For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

History of Madness

by Foucault, Michel (2013)


When it was first published in France in 1961 as Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la Folie à l'âge Classique, few had heard of a thirty-four year old philosopher by the name of Michel Foucault. By the time an abridged English edition was published in 1967 as Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault had shaken the intellectual world. This translation is the first English edition of the complete French texts of the first and second edition, including all prefaces and appendices, some of them unavailable in the existing French edition. History of Madness begins in the Middle Ages with vivid descriptions of the exclusion and confinement of lepers. Why, Foucault asks, when the leper houses were emptied at the end of the Middle Ages, were they turned into places of confinement for the mad? Why, within the space of several months in 1656, was one out of every hundred people in Paris confined? Shifting brilliantly from Descartes and early Enlightenment thought to the founding of the Hôpital Général in Paris and the work of early psychiatrists Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke, Foucault focuses throughout, not only on scientific and medical analyses of madness, but also on the philosophical and cultural values attached to the mad. He also urges us to recognize the creative and liberating forces that madness represents, brilliantly drawing on examples from Goya, Nietzsche, Van Gogh and Artaud. The History of Madness is an inspiring and classic work that challenges us to understand madness, reason and power and the forces that shape them.

Key Passage

In  the  mid-eighteenth  century,  France  once again found itself in crisis. Rouen was home to 12,000 workers who were forced to beg, Tours had just as many, and the workshops and factories in Lyon too began to close. The Comte d’Argenson, who had charge of the department  of  Paris  and  the  mounted  police,  gave  an  order  to  arrest  all beggars in the kingdom. His police set out to do it in the countryside, and the same was done in Paris, where they could not escape, since they were‘harried from all sides’. But outside the times of crisis, confinement took on another meaning,and its repressive aspects were soon paralleled by a second use. It was no longer simply a question of hiding away the unemployed, but now also of giving them work which could serve the interests and the prosperity of all. The  cycle  was  clear:  in  times  of  high  wages  and  full  employment,  they provided  a  low-cost  workforce,  while  in  a  slump  they  absorbed  the unemployed, and protected society against unrest and riots. It should not be forgotten that the first workhouses in England appeared in Worcester,Norwich and Bristol, which were the most heavily industrialised parts ofthe country, nor that the first Hôpital Général opened in Lyon, forty years before Paris had one, and that Hamburg, the largest city in Germany, had its Zuchthaus  from  1620.  Its  regulations,  published  in  1622,  were  very precise. All inmates had to work. A register of the value of their work was kept, and they were paid one quarter of that. For work was not simply to busy  idle  hands:  it  also  had  to  be  productive.  The  eight  directors  of  the institution  drew  up  a  general  plan.  The  Werkmeister  gave  a  task  to  every inmate,  and  checked  at  the  end  of  each  week  that  it  had  been  accom-plished successfully. The work rule remained in force until the end of theeighteenth century, (p.66)


Foucault, Madness, Civilization, Foucauldian, Postmodern, Poststructuralism


History of Madness

Links to Reference



How to contribute.