When reading the works of both Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman, together they give a delineation of the discourse of madness. This essay delves into both of these renowned sociologists, in an attempt to explore both Michel Foucault’s finding on the treatment of the insane and Erving Goffman’s work on asylums.
It begins with a very deep and archival aspect on Foucault’s part; where close attention was paid to the evolution of language, words and the view of the mad. Foucault studied and researched in a more genealogical and archeological perspective, as he looked at the mad from inception. He focused on society as a whole and saw madness at the macro level, thereby researching society’s changing views and the interactions and treatments the patients received from the administration of these mental hospitals.
Foucault as a post structuralist was very interested and invested in studying society, more specifically the constant changing of knowledge and how society as a whole viewed other individuals within that society. This was done by grouping these individuals into unsavory categories; these categories were developed based on the acts or ideas of these individuals which were seen as being against the “norm”. Within the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, these categories of people were comprised of the prostitutes, vagabonds, beggars, criminals and the mad; they were confined to institutions all across Europe.
With this “Great Confinement,” Foucault looked closely at the distinctions which were developed to distinguish between madness and sanity within the Age of Reason. He debunked these distinctions in more detail in his paper “Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age” (Foucault, 1961) After acquiring firsthand knowledge from being hospitalized for depression, Foucault’s discourse on madness changed, he found that the modern medical treatments for the mad were suspicious and that they were a way of controlling the insane. He also believed that instead of these treatments being objective they were in fact a means of control by those in society of high social ranking. In Foucault’s view, the previous and current views of the mad were both inaccurate.
Within “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” (Foucault, 1979) he speaks on the shift from sovereign to disciplinary power; where force or punishment was no longer necessary. This power was not only displayed in prisons but mental hospitals as well and focused more on the use of surveillance to control individuals so they would behave as expected or normal based on self-discipline.
Foucault agreed with Bentham’s Panopticon theory as it supported and reflected his view on surveillance. The Panopticon was the idea of a design like a prison with inmates separated from each other and always visible to a monitor. This monitor would be placed in the central tower and even though it was incapable of seeing all activity from the inmates, the goal of this, was to make...