Abnormal Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975

Lectures at the Collège de France

Michel Foucault; Translated by Graham Burchell




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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

Foreword: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana

Introduction: Arnold I. Davidson

One: 8 January 1975
Expert psychiatric opinion in penal cases. — What kind of discourse is the discourse of expert psychiatric opinion? — Discourses of truth and discourses that make one laugh. — Legal proof in eighteenth-century criminal law. — The reformers. — The principle of profound conviction. — Extenuating circumstances. — The relationship between truth and justice. — The grotesque in the mechanism of power. — The psychological-moral double of the offense. — Expert opinion shows how the individual already resembles his crime before he has committed it. — The emergence of the power of normalization.

Two: 15 January 1975
Madness and crime. — Perversity and puerility. — The dangerous individual. — The psychiatric expert can only have the character of Ubu. — The epistemological level of psychiatry and its regression in expert medico-legal opinion. — End of the antagonistic relationship between medical power and judicial power. — Expert opinion and abnormal individuals (les anormaux). — Criticism of the notion of repression. — Exclusion of lepers and inclusion of plague victims. — Invention of positive technologies of power. — The normal and the pathological.

Three: 22 January 1975
Three figures that constitute the domain of abnormality: the human monster, the individual to be corrected, the masturbating child. — The sexual monster brings together the monstrous individual and the sexual deviant. — Historical review of the three figures. — Reversal of their historical importance. — Sacred embryology and the juridico-biological theory of the monster. — Siamese twins. — Hermaphrodites: minor cases. — The Marie Lemarcis case. — The Anne Grandjean cases.

Four: 29 January 1975
The moral monster. — Crime in classical law. — The spectacle of public torture and execution (la supplice). — Transformation of the mechanisms of power. — Disappearance of the ritual expenditure of punitive power. — The pathological nature of criminality. — The political monster: Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. — The monster in Jacobin literature (the tyrant) and anti-Jacobin literature (the rebellious people). — Incest and cannibalism.

Five: 5 February 1975
In the land of the ogres. — Transition from the monster to the abnormal (l'anormal). — The three great founding monsters of criminal psychiatry. — Medical power and judicial power with regard to the notion of the absence of interest. — The institutionalization of psychiatry as a specialized branch of public hygiene and a particular domain of social protection. — Codification of madness as social danger. — The motiveless crime (crime sans raison) and the tests of the enthronement of psychiatry. — The Henriette Cornier case. — The discovery of the instincts.

Six: 12 February 1975
Instinct as grid of intelligibility of motiveless crime and of crime that cannot be punished. — Extension of psychiatric knowledge and power on the basis of the problematization of instinct. — The 1838 law and the role claimed by psychiatry in public security. — Psychiatry and administration regulation, the demand for psychiatry by the family, and the constitution of a psychiatric-political discrimination between individuals. — The voluntary-involuntary axis, the instinctive and the automatic. — The explosive of the symptomatological field. — Psychiatry becomes science and technique of abnormal individuals. — The abnormal: a huge domain of intervention.

Seven: 19 February 1975
The problem of sexuality runs through the field of abnormality. — The old Christian rituals of confession. — From the confession according to a tariff to the sacrament of penance. Development of the pastoral. — Louis Habert's Pratique du sacrament de pénitence and Charles Borromée's (Carlo Borromeo) Instructions aux confesseurs. — From the confession to spiritual direction. — The double discursive filter of life in the confession. — Confession after the Council of Trent. — The sixth commandment: models of questioning according to Pierre Milhard and Louis Habert. — Appearance of the body of pleasure and desire in penitential and spiritual practices.

Eight: 26 February 1975
A new procedure of examination: the body discredited as flesh and the body blamed through the flesh. — Spiritual direction, the development of Catholic mysticism, and the phenomenon of possession. — Distinction between possession and witchcraft. — The possessions of Loudon. — Convulsion as the plastic and visible form of the struggle in the body of the processed. — The problem of the possessed and their convulsions does not belong to the history of illness. — The anti-convulsives: stylistic modulation of the confession and spiritual direction; appeal to medicine; recourse to disciplinary and educational systems of the seventeenth century. — Convulsion as neurological model of mental illness.

Nine: 5 March 1975
The problem of masturbation between the Christian discourse of the flesh and sexual psychopathology. — Three forms of the somatization of masturbation. — The pathological responsibility childhood. — Prepubescent masturbation and adult seduction; the offense come from outside. — A new organization of family space and control: the elimination of intermediaries and the direct application of the parent's body to the child's body. — Cultural involution of the family. — The medicalization of the new family and the child's confession to the doctor, heir to the Christian techniques of the confession. — The medical persecution of childhood by means of restraint of masturbation. — The constitution of the cellular family that takes responsibility for the body and life of the child. — Natural education and State education.

Ten: 12 March 1975
What makes the psychoanalytic theory of incest acceptable to the bourgeois family (danger comes from the child's desire. — Normalization of the urban proletariat and the optimal distribution of the working-class family (danger comes from fathers and brothers). — Two theories of incest. — The antecedents of the abnormal psychiatric-judicial mesh and psychiatric-familial mesh. — The problematic of sexuality and the analysis of its irregularities. — The twin theory of instinct and sexuality as epistemologico-political task of psychiatry. — The origins of sexual psychopathology (Heinrich Kaan). — Etiology of madness on the basis of the history of t he sexual instinct and imagination. — The case of the soldier Bertrand.

Eleven: 19 March 1975
A mixed figure: the monster, the masturbator, and the individual who cannot be integrated within the normative system of education. — The Charles Jouy case and a family plugged into the new system of control and power. — Childhood as the historical condition of the generalization of psychiatric knowledge and power. — Psychiatrization of infantilism and constitution of a science of normal and abnormal conduct. — The major theoretical constructions of psychiatry in the second half of the nineteenth century. — Psychiatry and racism: psychiatry and social defense.

Course Summary

Course Context

Index of Notions and Concepts

Index of Names

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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.