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Birth of the Clinic, The: An Archaeology of Medical Perception [Paperback]

Michel Foucault
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Book by Foucault, Michel

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Format:Paperback
Foucault has been interpreted in the US as a pretentious standard-bearer of postmodernism - as an almost "evil" figure who threatens to undermine the foundations of Western knowledge with his problematisation of conceptual categories. It doesn't help that his work has been taken up to justify just about any subversive perspective, whether well-conceived or not. This is only a pitifully small perspective on the man and his work. Foucault should be seen first as a historian, not a philosopher; second, his work should be lauded for the contribution it makes to Western knowledge rather than the superficial "threats" it makes to perspectives whose time has come in any event. Every revolution of perception has been accompanied by vociferous resistance, yet a great many of those sounding their disapproval loudly probably don't really understand what the late Michel was really on to.

The Birth of the Clinic, MF's most accessible work, is a well-researched, brilliantly interpreted account of the development of the clinical "gaze" in the wake of modern medical knowledge and practice. Foucault problematises the institution of the clinic, showing how clinical perception is the result of a historically specific constellation of knowledge and power. His ultimately emancipatory analysis is substantiated every step of the way with textual and historical examples. No metaphysics here, just a radical questioning of the nature of knowledge within institutional practice.

So, sorry (Objectivists!) if this is too much to handle. It's good research, plain and simple. Don't dismiss Foucault as a lightweight postmodernist - try to see him where he would situate himself, in the tradition of reflexive historical sociology.
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By Andrew
Format:Paperback
Here is a commentary:
Reviewer: A reader from California May 17, 1998 "Again, Foucault shatters our illusions.This book examines our cultural tendency to elevate the authority of the physician..." This reviwer's summary of the book is incorrect because the work is not a study of power or "authority" (themes which would be important in Foucault's later works). In "The Birth of the Clinic" we see how Foucault MIGHT HAVE made a crticism of clinical medicine as an authoritarian institution, but in fact this is NOT the focus of the book. This book is not the attempt to dispel a "myth", it is a description of the reality of the development of the clinical gaze as a discursive formation distinct from its historical predecessors.
Reviewer: spandex9@aol.com from Barbaraville, Manitoba (Canada) July 21, 1998. "Structures of Perception and Positivism Questioned". This review is much closer to the mark than the first one. In particular, in the second paragraph the reviewer touches on the implications of the development of anatomo-clinical medicine for "the human experience itself". In the conclusion to the book Foucault himself stated that "the experience of individuality in modern culture is linked to the experience of death" and that is one reason why we should be interested in this work.
Reviewer: Dr. W Y Wan from Hong Kong "A book with special insight-- one that you cannot miss. I agree that this book can be of value to physicians who are genuinely interested in human welfare, and it's unfortunate that most physicians never study the humanities during their educations.
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
" The birth of the Clinic " is an attempt by the philosopher and the learned historian to decipher the secret of medical perception. Only when the chaotic and subjective clinical experience is transcended to the objective language, we have the medicine as a scientific subject as today. As a physician myself , I think understanding " clinical gaze " helps me to define the place of modern medicine, of doctors and patients and of medical organisation in this fast changing world.
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In this short book that forms a worthy companion to his classic "Madness and Civilisation," Michel Foucault first traces the history of medical care from the days when people were usually treated at home by their families, to the early nineteenth century, when public health became a political issue. The outcome of this process was the "clinic," which Foucault defines a field of confinement where those labelled ill, the Other, were monitored and treated to further the reciprocally-linked goals of the health of society and the furtherance of medical knowledge.
Foucault's well-documented narrative concerning the evolving socio-political perception of health and medicine, however, pales in erudition and philosophical significance when compared to the primary thrust of the book ; namely, in detailing how the medical profession ordered and analyzed not only disease, but later the human experience itself. Both seeming to have pushed back the finality ! of death through conjoining to it to the experience of life, and isolating disease not as a phenomenon in itself, but like life and death, simply as a discursive manifestation of visible and invisible symptoms, the medical profession acquired for itself the mantle of positivism that is still basically unquestioned by the public even today.
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