philosophically. He is currently engaged in researching the historical widening of the science of “mechanics” from a science of machines, to a metaphor encompassing natural motion.
Steven Vanden Broecke teaches intellectual history and history of science of early modern Europe at the History dept. of Ghent University. His research seeks to develop a historically sensitive way of articulating variable relations between science, religion, and magic. Recent publications with content relevant to the course include: “Copernicanism as a religious challenge after 1616: self-discipline and the imagination in Libertus Fromondus's anti-Copernican writings (1631-1634)” in: Lias. Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources 42(2015), pp. 67-88; “From Cosmic Governance to Governmentality. Shaping Sublunary Order in Seventeenth-Century French Critiques of Astrology” in: Man and cosmos from Copernicus to Kepler, eds. Miguel Angel Granada, Patrick J. Boner and Dario Tessicini (Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, 2017), pp. 315-340.
Jean-Lucien Sanchez (Centre de recherche sociologique sur le droit et les institutions pénales, CNRS) : “To govern the prison: the exemple of the relégués jailed in the penal colony of French Guiana, 1887-1953”
Jean-Lucien Sanchez is a doctor in history who has specialized in penal history. He teaches at University of Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. He is also a member of the Centre pour les humanités numériques et l’histoire de la justice (CLAMOR).
Bibliography. Jean-Lucien Sanchez, A perpétuité. Relégués au bagne de Guyane (Paris: Vendémiaire, 2013)

Florence Hulak (Université Paris 8): “Michel Foucault and historians: questions of method and theory of history.”
Florence Hulak & C. Girard, dir. Philosophie des sciences humaines. (Paris : Vrin, 2011)LUCA PALTRINIERI (Université de Rennes) : “The complexity of the concept of biopolitics : Foucault versus historians”. Florence Hulak specialises in contemporary French historiography and theory of history. Her doctoral thesis examined the problem of subjectivity in contemporary philosophy of history. She has notably written and edited:Florence Hulak, Sociétés et mentalités. La science historique de Marc Bloch. (Paris : Hermann, 2014) ;
Luca Paltrinieri teaches and researches at the Université de Rennes. He is a specialist of the work of Michel Foucault, and his current research deals with the emergence of the government of “populations” in early modern France as well as contemporary management discourse. He is also the author and editor of the following key works :
L’expérience du concept. Foucault entre épistémologie et histoire. (Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012)
Ed. With Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, Philippe Artières, Judith Revel, La volonté de savoir de Michel Foucault. Regards critiques (Caen : Imec-Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2013)
Ed. L’usage des plaisirs et le souci de soi de Michel Foucault. Regards critiques 1984-1987 (Caen : Imec-Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2014)

Programme - Dates - Venue

  • THURSDAY 22 JUNE 2017 - Location: room 110.003, Universiteitsforum, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35, 9000 Gent

9:30-12:30 : MAARTEN VAN DYCK (UGent), STEVEN VANDEN BROECKE (UGent); titles TBA.
12:30-14:00 : lunch  
14:00-16:00 : discussion of readings ; presentations by PhD students

  • THURSDAY 29 JUNE 2017 - Location : zaal Oude Infirmerie, Het Pand, Onderbergen 1, 9000 Gent

9:00-11:00 : masterclass LUCA PALTRINIERI (Université de Rennes)  “The complexity of the concept of biopolitics : Foucault versus historians”
11:00-11:15 : coffee break
11:15-12:30 : presentations by PhD students
12:30-14:00 : lunch
14:00-16:00 : masterclass JEAN-LUCIEN SANCHEZ (CNRS)  “Gouverner la prison : le cas des relégués To govern the prison: the example of the relégués jailed in the penal colony of French Guiana, 1887-1953” (french)
16:00-16:15  : coffee break
16:15-17:30 : presentations by PhD students

  • FRIDAY 30 JUNE 2017 - Location : zaal Oude Infirmerie, Het Pand, Onderbergen 1, 9000 Gent

9:30-11:30 : masterclass FLORENCE HULAK (Université Paris 8):  “Michel Foucault and historians: questions of method and theory of history” (french)
11:30-13:00 : lunch
13:00-14:30 : presentations by PhD students
14:30-14:45 : coffee break
14:45-16:00 : presentations by PhD students

Afternoon : CONCLUDING ROUNDTABLE with external speakers and the scientific committee.


Excerpts from the work of Michel Foucault will be read and discussed collectively, prior to the masterclasses. Other reading (source material) to be discussed with speakers. PhD students are encouraged to present their research.


Please contact

Number of participants

Maximum 20 PhD students


The course will be bilingual English / French.

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Participation in all activities. PhD students are encouraged to present papers.

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the Doctoral School of Arts, Humanities and Law of Ghent University