Abnormal Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975

Lectures at the Collège de France

Michel Foucault; Translated by Graham Burchell




Trade Paperback

400 Pages


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Based on lectures given in 1974-1975—the period when Foucault was working on Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and the first volume of the History of SexualityAbnormal reveals Foucault's on-going investigation into the "network of power and knowledge" constituted by discipline, normalization, and biopolitics. He argues that the three figures of the human monster, the individual to be corrected, and the onanist were brought together under the domain of the abnormal at the beginning of the nineteenth century, linking deformity, delinquency, and sexual deviancy. Rather than being purely coercive and violent, however, power, Foucault argues, must also be conceived of as productive: a power that is linked to positive techniques of intervention, transformation, and fabrication. He also traces a shift here from judicial inquiry of actions and relationships to an "examination" of the body and its desires. "The body and its pleasures, rather than the required form for legitimate union become, as it were, the code of the carnal."


Praise for Abnormal

"Comprises previously unavailable work produced by one of the most incisive cultural theorists of the century."—Alan Reed, See Magazine (Named a Top Ten Book of 2003)
"The importance of these lectures is that they are directly connected with two of Foucault's greatest books, Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Because they are clear and to the point, the lectures throw considerable light on the more difficult ideas and passages of their related published works . . . [Abnormal] looks at a set of what Foucault believed to be defining criminal cases of how the West has constituted and reconstituted what is normal and not normal behavior."—Charles Mudede, The Stranger

"These lectures offer important insights into the evolution of the primary focus of Foucault's later work—the relationship between power and knowledge."—Library Journal
"[This] second collection of lectures by the influential philosopher addresses the role of psychiatry in the modern criminal justice system, the theme of societal defense against criminals, how to define 'abnormality' and 'normality', and how to identify and categorize criminal behavior and perpetrators."—Forecast
"Brilliant and vivid . . . What distinguishes these lectures is their narrow focus and an abundance of meticulously compiled historical detail, which offer the reader a rare insight into Foucault's thought processes and working methods . . . Foucault's site of research and the place of his thinking become discernible to the reader with astonishing immediacy . . . Reading these lectures, it is at times astonishing to what extent Foucault's voice regains presence, relocating the reader into the crowded lecture auditorium at the Collège de France where those words were spoken."—Bobby J. George and Felix Grisebach for Curled Up with a Good Book

"This is the second volume in the complete Collège de France lectures of Michel Foucault. From 1971 until his death in 1984, Foucault gave public lectures at the Collège de France. Attended by thousands, they created benchmarks for contemporary critical inquiry. The lectures comprising Abnormal begin by examining the role of psychiatry in modern criminal justice, and its method of categorizing individuals who 'resemble their crime before they commit it.' Building on the themes of societal self-defense in the first volume of this series, Foucault shows how and why defining 'abnormality' and 'normality' were prerogatives of power in the nineteenth century, shaping the institutions—from the prison system to the family—meant to deal in particular with 'monstrosity,' whether sexual, physical, or spiritual . . . In his incomparable style, Michel Foucault presents an original and incisive exploration of the status of the abnormal individual in the West. Foucault's lectures explore how the notion of abnormality shaped knowledge and power relations in Europe from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Foucault considers how the determination of 'normality' and the processes of 'normalization' extended the state's control over individuals and the body. Drawing on a fascinating array of literature and case studies from the history of law, medicine, and psychiatry, Foucault discusses three crucial figures in the discourse of abnormality: the human monster, the individual to be corrected, and the onanist. The 'monster' was the first type to emerge as a classification for an abnormal individual. In his discussions of major trials of hermaphrodites in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Foucault illustrates how the 'monster' confused both the natural and legal order. The 'individual to be corrected,' or 'the incorrigible,' was subjected to various degrees of social control and punishment in order to be normalized. Foucault argues that during the eighteenth century, the examination and 'containment' of the troublesome individual focused on what individuals might do. In his lectures on the onanist, Foucault discusses how views of masturbation, particularly as practiced by children, reflected the changing relations between sexuality and the organization of the family. Foucault's lectures illuminate themes of power, sexuality, the body, desire, and social discipline found in his previously published works. However, these lectures stand on their own, offering a wealth of insights and arguments concerning the intersections of legal, political, and medical institutions in determining and controlling society and societal norms."—Frontlist Books

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The works of Michel Foucault include Madness and Civilization, The History of Sexuality, and Discipline and Punish. Series editor Arnold I. Davidson teaches at the University of Chicago and is executive editor of the journal Critical Inquiry.
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  • Michel Foucault; Translated by Graham Burchell

  • Michel Foucault, acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines. His works include  Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, The History of Sexuality, and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

    Series editor Arnold I. Davidson teaches philosophy, divinity, and comparative literature at the University of Chicago and is executive editor of the journal Critical Inquiry. The author of numerous studies on Foucault, he has been a visiting professor at the Collège de France.

    Translator Graham Burchell lives in Italy. He has written essays on Michel Foucault and was an editor of The Foucault Effect: Essays on Governmentality.