George Tooker, Voice II

Michel Foucault: Psychology, Abnormality, and Biopolitics

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

After the publication of Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault’s thinking took a decisive turn. From an understanding of subjectivity as a function of discipline, Foucault moved to a model comprised of normalization, governmentality, and the care of the self. How, Foucault asked, can we account for the near-simultaneous development, and deep entanglement, of psychiatry, the state, and the family? For Foucault, with the onset of capitalist modernity came the emergence of a new kind of subject, the “abnormal individual,” variously figured and imagined as a monster, cannibal, witch, pervert, and criminal. First articulated in his so-called Abnormal lectures, Foucault’s theorization of the production of normality and abnormality not only bridges, as it were, his early and later work, but also provides probing insight into the workings of normativity, power, capitalism, and personhood. Thinking with Foucault, how can we understand the intersection of psychiatry and criminal justice? How does the specific conjunction of knowledge and power contribute to conventional notions of what’s normal—and what’s monstrous?

In this course, we will read Foucault’s Abnormal lectures in their entirety, as we account for the emergence of “normality” and its function as a disciplinary technique for a range of institutions, from the prison to workplace to the family. We will ask: What historical conditions produced the regimes of normalizing authority that become central to juridical institutions? How does the specific conjunction of power and knowledge contribute to normalizing techniques? How does penal psychiatry establish its scientific status? In what ways was the “abnormal” individual deployed in the service of public hygiene and to protect societywhich simultaneously justified psychiatric and juridical intervention into individuals who “resemble their crime before they commit it”? In what ways does Foucault’s conceptualization of sexual difference contribute to, and possibly limit, the way he thinks through his central figures? How does the body itself come to signify normality or abnormality, a passing (correctable) condition or an intractable one?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 08 — June 29, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open

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