Interesting discussion of hospitals, the marginalized and the mad in Political Affairs Magazine.
The French philosopher Michel Foucault, in his short essay “Madness and Society,” [DE 83, from 1970] begins by assuming what needs to be proved: that the attitude towards “madmen” (his term) has not fundamentally changed from earlier, medieval society. In order to claim this, he makes a few assumptions: that society is divided into certain hived off components, namely, 1) labor, or economic production; 2) sexuality and family, or reproduction; 3) language/speech, and 4) “ludic” activities such as games and festivities. These categories are fairly arbitrary, since we can see that reproduction could easily be included in production, since the reproduction of the laborer is obviously necessary to production, and of course it assumes that games have no reproductive aspect to them, which is surely at least arguable. Nevertheless, these assumptions provide the groundwork for Foucault’s hypothesis that there are “marginalized” individual members of society who have special properties.
What Foucault calls the “second cycle of social production” (without telling us here what the “first cycle” might actually be) includes these individuals; his example refers to “primitive” tribes and their celibates, homosexuals and transvestites. The justifying reference for this assertion is, however, not to members of the medieval society which preceded the modern social conditions, but the “primitive.” The “primitive” I suggest cannot be used convincingly to justify such claims about the medieval. Foucault is nevertheless able to assume that these individuals are marginalized because of his previous separation of categories, in which economic production is artificially segregated from the other realms, the reference to the “primitive” is only tacked on to this.
The result is that there is no possibility of recuperation in Foucault’s account. The possibility that the (apparently) marginalized might actually be also at times culturally necessary, even central, to the reproduction of society, even if in a “shamefaced” or de-negated way is from the outset disallowed.
The essay is quite interesting, but suffers from not taking into account Foucault’s more complete writings on the topic. For example, Abnormal gives a number of examples of marginalized characters who exist happily–think of the Jouey case–before modern psychiatrizing gets ahold of them.