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Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason Paperback – November 28, 1988

4.0 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Superb scholarship rendered with artistry" --The Nation

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (November 28, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067972110X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679721109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Madness and Civilisation", which was first published in 1959, was the first major work of the cultural critic and maverick structuralist Foucault, and it eloquently and stylishly establishes the main themes, (namely, power, knowledge, confinement) of his later works. Foucault, in his brilliant and forceful exposition, traces the codes or "epistemes" responsible for the shaping of madness from the Reneissance and up to the late nineteenth century. He charts the history of insanity from it being considered as a virtually harmless "wisdom of folly", to it being considered as a disease in the age of confinement and the psychiatric clinic. Drawing on several imprtant representations of madness in culture, which include the Ship of Fools of Jerome Bosch, and "The Disparates" of Goya, as well as the fates of Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Nerval and Artuad in the modern era, he "deconstructs" the concept of "reason" itself, by placing it in an inverse relation to supposedly "mad" experience. He asks the fundamental, and highly philosophical, question of "what does it mean to be mad, and what is the qualitative distinction between 'sanity' and 'insanity'?" This leads him to make the extraordinary claim that the "pathologisation" of madness, its treatment as a disease, is something approximating a disease of the modern era itself. Madness represents a moment of rupture, whose suppression is an attempt to avoid something mysterious, unseizable and dangerous within our own selves. In his examination of the history of confinement, and the supposed devastation that it has caused, Foucault is not trying (as his critics have alleged) to promote insanity in a bid to transgress social modes and conventional wisdom.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is a Michel Foucault masterpiece that delves into the history of insanity. Foucault was a student of philosophy and psychology, and it opened up his mind so that he could study the history of mental health. His book provides a compelling exploration of leprosy and other ailments that plagued Europe.

One of the biggest questions Foucault strives to answer is whether or not madness is a social construction. In exploring the idea, the author is able to negate many classical ideas that have dominated culture in recent years. He even relates treatment of madness to the process that eliminated leprosy as he states, "the formulas of exclusion would be strangely repeated" with "poor vagabonds, criminals and `deranged minds'."

While this book centers on the treatment of the insane in the clinical settings, it also explores other facets of mental health. In this book, Foucault talks about early doctors and nurses in psychiatry. He also explores the relationship between religious fanaticism and the concept of moral treatment for those who were deemed insane. This makes for an intriguing book that is also easily accessible for readers of varying levels.

Foucault is also the author of the book "Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison", a book that is comparable to "Madness and Civilization". Both are books about society's reactions to something deemed "not normal." On the same topic, I really like the work of Sander Gilman, who applies his understanding of psychology and psychiatry to role as historian when writing the books Seeing the Insane.
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By A Customer on May 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
Certain reviewers of this book seem to confuse the categories of operation Focualt addresses in this book and others. He is not making the simplistic argument that "madness" is socially constructed but rather that certain concepts, including the medicalized model of insanity, only become possible under cetain conditions and operate within a specific, historical and culutral formation of knowledge. Understanding what these conditions are, and how these change is important both to become critical concerning the limitations of current organizations of these concepts, but also so that one does not anachronistically project present concepts into the past, ie, seeing 18th century discourses as premature versions of today's ideas. The problem of madness as an object of knowledge is his task within the history of ideas, not discerning its reality.
Those that fail to recognize this, both the cultural relativists and the reactionaries, reveal their own lack of critical thought and say little about the text's strengths or weaknesses.
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Format: Paperback
Madness and civilization is a powerful survey on the historical development of what we call madness today. What the term means today is radically different from what it meant during the age of reason. This book takes a more or less chronological approach to the development of madness. What is most important is it shows how the term mad was manipulated throughout history in order for society to redefine itself against "the other." This book makes a good case as to why we still live under the shadow of Freud, as Foucault credits him with defining the relationship of the clinically insane, and the physician. A must read to understand the current definition seperating the sane and the insane.
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