Chapter 5, Foucauldian Theory

Simone Fullagar

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


This chapter moves beyond the social construction of mental health and illness, to engage with post-structuralist debates that emphasis the material, discursive and affective workings of power. Foucault’s work has significantly shaped how mental illness has been problematized and made thinkable as an historical category. Focussing on the power-knowledge relations that shape particular regimes of truth, Foucauldian scholarship has explored the dividing practices that constitute normal/abnormal subjects. Central to his argument about the capillary-like operation of power in disciplinary societies is the notion of biopower that operates through health/illness discourses to regulate the conduct of individuals and populations. Contemporary scholars such as Rose and Abi-Rached (2013) have extended this work to consider how the rise of neuroscience is shaping mental health categories from schizophrenia to depression via new vocabularies and images of the brain. The chapter will argue that the shifting power-knowledge relations of biomedicine continue to map out the epistemological landscape of mental health services in ways that also incite critique and contestation from consumer, survivor, anti-psychiatry and mad movements. The discursive shift to recovery-focused services raises questions about the tensions between empowering and normalising practices in advanced liberal societies. The chapter concludes by considering the scholarly critiques of Foucault’s work in light of emerging post-humanist debates.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health
EditorsBruce Cohen
Place of PublicationLondon, U. K.
ISBN (Print)9781138225473
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Mental Health
  • foucault
  • Sociology of health and illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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