File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_2000/foucault.0011, message 35

Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2000 18:21:17 -0500
Subject: Madness & Civilization and medieval Islam


Having just taught M&C in a class, the text is fresh on my mind, and I have
two comments on William King's notes:

1.  Reducing the argument of M&C to a question of capitalism demanding
institutionalization of madness is a significant misrepresentation of
Foucault's argument in the work.  He is interested in the phenomenon of
confinement of the mad, but the sources of this confinement have little to
do with capitalism.  The closest Foucault gets to bringing capitalism into
the argument is in chapter 8, when he discusses the introduction of the
concept of "population"  a notion he will take up again in the College de
France in 1978  marking a radical shift in the perception of poverty, part
of a movement that isolates madness from other aspects of "unreason" at the
end of the 18th Century.  This is part of the process that makes madness
primarily a "medical" or "psychological" phenomenon, but is much after
madness has already become primarily something tied to confinement.

2.  It seems that King's example of the medieval Muslim hospitalization of
the mad is meant as a counterexample, to challenge Foucault's thesis.  In
fact, Foucault was aware of such examples and incorporates them into his
account.  The seeds for the medicalization of madness that was to occur in
the 19th Century were laid in the classical age, in the juxtaposition of two
different understandings of madness:  one as curable, what will eventually
become medical, the other as incurable, a social problem, linked more
directly with confinement.  He cites the medieval Islamic practices typified
by the hospital in Cairo as a possible antecedent for the view of madness as
As many of us remember, M&C is an abridged translation -- only about 1/3 -
1/2 of the full text is included.  Foucault's discussion of the possible
medieval Islamic influence on the classical age is in one of the chapters
that was omitted from M&C.  (This chapter, "Experiences of madness," has
been translated into English, however, and is available in _History of the
Human Sciences_, vol. 4, no. 1 (February 1991), pp. 1-25.)  I quote from p.8
of the English (p. 133 of the Tel edition, original French):
"It is by no means impossible that the Orient and Arab thought played a
determining role here.  It appears, indeed, that in the Arab world real
hospitals reserved for the mad were founded quite early on:  perhaps in Fez
from the seventh century, perhaps also in Baghdad near the end of the
twelfth century, very certainly in Cairo in the course of the following
This last could well be the hospital cited by King.

Aside from any arguments about M&C, this episode reminds me once again of
the incredible breadth and depth of Foucault's intellectual inquiries.
Truly an amazing mind, and an amazing man!

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Richard A. Lynch
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Wabash College
P. O. Box 352
Crawfordsville, IN 47933-0352 USA

765-361-6046 (office)
765-361-6291 (fax)

on 00.11.14 22:42, foucault-digest at wrote:

> Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2000 09:07:02 -1000
> From: William J King <>
> Subject: Foucault on Madness, other information
> Fellow Foucaulians:
> It has been a while since I have read "Madness & Civilization"
> but as I recall the drill went like this:  madness was
> tolerated and was a village issue until the demands of
> capitalism required a stricter order of communities.
> Then and only then, did the institutionalization of
> madness commence.
> Well, in my studies of Medieval Islam, esp, Howard Turner's
> _Science in Medieval Islam_ he shows a floor plan of
> a 13th century hospital in Cairo with rooms for each of
> insane females and insane males. (p 143)
> The point being that the demands of capitalism may not have
> been the  deciding factor in institutionalizing the insane.
> Comments?
> Other discussions of early institutionalization of the insane
> in Islamic states can be found in
> Michael Dols, Majnun: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society
> or Manfred Ullmann, Islamic Medicine,
> Wm King


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