Introduction to Postmodernism: Foucault and Derrida

‘Postmodernism’ often elicits polarised reactions, sometimes based on presumptions about its central ideas. We redress some of the misunderstandings surrounding Postmodernism, by giving an in depth introduction to two of its most prominent philosophers.


  • Introduction: What is Postmodernism, sorting out fact from fable.
  • Foucault: The construction of the subject through power and knowledge.
  • Bio-Power: How do political and cultural institutions use the human body, with its capacities and limitations, to its own ends?
  • Hermeneutics: What is the relationship of a subject to their own quest for ‘self knowledge’? Foucault argues that this discursive technique is one of the most powerful ways that cultural institutions have of disciplining their subjects.
  • Technologies of the Self: What is Foucault’s (limited) ‘solution’ to the problems of oppressive power?
  • What is Enlightenment?: We will explore Foucault’s relationship to the history of philosophy, and we will also consider his use of ‘history’ as philosophy.
  • Derrida: Derrida has become a cultural figure, as a political activist and commentator as well as for his philosophy. We will begin with a biographical film made shortly before his death, and study some of the text interviews in the film: DERRIDA.
  • Deconstruction: What does the term mean and why is it a powerful technique for critiquing political and cultural institutions.
  • The Text: Derrida has had a profound impact on the philosophy of literature, what (for better or worse) has been the outcome of that impact.
  • Forgiveness: Derrida’s most recent work has been on the concept of ‘forgiveness’: this is the search for a secular ‘redemption’ which he thinks is necessary for any healthy political polis. Trying to Read Derrida: This week we will also grapple with Derrida’s style of writing: is it just unnecessary obscureism, or is there a connection between his content and form?

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have gained an overall understanding of the key concepts in Postmodernism.
  2. Have gained an insight into the ideas of Foucault and Derrida.
  3. Relate Postmodern ideas to our contemporary world and current issues.
  4. Apply these ideas to their personal lives and choices.

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.