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The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception Paperback – March 29, 1994


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The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception + Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason + Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 29, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679753346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679753346
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Learned [and] rewarding...The Birth of the Clinic continues [Foucault's] brilliant history, not of ideas as such, but of the of perception." -- The New York Times Book Review



"The Birth of the Clinic attempts a minor revolution in medical-history writing.... Foucault's research is overwhelming and affords the reader considerable entertainment as well as insight."

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

More About the Author

One of the leading intellectuals of the twentieth century and the most prominent thinker in post-war France, Foucault's work influenced disciplines as diverse as history, sociology, philosophy, sociology and literary criticism.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French historian and philosopher associated with the structuralist and poststructuralist movements. He is often considered the most influential social theorist of the second half of the twentieth century, not only in philosophy but in a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Among his most notable books are Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality.

Customer Reviews

That is, obviously, an overly simplistic summary of the thesis of the book.
Brian C.
His ultimately emancipatory analysis is substantiated every step of the way with textual and historical examples.
Henri Edward Dongieux
Getting a small glimpse into his wonderful genius is pleasure enough to warrant reading this book.
Benjamin Niver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Henri Edward Dongieux on May 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Foucault has been interpreted in the US as a pretentious standard-bearer of postmodernism - as an almost "evil" figure who threatens to undermine the foundations of Western knowledge with his problematisation of conceptual categories. It doesn't help that his work has been taken up to justify just about any subversive perspective, whether well-conceived or not. This is only a pitifully small perspective on the man and his work. Foucault should be seen first as a historian, not a philosopher; second, his work should be lauded for the contribution it makes to Western knowledge rather than the superficial "threats" it makes to perspectives whose time has come in any event. Every revolution of perception has been accompanied by vociferous resistance, yet a great many of those sounding their disapproval loudly probably don't really understand what the late Michel was really on to.

The Birth of the Clinic, MF's most accessible work, is a well-researched, brilliantly interpreted account of the development of the clinical "gaze" in the wake of modern medical knowledge and practice. Foucault problematises the institution of the clinic, showing how clinical perception is the result of a historically specific constellation of knowledge and power. His ultimately emancipatory analysis is substantiated every step of the way with textual and historical examples. No metaphysics here, just a radical questioning of the nature of knowledge within institutional practice.

So, sorry (Objectivists!) if this is too much to handle. It's good research, plain and simple. Don't dismiss Foucault as a lightweight postmodernist - try to see him where he would situate himself, in the tradition of reflexive historical sociology.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
In this short book that forms a worthy companion to his classic "Madness and Civilisation," Michel Foucault first traces the history of medical care from the days when people were usually treated at home by their families, to the early nineteenth century, when public health became a political issue. The outcome of this process was the "clinic," which Foucault defines a field of confinement where those labelled ill, the Other, were monitored and treated to further the reciprocally-linked goals of the health of society and the furtherance of medical knowledge.
Foucault's well-documented narrative concerning the evolving socio-political perception of health and medicine, however, pales in erudition and philosophical significance when compared to the primary thrust of the book ; namely, in detailing how the medical profession ordered and analyzed not only disease, but later the human experience itself. Both seeming to have pushed back the finality ! of death through conjoining to it to the experience of life, and isolating disease not as a phenomenon in itself, but like life and death, simply as a discursive manifestation of visible and invisible symptoms, the medical profession acquired for itself the mantle of positivism that is still basically unquestioned by the public even today.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Brian C. on January 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a hard book to summarize, so I am not even going to try. I am simply going to point out some themes from the book. The book is, ultimately, a history of medicine, or the medical gaze, that covers, I believe, the period from the end of the eighteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century. There were some pretty major transitions in medical perception, and in the theory of disease, during that period. Foucault uses that period in medical transformation to illustrate some more general philosophical and epistemological points.

The main point, I think, of the book is that there is no such thing as "pure seeing". The medical professionals who were responsible for the shift in medicine that took place in the time period Foucault is covering conceived the transformation in terms of an abandonment of the distortions of theory in favor of a pure seeing. The myth is of a science that abandoned its stock of traditional and metaphysical theories in order to make itself into a genuine empirical science. Foucault argues that the transformation was actually a transformation in medical perception itself. There was a kind of gestalt switch which produced a different form of visibility. However, the new vision was still mediated by its own concrete, historical a priori.

The major transformation was from what Foucault called a nosological theory of disease, in which diseases were treated as species, and in which symptoms served as signs for determining the species of disease, to a theory of disease where disease was located in the body, and where visible lesions were no longer signs, but were the disease itself. Disease is no longer the invasion of some foreign essence, but is, instead, a breakdown in the body itself.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Juan Castrol on September 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Birth of the Clinic is a partner to Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison. They are both about political economy and the irony of how the modern 'free' world is as confining as previous historical eras just in an opposite way. This is kind of Foucault's whole mission, to show us just how confined we really are and wake us up to reality. But he is always subtle about it. In a way his 'philosophy' and 'methodology' and the wild theoretical tangents the academies have taken it to, are a mask for his very powerful and even dangerous political indictments. In Discipline and Punish (Surveil in French) Foucault shows historically how individual time and space have been controlled by the ever evolving, profit-driven, techno-efficiency of the panopticon-state and the distracted aquiescence of its subjects. In Birth of the Clinic he will show historically how the individual person and their body have become property of the state via consensus (law) and the same somnambulent aquiescence. In many ways Foucault is a major conservative showing us empirically, through historical evidence, how the power-play of today is an interiorization of past power-relationships, interiorized to the point of invisibility and largely unacknowledged by the manipulated masses.
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