Le pouvoir psychiatrique

Some thoughts on Foucault's Le pouvoir psychiatrique - sorry, as I first
promised this a while back. Comments welcome.

Le pouvoir psychiatrique is the latest lecture course to appear in French,
from 1973-74. As with the other courses this is based on the tape recordings
but it is worth noting that like L'hermeneutique du sujet the editor has
made use of the course manuscripts as well.

The first thing to say for me is to admit an error. Given the course summary
I had assumed that the Rio lectures on medicine were part of this course,
but this is not the case. In other words, I had thought Foucault had reused
material from Paris in Brazil. Perhaps this was my attempt to rationalise
his prodigious productivity. But this is wrong (the course summary doesn't
reflect the content of the course in a number of ways) although the Rio
lectures are a very useful context.

The key way to understand Psychiatric Power is as a rewriting of Histoire de
la folie [Madness and Civilisation] from the perspective of Discipline and
Punish, or at least with the tools of genealogy and the analytic of power.

Foucault suggests that the History was the first chapter of a longer
research project, and that this course is a kind of second volume. Robert
Castel has called this course a 'second lecture' of HF, a reading we might
suggest is guided by the insight that 'knowledge functions as power' (PP

The part reworked is principally the bit of HF on Tuke and Pinel and the
'liberation' of the mad for moral imprisonment. Foucault wants to revisit
these issues with a certain number of differences, subjecting himself to

Three displacements in relation to HF

i. shift from analysis of representations to an analytic of power (relation
of dispositif to production of enonces)
ii. from violence to the microphysics of power (admits ignorance of
anti-psychiatry literature and recognises three terms that caused him
problems - violence, the institution, the family)
iii. from institutional regularities or state apparatus to 'dispositions' of
power (a critique of Althusser)

An attempt to avoid psycho-sociological vocabulary and a recognition that he
has used 'a pseudo-military vocabulary' (PP 18).

*Key themes*

The role of the body and its relation to power.

The source of this disciplinary model of power is, for Foucault,
particularly found in religious institutions, especially those set up in the
colonies; and the military after the Thirty Years War. Here we find the
control of time, surveillance, individualisation, a permanent penal system.

An explicit politicising of the work of Order of Things on the birth of
'man' - the role of the human sciences in conjoining the juridical
individual and the historical individual.

Lots of interesting material on very dysfunctional families, where the women
are prostitutes or hysterical and the children are idiots or forever
masturbating... More on hysterics and women generally than anywhere else in
Foucault's work. Women are especially important for the concept of the
neurological body, and Foucault argues that the conflict between the body of
the mad and the psychiatrist is entirely sexual. Struggles of power and
domination... 'this body, no longer the neurological body, it is the sexual
body' (PP 325). Hysterics effectively gave medicine power over sexuality.
Idiot children are dangerous because they masturbate in public, commit
sexual offences, set fire to things and because they lead to all sorts of
problems in adulthood. 'Anomaly is the individual condition of possibility
of madness' (PP 274).

Some good case studies - I particularly liked the analysis of George III's
madness as a model for the move from sovereign to disciplinary power.

Lots of material about the control of space and time, of bodies and
dressage, modes of disciplining and so on - familiar from Discipline and
Punish, but here in the context more of the asylum and education. Relation
of the architectural design of hospitals to the Panopticon.

Lots of graphic detail about torture, and attempting to catalogue different
techniques - apparatuses of guarantee and proof (i.e. chastity belts); for
extracting truth (water torture, strappado); of marking the body; and of
training the body.

The psychiatric hospital is a space of inquiry and inspection, a kind of
inquisitorial place. It is a place for the production of truth. Foucault
accordingly talks quite a bit about truth. His long term interest in
confession is shown here particularly, although mainly juridical/medical
confession rather than religious.

Overall the course can be seen as relating power to some of Foucault's
earlier concerns. Power and truth perhaps more than power and knowledge,
although that plays an important role. One interesting formulation was that
the genealogy of connaissance is 'the indispensable historical reverse side
of the archaeology of savoir' (PP 239).

It is clear from the course that Foucault has been reading Althusser (whom
he critiques), Deleuze & Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, Robert Castel, writers of
the anti-psychiatry movement (i.e. Lucien Bonnafe, Cooper and Laing), and

Anti-psychiatry is a big theme in the course summary but not nearly as much
in the course itself. According to the editor the manuscript has a lengthy
discussion of this but this is not delivered in the course itself.

Hope this is of interest. I'm giving a lecture on this course in a couple of
weeks and hopefully a journal article will come from this in due course. Not
sure where or what format it will be in yet.


Dr Stuart Elden
Lecturer in Political Geography
Department of Geography
University of Durham
Durham, DH1 3LE

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