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Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  11,414 ratings  ·  512 reviews
In this classic account of madness, Michel Foucault shows once and for all why he is one of the most distinguished European philosophers since the end of World War II. Madness and Civilization, Foucault's first book and his finest accomplishment, will change the way in which you think about society. Evoking shock, pity and fascination, it might also make you question the w ...more
Paperback, Routledge Classics, 2nd Edition, 304 pages
Published May 17th 2001 by Routledge (first published 1961)
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Danceswithcats This service is not primarily a book supplier. It's a social network based around the enthusiasms of readers. Since Michel Foucault is a recent author…moreThis service is not primarily a book supplier. It's a social network based around the enthusiasms of readers. Since Michel Foucault is a recent author, you will not be able to get hold of a copy of the book online without paying for it, unless you want to engage in bit torrent piracy, which I don't recommend. However, you can buy it from any number of online suppliers. I recommend world of books.(less)

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la Folie à l'âge Classique = Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault

When it was first published in France in 1961, 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.

Foucault's first major book, Madness and Civilization is an examination of the evolving meaning of madness in European culture
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is nearly a Masterpiece.

A Masterpiece with an Unstated Premise.

That Premise is only DARKLY suggested here. But the book purports to be a history of the arrival on the world stage of the Mental Health Establishment. In laborious and CLINICAL detail.

Why my capital letter stresses?

Ah, because of a reason that is never divulged by the author. But its existence remains unsettling. For it can lead to one conclusion: the Hippocratic Institution can be Hypocritical. Let me illustrate...

Dave Schaafsma
Some of what we read here has become commonplace in the world of ideas, but this is where it started for many thinkers of the twentieth century. In this volume Foucault illustrates how notions like madness are socially and culturally constructed in any given age and place. The criteria for madness are made up, by us, they in part invented for particular social and political purposes. Leper colonies housed/confined/kept from society those with this disease, and when leprosy largely died out there ...more
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs, 2020
So much more engaging and grounded than The History of Sexuality. Here Foucault takes a wide-ranging look at how madness has been constructed in Western civ from the time of the Late Middle Ages to the advent of psychoanalysis, homing in on the long eighteenth century, which the writer brands the classical period, when the mad, indigent, and criminal—then one undifferentiated group—were confined away from mainstream society, viewed as moral failures, and subjected to intense regimes of punishmen ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I realize now (as I read Dreyfus and Rabinow) that I completely misread this book. I read it too quickly, and the book is maddeningly eccentric and so difficult to comprehend. Further, I read it without sufficient context either of this book itself, or of Foucault's corpus, or of the philosophical background in which or against which MF is operating. The problem is intensified by the fact that Foucault is one of those thinkers who changed his mind extensively from first to last on importa
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philosophy for Foucault is a discourse, I guess a series of texts that cluster around a single topic and have a meaning as much based on their history as their current ‘meaning’. It is too easy to get tangled in knots with words here – but this book is actually quite a simple read and incredibly interesting.

There is the bit that is often quoted - the idea that hysteria was once considered to be a woman’s madness caused by her womb wandering around her body and thereby causing mental problems. I
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit, I didn't read this entire book. However, I do feel I read enough of it to get the general idea. Foucault is trying to distance himself from history here. He dislikes the "victorious" narrative of history and instead seeks to build an anthropology based around one aspect of the human sciences, employing the method of "archaeology." Borrowing Nietzsche's genealogy approach, Foucault excavates various uses of confinement or separation of the "madman" overtime, and looks at shifts and ...more
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Madness and Civilization (1961) is Michel Foucault’s first major work and forms, together with The Birth of the Clinic (1963), his first examination of the way our unconscious a priori linguistic structures order our knowledge of the world – in particular the way how specific syntaxes determine our perception, communication and action regarding life, death, health, disease and madness. While The Birth of the Clinic is a rather straightforward text and can be understood on a first reading, Madnes ...more
Dec 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is said that Foucault enjoyed being whipped.
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I was a double major in psychology and English as an undergraduate, with a minor in philosophy. When I graduated in January of 1998, I hadn't yet heard about whether I'd been admitted to graduate school and couldn't find a job teaching English, my back-up plan. I decided to turn my philosophy minor into a major, as I already had more courses than required for a minor and was only 4 away. It so happened that I was missing were mostly already determined: (1) history of ancient philosophy, (2) clas ...more
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me almost two months to finish this behemoth, but it was worth it. Two months ago, I was reading an article in the New York Times on modern Catholicism that mentioned Foucault, and from there I read a brief overview on Wikipedia. There I found a reference to the History of Madness, Foucault's doctoral thesis, and since I'm interested in insanity, asylums and so forth, I checked this one out of the library.

I'm not going to lie, this is a dense tome. I read it in 5-20 page increments, most
Erik Graff
Jul 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: James Koehnline
Shelves: psychology
By sophomore year in college I was beginning to think of becoming a psychotherapist and actually held two jobs at a psychiatric hospital during the year following, one setting up a treatment assessment program, the other administrating and evaluating diagnostic tests such as the MMPI. Then, later, back at Grinnell, I was trained in drug counseling a worked in the school's crisis center as well as in its draft counseling office. My real interest was in continental depth psychology, but the jobs a ...more
Don Rea
Jun 02, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: could-not-finish
So far I'm about fifty or sixty pages in, and I've completely lost track of what this gibbering madman is raving about. Perhaps this is a poor translation, but after the first ten pages even individual sentences are meaningless and syntactically ambiguous. I re-read paragraphs, sometimes ten or twelve times, but I simply can't make any of this make any sense. I'll slog through for a couple more chapters to see if it gets any better, but I don't have much hope for this basket of word salad. ...more
The English translation is problematic. Where the French is very clear, the English is cloudy with academic jargon. It was disappointing to compare the French to the English.
Alex Obrigewitsch
Foucault...what to say..
So many people, and my friends as well, adore this man's work.
While I see its merit, and understand it's place in the history of thought, I am on shaky grounds with Foucault.
His attempt at the archeological uncovering of the silenced side of madness in history is admirable, but he stumbles and falls in attempting to integrate madness into a structure.
By attempting to classify and understand madness as unreason, setting it in opposition to reason, Foucault stumbles into hi
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unnecessarily repetitive and a bit wordy at times, this brick of a book did keep my attention for most of the long journey it took for me to read it, as the subject and the dive he takes to explore so called madness, goes very deep. Overall quite fascinating.
Foucault's first published book, when he might have identified as a structuralist. I admit I glossed over the center chapters including the classifications of various archaic mental illnesses, but I read deeply the first two chapters discussing banishment and confinement as technologies of discipline/regularization. Pairs well with Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive America. ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Foucault* provides context for our dozens of American cities now arresting the homeless, from Houston to Reno. We follow the lead of London in 2014, around Marble Arch, and of New Delhi, late last year preparing for Ivanka Trump’s visit, not to trouble her with have-nots. His subtitle is Insanity in the Age of Reason. He also illustrates how the asylums built to ward off great medical threats to society, leprosy and bubonic plague, found new use in ostracizing those who violated the Work Ethic: ...more
Randal Samstag
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cultural-history
This is the book that started Foucault onto his starry path. IMHO his best. My reading of this back in the sixties is heavily underlined. In those days of the Vietnam war it did seem that the "ruse and triumph" of madness had arrived, when the world must justify itself before it. The madness of Nietzsche, Van Gogh,and Artaud had much charm for us then. Today I am only able to shed a tear for Vincent. ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
As the title suggests, this book is about madness and civilization. However, it does not argue that civilization is mad (for that, see Sigmund Freud ’s Civilization and Its Discontents and Norman Oliver Brown’s Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History); rather, it argues that part of the way that civilization defines itself (rational, progressive, organized) is by distinguishing itself from that which it is not, for instance madness (irrational, regressive, disordered). In thi ...more
Malini Sridharan
If foucault were alive today, I would comfort him in his old age whether he liked it or not.
Otto Lehto
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How can we categorize it? Should we even try? At its core it is a maddeningly sane work of institutional critique that pushes the boundaries of philosophy. In it, Foucault asks provocative questions about the relationship between knowledge, truth, and power in the evolving political organization and institutional management of the modern category of madness. "Madness and Civilization" is an early work for Foucault so it is (thank God) mostly free of the heavy theoretical baggage and jargon that ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The subject of the book is awesome. Foucault's book is not. It is incredible how pretentious and useless he sounds. As a lesson in style, I would simply forbid him the use of rhetorical questions, which abound in his book. I would also consider limiting his use of conditionals ("If we consider the X is true then completely unrelated Y"). I believe this flowery style is somehow common to the French philosophers of the latter part of the 20th century. Foucault goes on musing about various ideas th ...more
Jaycob Izso
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are very few academic texts written in the past 50-60 years which deserve the coveted status that we have granted to Marx's Capital or Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit; that is to say, the status of being historically revolutionary and brilliant within the confines of a given field. Blasphemous though it might seem: this text should be counted as one of them. As many other reviewers have stated - it is a long book; the single longest text Foucault ever produced. But despite the popularity a ...more
Oliver Bateman
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This brilliant book, which traces the shifting European "discourse systems" about madness from the late Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century, describes the process by which measures dealing with the insane shifted from exposure (as on the "ship of fools," if such things actually existed, or by wandering the countryside) to confinement (alongside the idle poor in "hospitals" and "charity wards") to paternalistic "medical" care (by doctors who, upon realizing that there were no curative tech ...more
Aug 11, 2008 marked it as aborted-efforts  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: crazy smart people; smart, crazy people
Recommended to Jessica by: crazy people; smart people (quelle est la différence?)
A last question remains: In the name of what can this fundamental language be regarded as a delirium? Granting that it is the truth of madness, what makes it true madness and the originating form of insanity? Why should it be in this discourse, whose forms we have seen to be so faithful to the rules of reason, that we find all those signs which will most manifestly declare the very absence of reason?

A central question, but one to which the classical age has not formulated a direct answer. We mus
Feijiao Huo
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thinking about there's just a fine line between a madman and genius...
Maybe the only difference is the number of their fans. Genius significantly has more fans than madmen. Their fans follow them all way, while most mad men die lonely with a single story failed to leave. That's why Focau study madmen and then conclude something about politic and power. We all know many historical figures are like madmen. Then the question goes to how the madman write their own history.
If we focus too much on hu
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is full of interesting ideas buried in some of the densest, most obtuse prose I have ever encountered. Foucault writes about the history of the treatment of the insane, particularly in Europe, and how mental illness has been viewed in culture. Drawing heavily on French history, he makes the case that mental illness was viewed as shameful and a sign of moral degradation, so mentally ill people were no longer considered human, but were punished for being "mad". He goes into a fairly deta ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Madness in the 17th century was not easily defined. There was no distinction between insanity and other conditions for the imposition of confinement. Prisoners of the Hopital General were institutionalized because of poverty, inability to work, infidelity, religion, and ethical values. The definition & the many horrible treatments for hypochondria & hysteria vary throughout the centuries: Blood transfusions, bleedings, purges, cold water treatments, powdered lobster claw, baths, showers, bitters ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Foucault outlines the evolution of society's definition, views, and treatments of madness from the middle ages to the 18th century. This sounds super interesting, but I found it took me a long time to get through all the specific names and cases Foucault uses and often had to puzzle out the "bigger picture" for myself to keep myself engaged with the text.

As Deleuze points out, the major fault of Foucault's work is that it doesn't bridge to the 20th and 21st century very easily. I was hoping to
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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," but before he was Professor at University of Tunis, Tunisia, and then Professor at University Paris VIII. He lectured at several different Universities over the world as at the University at Buffalo, the University of California, ...more

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