Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Ragab, A.
Monsters and patients: An archaeology of medicine, islam, and modernity
(2016) History and Theory, 55 (4), pp. 112-130.

DOI: 10.1111/hith.10832

Foucault’s analysis of the history of evolutionary thought in Les Mots et les choses introduces monsters as incomplete beings that form important steps on the evolutionary ladder toward the terminal species. Monsters represent attempts by nature to achieve the perfection of the terminal species and are, therefore, significant for naturalists in constructing the details of the natural continuum. Despite their incompleteness, monsters underwrite the natural continuum and evidence the grounding of this continuum in reality. To a great extent, the continuum of nature, proposed by Foucault, resembles a continuum of civilization through which the history of the world and the history of colonization were often seen. The non-European emerged as the monster that showcased the deeper history of the more-perfect European. In the same way that monsters were written into natural history as intermediary and incomplete beings, losing in the process their uniqueness as independent species, the colonized were written into the (new) World History as objects of colonization, modernization, and development and as the living fossils of a bygone European past. This new history was not only created for European consumption but was also an important part of European-style education in the colony shaping colonial and post colonial identities and perceptions of self and other.

This article uses Foucauldian monsters to understand the making of historical narratives about the precolonial past in nineteenth-century Egypt, where one of the earliest European-style medical schools in Africa and Asia was built in the early nineteenth century. In this school and surrounding emerging educational system, narratives about science, modernity, and religion produced new histories that came to form colonial subjects.Finally, the article asks about a post colonial/post monstrous epistemology, what it might look like and whether and how it can emerge from the postcolonial condition. © Wesleyan University 2016.

Author Keywords
Egypt; Islam; Medicine; Monsters; Postcolonial; Religion and science

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