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The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception
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The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,645 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here.

In the eighteenth century, medicine underwent a mutation. For the first time, medical knowledge took on a precision that had formerly belonged only to mathematics. The body became something that could be mapped. Disease became subject to new rules of classification. And doctors begin to describe phenomen
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 29th 1994 by Vintage (first published 1963)
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This is a remarkably interesting book. In many ways it is a working out of the same ideas presented in The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences this time in relation to the development of what Foucault refers to as the clinical gaze. This isn’t so much a history of the clinic, but rather of the clinical, a history of medicine from nearly the time of the French Revolution through to about the 1850s or so, I guess. Some of the ideas here are very clever.

I don’t want to map out th
Jan 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-non_fiction
I finished this on the bus the other day and a couple things come to mind:

1. It's one of his most approachable, even if it is a bit clunky in spots.
2. I'd recommend reading it before On the Order of Things as it's a good introduction to his study of epistemological change.
3. There's some very sharp reminders in here of why Foucault is considered a descendent of Nietzsche. The one most important for me is that, unlike most philosophers, he's a damn good writer. His love of language shines almost
Jan 14, 2011 rated it really liked it


Beneath the outstretched arms of the statue, Christus Consolatur, at the illustrious Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, there is a simple inscription: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This simple phrase reflects the hopes and aspirations of many who turn to the medical profession.

Foucault here attempts an 'archaeology' of the medical field - he reconstructs a history of ideas of how medicine was per
Apr 11, 2010 rated it liked it
In "Reading Capital" Althusser defines philosophical work as an intervention in science, an exposing of what the object of a science is. "The Birth of the Clinic" is a philosophical work in this sense.

"The Birth of the Clinic" does not make as clear use of the power/knowledge paradigm that characterizes Foucault's other work. Modern medicine is hardly some absolute, objective science that we, after years of struggling with medieval medicines, happened to stumble upon; but neither was it borne mo
Oliver Bateman
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This short but dense text should be read in conjunction with Discipline and Punish and Madness and Civilization. More specifically, it should probably be read after them, given how complicated and important (as well as "important") it is. Here we have Foucault's account of a series of "scientific revolutions" (although he would not use the term as such) in which the nature of discourse-derived "scientificity" changed for the field of clinical medicine on account of sometimes profound, sometimes ...more
Jan Martinek
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Well, that was certainly a thrilling ride through the medicine of the ca. 1760s—1820s. I wasn't able to read it all at once — several tries ended in exhaustion and pretending that the book does not even exist :) I always needed to take a deep breath before diving back into it — it's a dense text. Though, I finished the second half in a week and it's been great.

I'd recommend to read this book to anyone who wants to use the word „science“. Yes. The book describes in painful detail everything relat
Peter Mcloughlin
Less interesting than "madness and civilization" it does make a few interesting points about early modern medicine. The transition where medicine changed from a complicated form of sympathetic magic ( the four humors, miasmas and such)to the dependence on the "gaze" basically looking at the patient's body and determining the malady from the appearance of parts of the body. Definitely a shift of focus on the part of doctors and shift in worldview involved on how the body works but there is a lot ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Like Foucault, it all begins with Descartes, and how Enlightenment casts out and "others" the mentally ill. Unfortunately, I discovered that the French edition is more complete, and most English translations are abridged, particularly in the second chapter which really digs into Decartes' Cogito and the effects of "cogito ergo sum" on madmen.
Tyler Nielsen
Sep 26, 2014 rated it liked it
This is one of those books in which it feels like the author is intentionally obscure -- almost in a self-aggrandizing way. To use one of Foucault's favorite (or at least most frequent) criticisms against others (in this text), this book is needlessly prolix; he throws that word around like it's going out of style. Oh, wait.

In it, Foucault examines the emergence of the clinic as a teaching hospital as opposed to a hospital intended solely to cure the sick. If you're going to tackle this work, y
Feb 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Un poco complejo, pero interesante... Digamos, intermitente. Se remite a una época específica en Francia. Complicado para los que no manejan términos básicos de medicina. Bastante filosofía, algo de política, reformas, etc.
Incluye capítulos muy buenos: "Antigüedad de la clínica", "Ver, saber", "Abrid algunos cadáveres".
Jon Morgan
I'm sure this is an excellent history of the medical gaze in the late eighteenth century, but I found myself too deep in the weeds to actually understand Foucault's theoretical work in his endless explications of various doctor's theories of disease and the reorganization of medical administration in the wake of the French Revolution. For Foucault completists only.
Mar 18, 2016 marked it as considering  ·  review of another edition
Este libro trata sobre el espacio, el lenguaje y la muerte; sobre el acto de ver, sobre la mirada.

Foucault para Principiantes Pág.62
Oct 24, 2008 marked it as to-read
medicine is a huge part of our culture, and i think it's important we learn about the role it plays in our lives, and how it came about
John Wojewoda
This is one of the most formative books I ever read.
Nuruddin Azri
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, philosophy
Bahasa yang sederhana dan adunan ilmu perubatan dengan politik, sejarah dan falsafah yang diolah baik oleh penulis Perancis ini. Membaca karya Edward Said dan Michel Foucault pasti menimbulkan bibit-bibit akan pentingnya menguasai bahasa Perancis.

Jadi, bagaimana ilmu perubatan boleh terkait dengan faktor kuasa? Kata penulis, pada Zaman Pertengahan yang dipenuhi dengan latar peperangan, pesakit terdedah kepada ketakutan (apoplexy & hectic fever). Pada abad ke-16 & 17 pula merupakan fasa r
Alya AlShaibani
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
needs a re-read to be fully appreciated
P.H.G. Haslam
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book contains some fantastic insights into the nature of medical perception. I especially loved the idea of disease becoming a thing that exists in a strange place between the patient and the medical practitioner, and of course the enduring idea of the gaze and the "eye that governs". As ever when fresh off of Foucault, I'm finding it hard to broaden these ideas out and see bigger implications, as his historical works are always so centred around the details. I'll need time to think, read c ...more
Sep 02, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone in the medical field who enjoys out-of-the-box thinking
Been working on this on and off for four years. I read it for a couple reasons. One, because there seems to me to be a glut of writings and rantings about "postmodernism" bogeymen, but I do not sense there is much reading of the primary sources themselves - Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, et al. Second, this book exposes the structures of knowledge used in medical practice, and because my own life has been invaded by cancer, I desire to be able to get "outside" the typical story provided by the medi ...more
Alex Vu
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this with a couple good friends. Birth of the Clinic is a fantastic exploration of the epistemological shift that medicine takes; and on a greater scale delineates what knowledge is and how the mode of its acquisition is just as important as knowledge itself.

Incredibly dense and thoughtful, this book was meant to present the problems of modern medicine; however it does not attempt to offer any solutions (that wasn't really Foucault's style). Perhaps a hope for a change in contemporary med
May 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Foucault was predominantly immersed in the late 18th century, or early Modernism (The Enlightenment) when he wrote this book. How did the schematic behind the perfect prison (the Panopticon) become used in the logic of the University, the Clinic, etc. How do populations become disciplined, manipulated, transformed into healthy, productive, docile bodies? Is it a coincidence that the advent of so-called "Modern" medicine occurred at a time when Western Culture was rapidly Capitalizing? The popula ...more
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have a very complicated relationship with this man. He is both my inspiration and subject of intense scrutiny. Foucault is the author that I love to hate and cannot escape. Despite all of the criticism, Foucault is an extremely important philosopher and even if you do not agree with his theoretical position, particularly his concept of decentralized power, his discussion of institutional power and knowledge production is insurmountable.

I have read most of Foucault's major works and the Birth
Александр Шушпанов
Как говорит автор - это эссе о методе в плохо структурированной области. Неделя у меня странная - постоянно откуда-то лезут разговоры о методологии, а я, вообще-то, не хотел о ней разговаривать, а хотел найти и прочитать свежепереведённую Сонтаг - как раз о болезнях. А пока она не отыщется - немного освежить понимание вопроса - так уж вышло, что Фуко много писал о здоровье, но всё это ужасно обрывочно, неполно и редко когда последовательно. Последовательность всегда приходилось достраивать самом ...more
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
My knowledge of the history of medical theory is practically non-existent, and I'm embarrassed to say that I know next to nothing about the French Revolution, so large sections of this book didn't really register with me. It seems like Foucault is using a slightly more direct style than is his wont, but this effect is largely eliminated by the obscurity of his historical references. As with much of his writing, I felt that I understood the beginning and end of the narrative arc pretty well witho ...more
Kaj Peters
Een medische (anti-) filosofische detective waarin Foucault veranderd denken in de medische wereld uiteenzet: mentaliteit/beroepsethiek/kennisniveau/systematiek/methodologie/maatschappelijke functie van artsen. Hij wordt zelf haast een romancier met het bombast van zijn literair aandoend taalgebruik. Neem deze schitterende zin: 'In het berekenende ruilverkeer van een liberale wereld is de blik van de arts een goed belegde besparing...(115) Of neem deze even dramatische oneliner: 'De duisternis v ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
More dense, albeit indisputably well-researched prose from Foucault. The text itself does precisely what its subtitle indicates: formulate an "archaeology" (à la Foucault) of medical perception. Over the course of the book, he introduces new terminology (the gaze, the glance, pathological anatomy, etc.) that experiences radical chronological evolution. For example, whereas the gaze initially focuses solely on what can be visually perceived by a physician, it transforms by the end of the text int ...more
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I knew this book would be like tearing trees apart with your bare hands and it does not disappoint. The whole notion of health hinges on the loss of doctors in the continental wars that raged in Europe pre-Revolution, that left France a land of quackery served on a side plate with a self trained country doctor sandwiches. Standards had to be put in place, and the clinic was born to address this quandary over the health space, where was it? who was authorized to be in it? and what could be done t ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Much as I love love love Discipline and Punish and enjoyed Madness and Civilization, I found this excruciating and tedious. Foucault just bounces all over the place, trying to tie together various observations about space, seeing, family, empiricism and medical reforms with no clear goal or overall project. I loved the strong, accessible style of discipline and punish, but Birth of the Clinic has a really weak, meandering quality to it, maybe because it's one of Foucault's earlier works. Which i ...more
Aug 25, 2012 rated it liked it

A really daunting read due to his reliance on philosophical sentence structure and philosophical or archaic terminology. Overall, as a physician, it is remarkable to explore the requisite naïveté and inexperience from which modern clinical medicine was birthed. The advent of touching patients, exploring for causation, examining tissue, and positivism as a replacement of what essentially sounds like witchcraft is especially estimable. Foucault is clearly brilliant. I may explore, either in revie
Patricio Rojas
Feb 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Una maravilla, no sólo por el despliegue fértil del método arqueológico de Foucault, sino por la belleza con que está escrito. Puede mencionarse, a modo de ejemplo, la prosa que transita elegantemente entre opacidad y claridad en "Abrid algunos cadáveres", haciendo eco de lo visible y enunciable sobre la vida y la muerte en la anatomía patológica del s. XVIII. Una obra fundamental para lectores de Foucault, las teorías críticas, y quienes se planteen examinar la historia del presente de la medic ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
I can see why Foucault is tagged as brilliant; there are some really insightful observations in this book. But I suspect that he has better books than this one, which really jumps all over the place.

His conclusion, though, is so clever and interesting that I'm tempted to give this 4 stars. He really didn't give much of hint where he was going while making the broader argument, though, and if he did, it was hidden under the incredibly dense text.

People should read Foucault, though. His influence
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Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and lectured at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.

Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences and the prison sys
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