For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Foucault's great confinement"

by Porter, Roy (1990)


… the contrast with nineteenth-century practice is stark indeed).'° In later studies, especially La volont6 de savoir (1976), Foucault detached himself from those who interpret the disciplines of modernity (eg sexual restraint) as responses to the ' work ethic ' supposedly demanded by …

Key Passage

Central to Foucault’s interpretation of the successive construals and exclusions of madness is the idea of a ’great confinement’, a great internment, activated, from the mid-seventeenth century, in context of political absolutism and Enlightenment rationality (Foucault, 1965: 61). Foucault treats the ’great confinement’ as a European movement, though one assuming diverse institutional forms in different monarchies (Foucault, 1965: 43, 49). Those whose lives affronted bourgeois rationality - beggars, petty criminals, layabouts, prostitutes - became liable to sequestration higgledy-piggledy with the sick and the old, the lame and lunatic.3 Such problem people, though different from normal citizens, were identical amongst themselves. Their common denominator was idleness. The mad did not work; those who did not work were the essence of unreason. (p.47)


Foucault, Madness, Absolutism, Work Ethic, Surveillance, Workhouses, History


On Foucault, Foucault

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