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Michel Foucault

by Andrew Roberts

Histories are bedtime stories - No nightmares please. I like my stories to have a happy ending, but this one just goes on and on.
Different stories

Questioning histories

Do you think about Foucault as someone who asks questions, or as someone who provides answers?.

Here, I consider him as asking questions about the histories of (stories about) psychiatry, criminology and sex.

He tells different stories to question the first stories without completely replacing them.

Foucault appears to recognise some truth in the story of psychiatry and criminology as movements towards greater humanity, and in the story that sexual expressions were repressed and then liberated. But he invites us to consider important questions about how these stories may distort the truth.

When we have understood the stories he criticises, the questions he asks, and the new stories he suggests, we cannot rest. Foucault's search for truth is in the questioning, but the answers lead to more questions. Foucault says:

"... do you imagine that I would take so much trouble and so much pleasure in writing ... if I were not preparing ... a labyrinth into which ... I can move my discourse, opening up underground passages, forcing it to go far from itself. ..."

Patterns of power and concepts of self

Foucault's work explores patterns of power within a society, and how power relates to the self.

Foucault's approach is usually historical, attempting to show that everyday ideas about reality, like reason and madness, punishment, and sex change in the course of history.

History is not simply about the past for Foucault, it penetrates our everyday lives.

Foucault created new concepts for understanding many things as power relations, including not only prisons and the police, but also the care of the mentally ill and welfare. When he turned his attention to explaining power and sex, he challenged the adequacy of the main concepts of power that we have and suggested others.

Looking back on his work, in a May 1982 interview, Foucault said that he had been exploring the relation between reason, knowledge, truth and power. His thesis might be stated as knowledge gives power, although it is not the same as power.

Born 15.10.1926 in Poitiers

History penetrates Foucault's childhood

"Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis in... 1934.

The New York Times 26.7.1934
It is something very far from us now. Very few people remember the murder of Dollfuss. I remember very well that I was very scared by that. I think it was my first strong fright about death.

I also remember refugees from Spain arriving in Poitiers. I remember fighting in school with my classmates about the Ethiopian war.

I think that boys and girls of this generation had their childhood formed by these great historical events. The menace of war was our background, our framework of existence.

We did not know when I was ten or eleven years old, whether we would become German or remain French. We did not know whether we would die or not in the bombing, and so on."

1961 Folie et Déraison: histoire de la folie à l'âge classique published Paris. This became Histoire de la Folie, and is known in English as:

Madness and Civilisation. A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

We could regard Madness and Civilisation as Foucault's contrast and comparison of the modern 19th century lunatic asylum (beginning with the Tuke's Retreat) with what had gone before and Discipline and Punish as Foucault's contrast and comparison of the modern 19th century prison (beginning with Bentham's Panopticon idea) with what had gone before

Foucault on one (reform) version of history

"We know the images. They are familiar in all histories of psychiatry, where their function is to illustrate that happy age when madness was finally recognised and treated according to a truth to which we had long remained blind"

"Thee has had many wonderful children of thy brain dear William, but this one is surely like to be an idiot" Esther Tuke to her pig-headed husband who wanted to build a refuge for lunatic Quakers

Tuke's history of Tuke

Drawing on a paper by Denise Greene

The Retreat, near York in England, was first opened in 1796, by William Tuke and his son, co founder Henry Tuke. The Tukes were originally tea and coffee merchants, who were born into and practised Quaker discipline and principles. As a result of the death of a former mentally ill friend, who died within the York Asylum, they decided to establish a hospital of their own, built on humanitarian principles.

Samuel Tuke continued the work of his grandfather, William, in managing the Retreat.

The Description of the Retreat was written in 1813 by Samuel Tuke, and focuses on the humanitarian care of the insane within the York Retreat.

The Description of the Retreat outlines a new approach to insanity; one which was based on the idea that reason exists within the insane individual. It is perverted rather than absent.

The Description of the Retreat provided a model (ideal) for asylums during the period of therapeutic optimism

A Bethlem bleeding cup from the collection of Dennis Leigh (Leigh, D. 1961, p. 80)
The orthodox treatment of insanity in the eighteenth century included using mechanical restraints to control patients and medical treatments such as purging and bleeding. The Retreat attempted to replace both mechanical restraint and medical treatment with what was called moral management.

The chapter on Medical Treatment says that it is to be used a little as possible in the Retreat. When it is practised, it must be done with a degree of moderation and carried out by only the most experienced of superintendents.

"Medicine, as yet, possesses very inadequate means to relieve the most grievous of human diseases." (Tuke, S. 1813, p.111)"... "But the remedy, in such cases ought to be applied with great judgement: and its application should always be witnessed by the master or mistress of the family." (Tuke, S. 1813, p114).

The reference to "the family" provides the clue to what the Tukes meant by moral management. Patients were to be included in the kind of loving discipline that a religious Quaker family sought to provide.

Organising the world as a religious family was a central idea of Quakers - As illustrated in the works of George Fox:

"We do declare, that we do esteem it a duty incumbent on us to pray with and for, to teach, instruct and admonish, those in and belonging to our families; this being a command of the Lord" (Fox and others 1671)

Later, non- Quakers applied this idea to large asylums. See, for example, Harriet Martineau's description of the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum in June 1834

In the chapter Moral Management, it is proposed that this is the best and most appropriate approach to dealing with those of diseased minds. Moral Management was a system of treating insanity by the institutional regime of the asylum, rather than by medicines or physical treatments.

"Whatever theory we maintain in regard to the remote causes of insanity, we must consider moral treatment, or management, of very high importance."... "Much may be done towards the cure and alleviation of insanity, by judicious modes of management, and moral treatment." (Tuke, S. 1813, p131- 2).

Tuke argues that if the right type of establishment is created, and with the correct exercising of moral guidelines then the patient could adopt a 'healthy mind'. Tuke thought that fear and a natural desire for self esteem were elements which existed within those who were regarded as insane, and proposed that manipulating these in the desired way could lead the patient into developing 'self restraint' and 'self control' over their state of mind.

Moral treatment is not just effective through a specific type of treatment but also exists within the layout and structure of the Retreat. The Retreat is designed in a way that allows the mad man to know he is being watched and that bad behaviour will be recognised. Moral management was not only embedded within the psychological treatment of the patient but also within the actual structure of the establishment. Space was an important feature. The building was purpose built to assist the restoration of the patients to reason, and not as a place of secure confinement.

The Tukes were one of the first to exercise moral management as the primary mode of treatment for the insane. They paid little attention to medical forms of treatment; placing most emphasis on a therapeutic and benevolent style of treatment.

Foucault's history of Tuke

Asylum as segregation

Foucault says that although "Tuke's gesture... is regarded as an act of liberation. The truth was quite different... The Retreat would serve as an instrument of segregation: a moral and religious segregation which sought to reconstruct around madness a milieu as much as possible like that of the community of Quakers." He quotes Samuel Tuke:

"... there has also been particular occasion to observe the great loss, which individuals of our society have sustained, by being put under the care of those who are not only strangers to our principles, but by whom they are frequently mixed with other patients, who may indulge themselves in ill language, and other exceptionable practices. This often seems to leave an unprofitable effect upon the patients' minds after they are restored to the use of their reason, alienating them from those religious attachments which they had before experienced; and sometimes, even corrupting them with vicious habits to which they had been strangers."

Fear centred treatment

Foucault quotes Tuke on fear:

"The principle of fear, which is rarely decreased by insanity, is considered of great importance in the management of the patients."

This passage continues (not quoted by Foucault):

"But it is not allowed to be excited, beyond that degree which naturally arises from the necessary regulations of the family. Neither chains nor corporal punishment are tolerated, on any pretext, in this establishment".

A further quote on fear, not quoted by Foucault is:

"In an early part of this chapter, it is stated, that the patients are considered capable of rational and honourable inducement; and though we allowed fear a considerable place in the production of that restraint, which the patient generally exerts on his entrance into the new situation; yet the desire of esteem is considered, at the Retreat, as operating, in general, still more powerfully"

The construction of self-restraint

Foucault argues that "at the Retreat the partial suppression of physical constraint was part of a system whose essential element was the construction of a "self-restraint" in which the patient's freedom, engaged by work and the observation of others, was ceaselessly threatened by the recognition of guilt. Instead of submitting to a simple negative operation that loosened bonds and delivered one's deepest nature from madness, it must be recognised that one was in the grip of a positive operation that confined madness in a system of rewards and punishments, and included it in the movement of moral consciousness. A passage from a world of Censure to a universe of Judgement. But thereby a psychology of madness becomes possible...

The science of mental disease

The science of mental disease, as it would develop in the asylum, would always be only of the order of observation and classification. It would not be a dialogue. It could not be that until psychoanalysis had exorcised this phenomenon of observation, essential to the nineteenth-century asylum, and substituted for its silent magic the powers of language.

No longer repression, but authority

Surveillance and Judgment: already the outline appears of a new personage who will be essential in the nineteenth century asylum. Tuke himself suggests this personage, when he tells the story of a maniac subject to seizures of irrepressible violence. One day while he was walking in the garden of the asylum with the keeper, this patient suddenly entered a phase of excitation, moved several steps away, picked up a large stone, and made the gesture of throwing it at his companion. The keeper stopped, looked the patient in the eyes; then advanced several steps towards him and

""in a resolute tone of voice ... commanded him to lay down the stone".
As he approached the patient lowered his hand, then dropped his weapon.

"he then submitted to be quietly led to his apartment"

Something had been born, which was no longer repression, but authority.

1.7.1967 Idiosyncratic structuralist?

In the cartoon, Foucault explains his ideas to three other structuralists. Levi-Strauss is distracted, Lacan psycho-analyses him and Roland Barthes looks friendly, but unconvinced.

Foucault was a philosopher and historian of systems of thought. I have seen him identified with structuralism or post-modernism and post-structuralism. But, reading between the lines, his ideas and concepts suggest to me that he would not have enjoyed being labelled, or put into boxes. To have put himself into a certain box, in academic terms, would have meant going against his own ideas or thoughts. He thought that if you become wrapped into a set of 'truths' of a specific knowledge or theory, you cease to learn - as you think you know the answers. Then you have imprisoned yourself by taking these ideas as true or common knowledge. I sense if he was to let himself be portrayed under a certain terminology he would also then be caught up into a discourse of a certain set of language that is unified by common assumptions or beliefs within an academic context (Foucault, M. 1980 Power & Knowledge, Chapter 6).

November 1971: Foucault carries on explaining himself. This time to Noam Chomsky

""I admit to not being able to define, nor for stronger reasons to propose, an ideal social model for the functioning of our scientific and technological society. On the other hand, one of the most urgent tasks, before everything else, is that we are used to consider, at least in our European society, that power is in the hands of the government and is exerted by some particular institutions such as local government, the police and the army, These institutions transmit the orders, apply them and punish people who do not obey.

But I think that political power is also exerted by a few other institutions which seem to have nothing in common with the political power, which seem to be independent, but which actually are not. We all know that universities and the whole education system that is supposed to distribute knowledge, we know that university and the whole educational system maintain the power of a certain social class and exclude the other social class from this power. Psychiatry, for instance, is also apparently meant to improve mankind, and the knowledge of the psychiatrists. Psychiatry is also a way to implement a political power to a particular social group. Justice also.

It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the working of institutions, that appear to be both neutral and independent. To criticise and attack them in such a manner that political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so one can fight against them. If we want right away to define the profile and the formula of our future society, without criticising all the forms of political power that are exerted in our society, there is a risk that they reconstitute themselves, even though such an apparently noble form as anarchist unionism."

Prison: When information is a struggle [political fight]

Michel Foucault was a campaigner against prison secrecy. 8.2.1971 (France) Manifesto of the Le Groupe d'information sur les prisons signed by Jean-Marie Domenach, Michel Foucault et Pierre Vidal-Naquet.

Images of knowledge, observation, struggle and power run through the issues that are discussed below. Le Groupe d'information sur les prisons was a radical alliance of left wing political activists in local cells who linked with nearby prisons to secure information about what was happening inside them. Jean Paul Sartre was one of the people who published the information in his newspapers. This new technique of political struggle used information from below. Foucault's book Surveiller et Punir considers information gathered from above people. It is about information that can only be seen by people who gather it, not by those it is gathered about.

February 1975 Surveiller et Punir - Observe and punish - Discipline and punish - Naissance de la prison - Birth of the prison.

We can consider Discipline and Punish as Foucault's contrast and comparison of the modern 19th century prison (beginning with Bentham's Panopticon idea) with what had gone before.

PART ONE TORTURE is about what happened before the 19th century


5.1.1757 France: Robert-François Damiens, an unemployed domestic servant, rushed at King Louise 15th of France, stabbing him with a knife and inflicting a (not-fatal) wound.

Louis 15th of France was five years old when he came to the throne in 1715. He ruled alone from 1743.

Le supplice [torment - torture] de Damiens le régicide [king- killer] - illustration from Foucault

Damiens was condemned ( 1.3.1757) as a regicide (a person who kills a king) and sentenced to be publicly drawn and quartered, by horses. The execution was carried out on 28.3.1757

Classical (Reform) Criminology

The Italian Cesare Beccaria and the Englishman Jeremy Benham are the two best known people now called Classical Criminologists. Beccaria thought of prisons as nasty secret places, but Bentam thought they could be reformed to become the main means of rational punishment, replacing the barbarities that Foucault calls torture.

Beccaria and Bentham were both honoured by the French Revolutionaries who abolished the regime of torture (1670) and replaced it with a rational penal code (1791).

At the end of the eighteenth century, Jeremy Bentham designed a panopticon, or model instition. He thought that principles involved i this could be used to re-design the rest of society.

In the panopticon a supervisor in the centre can see everything that anyone in the building is doing.

1791 The Principle of the Panopticon or Inspection House by Jeremy Bentham

Panopticon is derived from Greek, and the best I can do in translating is all-seeing. It had been used (1768) for a kind of telescope. Bentham used it in his letters of 1787 (published 1791) for his plan for a circular institution in which all the inmates cells could be seen from the centre, where the inmates knew anything they did could be seen, but could not see if they were being seen. Inspection House (see below) conveys the meaning in English. The word inspect was translated into French by Foucault as surveiller, which now means to supervise or have authority over, but comes from a word (veiller) for staying awake to keep guard whilst others sleep.

In 1794, Parliament backed this scheme, as a prison plan. The foundations were laid. But, in January 1803, Bentham was told the Government could not find the funds

In 1794, Parliament backed this scheme, 
as a prison plan. 
The foundations were laid. 
But, in January 1803, Bentham was told
the Government could not find the funds Millbank Penitentiary, opened in 1832, was a modified version of Bentham's plan which the Government built on the foundations Bentham laid. It was a distinctive feature on London maps in the 19th century.

Bentham thought that the same plan could be used for schools, orphanages, workhouses and many other institutions.

Read Bentham on the Panopticon

Morals reformed - health preserved - industry invigorated instruction diffused - public burthens lightened - Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock - the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied - all by a simple idea in Architecture! - Thus much I ventured to say on laying down the pen - and thus much I should perhaps have said on taking it up, if at that early period I had seen the whole of the way before me. A new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example: and that, to a degree equally without example, secured by whoever chooses to have it so, against abuse. - Such is the engine: such the work that may be done with it. How far the expectations thus held out have been fulfilled, the reader will decide.

Read Foucault on the Panopticon

"Let penalties be regulated and proportional to the offenses, let the death sentence be passed only on those convicted of murder, and let tortures that revolt humanity be abolished."

Thus, in 1789, the chancellery summed up the general position of the petitions addressed to the authorities concerning tortures and executions

Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode:

binary division and branding (mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; normal/abnormal)

coercive assignment of differential distribution (who he is; where he must be; how he is to be characterised; how he is to be recognised; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way, etc.)

The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time... the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms... All the mechanisms of power which, even today, are disposed around the abnormal individual, to brand him and to alter him, are composed of those two forms from which they distantly derive.

Bentham's Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition

Read Louise Warriar and others on Surveillance

Moderated surveillance is a feature of modern government. Modern because it relates to the development of the bureaucratic state and industrial (as distinct from agricultural) economies - Moderated because the camera watching the streets is limited by laws (unlike the total surveillance described by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty Four) - Government by surveillance because the subject is controlled by the knowledge that the subject is watched.

Technology makes surveillance possible, but our social theory provides the framework that makes it meaningful and limits it.

To look at this social theory, we will first analyse the work of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), then look at the analysis of Michel Foucault (1926- 1984), and proceed, in the light of this, to discuss surveillance by closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

1984 Histoire de la sexualité
volumes 2 and 3.

25.6.1984 Death of Michel Foucault

1976 Histoire de la sexualité 1 - La Volonté de savoir (The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: The will to know).

English translation 1978 (The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction).

Sexual repression and incomplete liberation - a two-part story

The sexual repression story

Foucault begins: "For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality".

"At the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain frankness was still common, it would seem. Sexual practices had little need of secrecy; words were said without undue reticence, and things were done without too much concealment"

But twilight soon fell upon this bright day, followed by the monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie. Sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home. The conjugal family took custody of it and absorbed it into the serious function of reproduction. On the subject of sex, silence became the rule..."
Photograph of Queen Victoria by John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813-1901) taken on 1.3.1861. If the date is correct, this was taken before the death of her husband, Albert on 14.12.1861. Mayall sold thousands of such images to the public in the 1860s.

Thomas Bowdler, 11.7.1754 - 24.2.1825

Has given his name to the practice of removing or altering material considered improper or offensive - Bowdlerisation.

The Times, 10.10.1819 page 4.

As written, Iago in Shakespeare's Othello (1604) says "I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs." [having sex]. Bowdler altered to "I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are together."

Bowdler says

"I wish it were in my power to say of indecency as I have said of profaneness, that the examples of it are not very numerous. Unfortunately the reverse is the case. Those persons whose acquaintance with Shakspeare depends on theatrical representations, in which great alterations are made in the plays, can have little idea of the frequent recurrence in the original text, of expressions, which, however they might be tolerated in the sixteenth century, are by no means admissible in the nineteenth."

The incomplete liberation story

1967 declared a summer of love - 1968 student revolution

Foucault continues:

But have we not liberated ourselves from those two long centuries in which the history of sexuality must be seen first of all as the chronicle of an increasing repression? Only to a slight extent, we are told. Perhaps some progress was made by Freud;...

We are informed that if repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost:...

Hence, one cannot hope to obtain the desired results simply from a medical practice, nor from a theoretical discourse, however rigorously pursued. Thus, one denounces Freud's conformism, the normalizing functions of psychoanalysis, the obvious timidity underlying Reich's vehemence


1966/1969 Steven Marcus The Other Victorians: A study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth century England

May 1968 Paris student rising

1971 Film: WR: Mysteries of the Organism [W.R. being Wilhelm Reich]

1976 Foucault Nous autres, Victoriens - We Victorians - We "Other Victorians"

Foucault's doubts about the repressive hypothesis

"The doubts I would like to oppose to the repressive hypothesis are aimed less at showing it to be mistaken than at putting it back within a general economy of discourses on sex in modern societies since the seventeenth century.

Why has sexuality been so widely discussed, and what has been said about it?

What were the effects of power generated by what was said?

What are the links between these discourses, these effects of power, and the pleasures that were invested by them?

What knowledge (savoir) was formed as a result of this linkage?

The object, in short, is to define the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure that sustains the discourse on human sexuality in our part of the world.

The central issue, then (at least in the first instance), is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex, whether one formulates prohibitions or permissions, whether one asserts its importance or denies its effects, or whether one refines the words one uses to designate it; but to account for the fact that it is spoken about, to discover who does the speaking, the positions and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said.

What is at issue, briefly, is the over-all "discursive fact," the way in which sex is "put into discourse.""

Charles Joseph Jouy (born about 1827) and the construction of knowledge

Foucault: it is not my fault that this character is called Jouy.

Il faut jouir de la vie - One must enjoy life

jouir "to experience sexual spasm, to have an orgasm, to 'come'" (Harrap's French-English Dictionary of Slamg and Colloquialisms

Repression is part of the construction of a discourse (field of knowledge) about sex

Consider the construction of our knowledge or discourse about paedophilia

In the 1867 story of Charles Joseph Jouy and Sophie Adam we see how the histories of psychiatry, criminology and sex inter-twine. We can also see how Foucault is working on the same labyrinth of ideas throughout his work.

Foucault's account of Jouy (aged 40), Sophie (a girl) and Sophie's unnamed friend, is based on an account by two psychiatrists, Henry François Auguste Bonnet and Jules-Amédée Bulard, published in 1868: a Medical-legal report on the mental state of Charles-Joseph Jouy, charged with an outrage to morals [a sexual crime, rape or indecent exposure]. Bonnet and Bulard worked at the asylum at Maréville where Jouy was confined and studied. Their work was an extension of that of another psychiatrist, previously at the same asylum, Benedict Augustin Morel.

Foucault gave two separate versions of this story. The first was in a 1974/1975 lecture, the second in the first volume of his History of Sexuality (1976). I have drawn on both.

Charles-Joseph Jouy was about forty years old in 1867. Sophie Adams appears to have been under eleven years old. Jouy was an illegitimate child whose mother had died when he was young. Foucault describes him as simple minded and "more or less the village idiot". He was poorly educated, took whatever badly paid work he could find, lived a solitary life and tended to get a bit drunk.

One day, Sophie's mother was disturbed by what she found when washing Sophie's clothes.

On enquiry it emerged that Sophie and a friend had been masturbating Jouy (in exchange for gifts?) and on the last occasion things had got out of hand and Sophie had been "almost, partly, or more or less raped".

Foucault's review of the evidence suggests that Sophie and her friend had considered the earlier incidents of masturbating Jouy as an adventure and had told a villager about them without it being taken as alarming.

The "almost, partly, or more or less raped" was different, but Sophie did not tell her mother for fear of being slapped.

Jouy had given the girls money which they had spent on roasted almonds at the local fair.

The picture of domestic violence is from a woodcut in "Jack and Jill and Old Dame Gill", a sheet published by J. Kendrew in York about 1820.

"at the edge of the wood, or in the ditch by the road leading to Saint- Nicolas, they would play the familiar game called "curdled milk.""

"The questioning of the little girl reveals that Charles Jouy first got her to masturbate him in the fields."

[I do not know the ages of the girls Sophie and friend. The age of lawful sexual consent in France at this time was eleven. Jouy was confined at Maréville for the rest of his life, being unfit to stand trial, Sophie Adam "in the local house of corrections until she comes of age" (Kelly H. Ball 2013)

French Penal Code of 1810

Attacks upon Morals

330. Whoever shall commit any public outrage against modesty, shall be punished with an imprisonment of from three months to one year, and a fine of from 16 to 200 francs.

331. Who shall commit the crime of rape, or shall be guilty of any other attack upon the modesty, consummated or attempted, with violence, against an individual of either sex, shall be punished with solitary imprisonment.

332. If the crime has been committed upon the person of an infant, under the age of fifteen years complete, the criminal shall undergo the penalty of hard labour for time.

A pure object of knowledge

"The thing to note is that they went so far as to measure the brainpan, study the facial bone structure, and inspect for possible signs of degenerescence the anatomy of this personage who up to that moment had been an integral part of village life; that they made him talk; that they questioned him concerning his thoughts, inclinations, habits, sensations, and opinions. And then, acquitting him of any crime, they decided finally to make him into a pure object of medicine and knowledge - an object to be shut away till the end of his life in the hospital at Mareville, but also one to be made known to the world of learning through a detailed analysis.

Foucault is making the point that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the incidents that led up to his confinement (*), Charles-Joseph Jouy, village idiot aged 40, has now become a lifetime object of science for the new psychiatry. From the lives of many such as him, a new system of knowledge, a new way of seeing things, is being created.

Foucault is considering how three types of abnormal (not normal) individuals were conceptually constructed by science. He calls these the "monster" - the "little masturbator" and the "individual who cannot be integrated within the normative system of education". Jouy considered as a paedophile (a term not then in use) seems to fit each category. By today's standards, he was a monster:

Jouy was clearly a masturbator, and he had not fitted into the school system of the time and was "an abnormal" in the sense of being mentally retarded.

To see how the science into which he then fits was constructed, we can look at one example (a normal person thought to be carrying hereditary defect) in the book produced by the ex-Director of the asylum Jouy was confined in: The title of the book, translated into English, is A treatise on the physical degeneration, intellectual and moral of the human species and the causes that produce the diseased varieties by Benedict Augustin Morel. It was published in two volumes in 1857. The second volume is a collection of annotated plates that shows how to recognise degenerate varieties of human being from the features of their bodies.

Joseph (below) is a weaver, aged 55 (about 1857). Morel describes him as having a deeply corrugated face with a characteristic expression that denotes ordinary intelligence. He is not someone who drinks excessive alcohol. He is the father of "cretins" and so Morel says that we must look in his ancestry and in his features for the evidence of hereditary transmission. Apparently, his father and grandfather were semi-cretins, and their [other?] children have successively died young. Cretinism is associated with goitre - an enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Joseph has only elements of hereditary defect (les éléments de la continuité de l'espèce). He is a tall, but his head is disproportionately expanded in its bi-lateral diameter. The posterior portion is flattened. Cheekbones are salient. His nose is very enlarged at the base (épaté). His upper lip is an abnormal height. [I think Morel refers to the area between the nose and the lip. He says cretins have a similar feature]. His lower jaw is enormous. His ears are crooked and misshapen. Morel says he has incipient goitre.

Solemn discourse "overlays" everyday theatre

Foucault argues that the repression of familiar discussion of sex, enforcing a polite, sanitised attitude in which children did not "talk about all these things aloud" (the sexual repression story), as happened in the period we call Victorian, was necessary for "institutions of knowledge and power" to establish the scientific discourse as the overlying one.

At the same time as Jouy was becoming an object of scientific study, Foucault says:

"One can be fairly certain that during this same period the Lapcourt schoolmaster was instructing the little villagers to mind their language and not talk about all these things aloud. But this was undoubtedly one of the conditions enabling the institutions of knowledge and power to overlay this everyday bit of theatre with their solemn discourse.

So it was that our society - and it was doubtless the first in history to take such measures - assembled around these timeless gestures, these barely furtive pleasures between simple-minded adults and alert children (*), a whole machinery for speechifying, analysing, and investigating."

Carving from a Hindu temple Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh (Between 950 and 1150AD

Is this just the urge to copulate or is it culturally conditioned? How much is biology and how much is sociology?

Foucault distinguishes sex and sexuality in a complex way

Short bibliography

Foucault extracts: Annotated Extracts from Michel Foucault in chronological order and related to history Available at

Foucault quotes: Notes on and quotations from Michel Foucault Available at

Foucault, M. 1961/1967 Madness and Civilisation. A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Being an abridged edition of Histoire de la Folie translated into English by Richard Howard. London, Tavistock.

Foucault, M. 1975/1977 Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison London. Penguin. Being Surveiller et Punir (1975) translated into English by Alan Sheridan. London. Penguin.

Foucault, M. 1976/1978 The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage Books edition, March 1990. Being La Volonté de savoir (1976) translated into English by Robert Hurley.

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Suggested bibliography entry:

Roberts, A. 12.2013- Michel Foucault. London: Middlesex University. Available at

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Index and contents

Questioning histories

Patterns of power and concepts of self

History penetrates his childhood

Madness and Psychiatry
Reform psychiatry - Tuke
Tuke on Tuke
Foucault on Tuke

Was he a structuralist?

Foucault explains himself

Penology, Criminology and Sociology
Information on prisons
Observe and re- form
Old fashioned torture
Reform Penology, Criminology and Sociology - Bentham
Bentham on Bentham
Foucault on Bentham

History of sex
Sexual repression
Incomplete liberation

Foucault's doubts about the repressive hypothesis

Jouy and the construction of knowledge

Solemn discourse "overlays" everyday theatre

Sex and Sexuality

Short bibliography