Foucault News

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

Alison Bashford (1999) Epidemic and governmentality: Smallpox in Sydney, 1881, Critical Public Health, 9:4, 301-316.
DOI: 10.1080/09581599908402942

This article interprets a smallpox epidemic which took place in Sydney in 1881, in the light of Michel Foucault’s work on health, populations and the development of administrative government. It is a local and historical study informed by, and written in response to, a critical sociological literature which traces the development of public health strategies in the modern West. It examines, first, the ‘writing’ of the epidemic in and by a new colonial bureaucracy of health. Second, it explores the spatial politics at work in the policy and practice of emergency quarantine, a practice unusual for the late nineteenth century. Third, it questions the debate on consent brought about by the practice of compulsory isolation. It is argued that this epidemic was a significant event that prompted shifts in the management of colonial population health towards a ‘governmental’ mode.

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