Foucault News

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

Guilel Treiber, From Monster to Child. Ariès, Foucault, and the Constitution of Normality, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, issue 2, vol 83, 2021, 323-354

Abstract :
This paper aims to destabilize the obvious, intrinsic value of childhood as one of the most morally potent values of our times and to trace its historical rise to dominance. I argue that a clear path to such a problematization of the value of childhood should pass through Foucauldian genealogy. Though rarely considered, I show how Foucault has actually already laid the foundations, following Ariès’ work, for such a genealogy of childhood. I reject feminist critiques arguing that whatever Foucault has to say of children or sexual abuse is tainted by an unconfessed machismo. I trace a possible history of how childhood gained its current value through Ariès and Foucault’s works. Through Ariès, I highlight that childhood did not have such an important value until quite recently. His formulation of the process of infantilization, of turning children solely into objects of sentimental value, attaching inherent vulnerability and innocence to their condition is the tacit beginnings of a process Foucault will end tracing. I reconstruct Foucault’s arguments in his lectures during the early seventies and demonstrate that, according to him, the increase in the value of childhood is related to the child becoming the condition of the healthy normalized adult through the generalization of psychiatry and the constitution of normality.

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