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Foucault “Abnormal”

Foucault, Michel 2003. Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976. London, New York: Verso

8 January 1975

Properties of discourse:

The first property is the power to determine, directly or indirectly, a decision of justice that ultimately concerns a person’s freedom or detention, or, if it comes down to it […] life and death. So, these are the discourses that ultimately have the power of life and death.

Second property: […] these discourses also have this power by virtue of the fact that they function as discourses of truth within the judicial system. They function as discourses of truth because they are discourses with a scientific status, or discourses expressed exclusively by qualified people within a scientific institution.

Discourses that can kill, discourses of truth, and, the third property, discourses […] that make one laugh.(6)

Grotesque power, abject sovereignty – „[…] it seems to me to be a way of giving a striking form of expression to the unavoidability, the inevitability of power, which can function in its full rigor and at the extreme point of its rationality even when in the hands of someone who is effectively discredited. (13)

1)      […] expert psychiatric opinion allows the offense, as defined by the law, to be doubled with a whole […] series of forms of conduct, of ways of being that are, of course, presented in the discourse of the psychiatric expert as the cause, origin, motivation, and starting point of the offence. […] in the reality of judicial practice they constitute the substance, the very material to be punished. (15) Its essential role is to legitimize, in the form of scientific knowledge, the extension of punitive power to something that is not a breach of the law. (18)

2)      […] to double the author of the offense with this new character of the delinquent […] (18) […] it tries to establish the antecedents below the threshold, as it were, of the crime. […] In other words, the aim is to show how the individual already resembles his crime before he has committed it. (19)

3)      Its function is to constitute, to call up, another doubling, or rather, a group of further doublings. There is the constitution of a doctor who is at the same time a doctor-judge. (21-22) Conversely, faced with the doctor, the judge will also divide into two. […] when the judge has to deal with this ethico-moral double of the juridical subject, it is not the offense he punishes. […] The sordid business of punishing is thus converted into the fine profession of curing. As well as serving other ends, expert psychiatric opinion serves to effect this conversion. (23)

We have shifted from the juridical problem of the attribution of responsibility to a completely different problem. […] penal sanction will not be brought to bear on a legal subject who is recognized as being responsible but on an element that is the correlate of a technique that consists in singling out dangerous individuals and of taking responsibility for those who are accessible to penal sanction in order to cure them or reform them. […] from now on, a technique of normalization will take responsibility for the delinquent individual. (25)

15 January 1975

The whole field of notions of perversity, converted in the field of judicial power and, converted into their puerile vocabulary, enables medical notions to function in the field of judicial power and, conversely, juridical notions to function in medicine’s sphere of competence. This set of notions functions, then, as a switch point, and the weaker it is epistemologically, the better it functions. (33)

Another operation performed by expert opinion is the replacement of the institutional alternative „either prison or hospital”, „either atonement or cure”, by the principle of homogeneity of social response. (33) This institutional system is aimed at the dangerous individual, that is to say, at the individual who is not exactly ill and who is not strictly speaking criminal. […] Danger and perversion constitute, I think, the essential theoretical core of expert medico-legal opinion. (34)

Essentially, both justice and psychiatry are adulterated in expert medico-legal opinion. They do not deal with their own object; they do not work in accordance with their own norms. Expert medico-legal opinion does not address itself to delinquents or innocents or to those who are sick as opposed to those who are well. It addresses itself, I believe, to the category of “abnormal individuals”. Or, if you prefer, expert medico-legal opinion is not deployed in a field of opposition, but in a field of gradation from the normal to the abnormal. (41-2)

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