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Foucault and sociology

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Michel Foucault was a gifted but elusive thinker with a wide and continuing impact across many academic fields. This article positions his work as a historical sociology of knowledge and evaluates its contribution. After reviewing Foucault’s central preoccupations as they emerge in his major works, the argument briefly considers their influence on accounting scholarship as an informative exemplar of a wider Foucault effect. Four key areas for the sociological reception of Foucault are then considered: the nature of discourse and archaeology, his historical method, the problem of agency and action, and his conception of power. Articulating Foucault’s relationship to sociology is inherently problematic, not least because he takes the emergence of the sciences of man as something to be explained rather than augmented. Yet his work remains a rich resource for inquiries of the sociological type, is broadly aligned with a practice turn in social theory, and intersects with several themes in both mainstream and critical sociology.

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