MA Seminar (PHIL*6950) | College of Arts

MA Seminar (PHIL*6950)

Term: Winter 2013


This course reads our current concepts of health, medicine and disease – mental and
physical -- and their respective institutional forms in clinical medicine (physical and
psychiatric) via the discourse analysis of 20th century French critical theorist, Michel
Foucault (1926-1984). We will read 3 key Foucauldian texts that deal directly with the
production of the fields of modern medicine: its objects to be concerned with, and its
subjects to be concerned with such things. Foucault claimed not to have written his books
for a philosophical audience. Rather, he desired his books “to be a kind of tool-box others
can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they wish in their own area…I
write for users, not readers.” Since we are all users of the concepts and institutions of
health, mental and physical, these texts can be tools which help us in that use, however
we conceive it. Moreover, as a critical theorist, it is precisely in gaining a profound sense
of our own positionality in the production of discursive fields that ethical possibilities are
accomplished. In short: critical analysis of “the life sciences” is, in principle, a form of
ethical work. The course will focus on relevant concepts Foucault developed and/or
deployed – discourse, (visibility & sayability; figures & personae; archeology &
genealogy), panopticism, power/knowledge, biopower, subjectivation, discipline,
governmentality, force. It will expose us to his genealogical method, and we will
understand what it is about this method that is allegedly ethical labour. In addition to this,
for their final projects, students will be expected to use these tools to critically investigate
an aspects of modern health and medicine of concern to them, such as: hormone
replacement therapy, weight loss and self-starvation, use of animals in laboratory testing,
antidepressants, yoga, personal trainers, alleged increase in OCD in children, cosmetic
surgery, reproductive/fertility technologies, fitness regimes, teeth-whitening, stem-cell
anti-aging therapies, anti-smoking lobbies, UVA therapy i.e. tanning, body modification,
& cancer surveillance.


PDF icon PHIL6950-01_Houle_1.pdf8.98 KB