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Archives of Infamy: Foucault on State Power in the Lives of Ordinary Citizens

Arlette Farge, Michel Foucault, Nancy Luxon | Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton

Expanding the insights of Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault’s Disorderly Families into policing, public order, (in)justice, and daily life.

Crisscrossing the Atlantic to collect unpublished radio broadcasts, book reviews, and essays, Archives of Infamy provides historical and archival contexts to the translation of Disorderly Families by Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault. It offers a new perspective on the crystallization of ideas—of the family, gender relations, and political power—into social relationships and the regimes of power they engender. First published in French in 1982, Disorderly Families contains ninety-four letters collected by Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault from ordinary families who submitted complaints to the king of France in the eighteenth century to intervene and resolve their family disputes. Together, these letters offer unusual insight into the infamies of daily life.

Listening to the voices rising from the archives, grasping the distant echoes of confrontations with power, exhuming the tenuous grain of tiny existences—this is what Michel Foucault chose to do. Does the philosopher’s gesture conflict with the historical understanding of archival material? This look back at an exciting debate asks: is it possible to build together a concern for anonymous lives, a literary passion for documentary fragments, and the desire to make a history of the discourses and practices of power?Judith Revel, Université Paris Nanterre


Originally published by Gallimard Jeunesse in  2018 with the title Le désordre des familles.

More information here.


A book written under the direction of Nancy Luxon, with the contribution of Roger Chartier, Stuart Elden, Jean-Philippe Guinle and Michel Heurteaux.

Arlette Farge is Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris and the author of more than a dozen books, including Fragile Lives and The Allure of the Archives.

Michel Foucault (1926–1984) was a French philosopher and held the Chair in the History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France. He is often considered the most influential political theorist of the second half of the twentieth century. His most notable works include History of Madness, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality, among others.

Nancy Luxon is associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Crisis of Authority: Politics, Trust, and Truth-Telling in Freud and Foucault.

Thomas Scott-Railton is a freelance French–English translator living in Brooklyn, New York, and previously translated Arlette Farge’s The Allure of the Archive.

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