Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

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Psychology Press, 2001 - Civilization - 282 pages
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In this classic account of madness, Michel Foucault shows once and for all why he is one of the most distinguished European philosophers since the end of World War II. Madness and Civilization, Foucault's first book and his finest accomplishment, will change the way in which you think about society. Evoking shock, pity and fascination, it might also make you question the way you think about yourself.

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Foucault's classic, "Madness and Civilization", deserves a important place amongst the histories of Western civilization. It is not so much that Foucault writes a breathtaking history of his subject but rather, he uses his subject to expose subtle patterns in the social, political, economic, and moral foundations of Western civilization.
Madness and unreason are not just failures of the mind to Foucault. He exposes the complex ways that Westerners have interpreted and given meaning to these concepts. What is especially intriguing about Foucault's history is how Westerners have dealt with that meaning.
Foucault writes about the bizarre methods of diagnosis, treatment, and confinement that the mad and unreasonable were subjected to from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century. We are told about immersion in cold water, sending the mad off onto ships, and other sinister ways that the mad have been dealt with throughout history. However, it is not Foucault's objective to stir within his readers a sense of humanitarian outrage. Foucault is trying to show us the archeology (in his terms) of Western thought. Just as the ruins of past civilizations teach us about how human beings lived physically, Foucault's history teaches us how our thinking has changed and evolved. Foucault also shows how our societies are different because of it. It is this relation between societal structure and ideas that Foucault seems to be trying to expose.
Perhaps the weakest portion of Foucault's history is when he devotes too much attention to the "perceptual framework" that sixteenth and seventeenth century medicine had constructed to understand madness. In this portion he relies heavily on primary source quotations that can be disorienting and which detract from Foucault's narrative analysis. Foucault seems to do this in order to put the reader into the mindset of the seventeenth century so that we can better understand the context within which the mad were confined. However, it is in these portions that Foucault becomes difficult to understand and will force the reader to go back again and again.
In it's totality Foucault's "Madness and Civilization" is a remarkable achievement that succeeds in elucidating the interaction between ideas, economic processes, and morality with power. In this case, the power to confine, diagnose, and treat those labelled as "mad".


The Great Confinement
The Insane
Passion and Delirium
Aspects of Madness m
Doctors and Patients
The Great Fear
The New Division
The Birth of the Asylum

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About the author (2001)

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) Celebrated French thinker and activist who challenged people's assumptions about care of the mentally ill, gay rights, prisons, the police and welfare.

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