Foucauldian theory

Authored by: Simone Fullagar

Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138225473
eBook ISBN: 9781315399584
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter moves beyond the social construction of mental health and illness, to engage with poststructuralist debates that emphasise how power works through discourse to shape knowledge and subjectivity. It explores the significant influence that French philosopher Michel Foucault (1988a) has had on understanding how ‘madness’ or ‘mental disorder’ has been problematised and made thinkable as an historical category within particular regimes of truth that are configured through power-knowledge relations. As an anti-humanist, Foucault was not interested in excavating the interiority of subjectivity to locate the source of mental disorder; rather he questioned or ‘problematised’ the very way in which truths produced about disorder also sustain ‘normality’ and dominant forms of morality. Power, for Foucault, was not a zero-sum game nor was it a matter of ideology; rather power was understood as relational and material-discursive in its operation and truth effects. Hence, power relations are implicated in the production of certain ways of knowing and being that could be both regulatory and normalising, as well as resistant and subversive (Foucault 1980).

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