Anatomy and governmentality: A Foucauldian perspective on death and medicine in modernity

Theory and Event 2 (1) (1998)
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This essay contributes to critical reflection on the extensive role that medicine has played, and continues to play, in establishing and maintaining the uniquely modern form of social order that Foucault described as “governmentality.” It does so by linking Foucault’s later work on governmentality and biopower, from his courses at the Collège de France in the late-1970s, with his early work on the crucial role that pathological anatomy played in founding modern medicine, which was presented in one of his first books, The Birth of the Clinic (1963). The link between these two stages of Foucault’s work is the central role that death has played in the development of both modern medicine and the art of governing populations. After establishing this connection, I extend Foucault’s analysis by examining the anatomical practices of the three centuries prior to the period upon which he focused in The Birth of the Clinic. This examination of anatomical practices from the sixteenth through the turn of the nineteenth century not only expands the temporal framework through which Foucault examined modern medicine, but also provides a clear and instructive example of the historical development of governmentality. This expansion of Foucault's analysis further illuminates the unique historical configuration of death, medicine, and power upon which modernity is grounded, and suggests ways in which many recent bio-ethical dilemmas, such as the right to die movement, may disrupt this configuration.



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Thomas Tierney
College of Wooster

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Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes, Foucault and the right to die.Thomas F. Tierney - 2006 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 32 (5):601-638.

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