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TALK | Foucault’s Orient: The Conundrum of Cultural Difference, From Tunisia to Japan



Foucault lived in Tunisia for two years and travelled to Japan and Iran more than once. Yet throughout his critical scholarship, he insisted that the cultures of the "Orient" constitute the "limit" of Western rationality. Using archival research supplemented by interviews with key scholars in Tunisia, Japan and France, this book examines the philosophical sources, evolution as well as contradictions of Foucault's experience with non-Western cultures.  Beyond tracing Foucault's journey into the world of otherness, the book reveals the personal, political as well as methodological effects of a radical conception of cultural difference that extolled the local over the cosmopolitan.


Marnia Lazreg is professor of sociology at Hunter College. She is a graduate of the University of Algiers from which she received a Baccalaureate in Mathematics, and Philosophy as well as a licence-ès-Lettres, with three distinctions.  She also received an MA and a Ph.D. in sociology from New York University.   She was awarded fellowships at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women (Brown University); the Bunting Institute (Harvard); The Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the Rockefeller Bellagio Center, Italy, as well as a Fulbright grant to Algeria.   Her research focuses on the structures that inform cultural change as well as shape conceptions of self, identity and gender relations in societies undergoing the transition from colonial and/or economic dependence to political sovereignty. A parallel interest is to identify and theorize the frequent gap between theoretical concepts applied to non-Western societies and the reality they intend to explain, which may hamper cross cultural understanding.