I remember my first encounter with his work via the concept of governmentality - reading, re-reading aloud, making notes, re-reading, and then it made sense. This was early in my MA studies and the course, taught by a Foucaultian, used his work almost exclusively to make sense of how the law is used in global governance. From that moment of recognition, I moved on to Discipline and Punish which instantly helped me, a secondary teacher at the time, to make sense of the neoliberal downloads of practices into Ontario's secondary schools. From that point it became difficult to make sense of the problems and populations that became the object of my studies without turning to Michel Foucault for help.
Five years later, he would serve as the central theorist in my doctoral dissertation on women street traders - the 'heavy' behind both my theoretical framework and my methodology.
Thus, I am delighted to recall that he thought of his work as a 'toolbox' for others to use. An inspiration, guide, and mentor - his work is both accessible and an 'assistive technology' of sorts.
"Foucault nicely expresses the idea of his work as a toolbox in the following comments in a 1974 interview about his expectations for Discipline and Punish: 'I want my books to be a sort of toolbox that people can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they want in their own domain...I want the little book that I plan to write on disciplinary systems to be of use for teachers, wardens, magistrates, conscientious objectors. I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers.' " (emphasis added)
More late-night reading of Foucault: A Very Short Introduction by Gary Gutting (112-113). The extract is taken from 'Prisons et asiles dans le mécanisme du pouvoir’ in Daniel Defert and Francois Ewald (eds.), Dits et écrits, 1954-1988, four volumes (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), pages 523-4.