The Birth of the Clinic by Michel Foucault

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Initially, in order to provide a stable framework on this study, we would try to clearly define, identify and learn both the visible and literary meaning on the work of Michel Foucault’s work, The Birth of the Clinic. We will intend to scrutinize each of the underlying detail of this literary masterpiece and retrieve its modern influences in the field of medical and health studies. In the modern era of rational thinking and ideas, the concept of which Michel Foucault is trying to convey in his literary work, The Birth of the Clinic is the postmodern influence of medical attribute to the social and political structure of our society.

The concept of which Foucault considers as a myth of which he notes: “… the first task of the doctor is … political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government. ” Man will be totally and definitively cured only if he is first liberated… p. 33. ” Foucault nevertheless contradicted these myths stating that: “All of this is so much day-dreaming; the dream of a festive city, inhabited by an open-air mankind, in which youth would be naked and age know no winter,… –all these values were soon to fade. ” (p. 34)

He recounts contradictory to the notion that a medical practitioner was such a noteworthy sage that he could lead the community to a utopia. This myth was consequently brought about by the beliefs of the early medical institution of the Eighteenth Century of which with the remarkable character of a doctor, synonymous or most of the time completely the opposite to the structure of our social and political system, that he can detect any illness by means of a gaze. In the middle part of this study, we will define the underlying statement of Foucault referring to his contradictions and opinions regarding this mythical belief of the practice.

He uses the term gaze more often in his work as a term commonly identifying the credibility of a doctor to see through the illness and disease of a patient by simply gazing to a patient by what is seen visible and noticeable in order to make a finding or a diagnosis. (The term gaze would be defined in broad in the latter portion of this study. ) Although, the postmodern viewpoint of Foucault is somewhat contradicted by other literary figures. Many disagree that the ideas of Foucault is postmodern. Lyotard (1993) defines postmodernism as:

“an incredulity towards metanarratives… it is a skepticism towards all grand theories that think they have the last word”. In this book, the question still lies as to whether the ideas of Foucault contradicts or jives with the beliefs of the modern era or simply complementing the beliefs and notions of the age of Enlightenment in the late Seventeenth to the early Eighteenth Century. Foucault suggests and advocates that ancient doctors are wise in their former nature. In the Age of Enlightenment, it rejected the superstitious beliefs of medieval times finally awakened

from its dim fallacy and embraced the knowledge of the modern thinking. In one of the editorial reviews on this book Birth of the Clinic, The : An Archaeology of Medical Perception states that : “In the early eighteenth century, medicine underwent a mutation. For the first time, medical knowledge took on a precision that had formerly belonged only to mathematics. The body became something that could be mapped. Disease became subject to new rules of classification. And doctors begin to describe phenomena that for centuries had remained below the threshold of the visible and expressible”

This review informatively suggests that the change on the beliefs of old practices from the Medieval period to the Age of Enlightenment describes the will full acceptance that doctors accumulated modern wisdom eliminating old practices and superstitious perspective of which Foucault clearly expounds and define in theory that ancient doctors possesses such wisdom. The change was undoubtedly reveals the underlying theory of Foucault’s defining the early to the postmodern Birth of the Clinic. The modernity of the practice and beliefs was in existent and the theory of Foucault is somewhat justified.

But how was it accepted? “The postmodern complaint is that although the moderns threw off the yoke of medieval superstitions, they developed their own myths, and the moderns bought these new myths with little critical questioning. (Lois Shawyer 1998)” The Author relates that, one of those myths had to do with the wisdom of doctors. According to the myths of modernity, doctors were prudent. They could spot precedent disturbance into the certainty of things. We could relate to them our tribulations and their wisdom would lead us to a better life.

Doctors attributed as the carrier of wisdom breaking boundaries of our culture thus imploring the relationship between a good life and good health. In the Classical Period, the diseased body itself became the central point of medical gaze, here we see a momentous shift in medicine. As stated by Foucault as he relates: “How can the free gaze that medicine, and, through it, the government, must turn upon the citizens be equipped and competent without being embroiled in the esotericism of knowledge and the rigidity of social privilege? ” p. 45

In this work of Foucault, he used the term gaze as a technical term, wherein the word exemplifies the observation, findings and clinical analysis of a doctor. As Lois Shawwer explains in her commentary on the works of Foucault, as: “The people of modernity thought that with this gaze the physican could penetrate illusion and see through to the underlying reality, that the physician had the power to see the hidden truth. ” Through the rigid exposure of these medical practitioners to their patients through internship and practicing apprentices they have acquire the ability to make conclusions and analysis just by gazing through their patients.

They were subjected to scrutinizing actual patients and learning from actual experiences communicating and conveying knowledge a far cry from being brought about through books when they were still in the quality of esoteric knowledges of the elite. In modernity with the existence of modern technology, this clinical gaze is still in practice with the aid of instruments now brought about by the change of contemporary times. This theory now bounds on the words narrated by Foucault as:

“Medicine had tended, since the eighteenth century, to recount its own history as if the patient’s bedside had always been a place of constant, stable experience, in contrast to theories and systems, which had been in perpetual change and masked beneath their speculation the purity of clinical evidence. The theoretical, it was thought, was the element of perpetual change, the starting point of all the historical variations in medical knowlege, the locus of conflicts and disappearances; it was in this theoretical element that medical knowledge marked its fragile relativity.

The clinic, on the other hand, was thought to be the element of its positive accumulation: it was this constant gaze upon the patient, this age-old, yet ever renewed attention that enabled medicine not to disappear entirely with each new speculation, but to preserve itself, to assume little / by little the figure of a truth that is definitve, if not completed, in short, to develop, below the level of the noisy episodes of its history, in a continuous historicity.

In the non-variable of the clinic, medicine, it was thought had bound truth and time together. (p. 54/55)” This theory now explains the constant views of change in this field wherein it speaks of contrasting theories and practices in medicine both in and from the bedside of a patient through Foucaults notion on the Birth of the Clinic. In seeking new and modern knowledge of the practice through the variety of observation of different practitioners. As Foucaults expounds:

The observing gaze refrains from intervening: it is silent and gestureless. Observation leaves things as they are; there is nothing hidden to it in what is given. The correlative of observation is never the invisible, but always the immediately visible, once one has removed the obstacles erected to reason by theories and to the senses by the imagination. In the clinician’s catalogue, the purity of the gaze is bound up with a certain silence that enables him to listen.

The prolix discourses of systems must be interrupted: ‘all theory is always silent or vanishes at the patient’s bedside. Foucault also relates and identifies gaze both clinical and on pure observation. Wherein such gaze attributes the knowledge and wisdom of the doctor and practitioner on the bedside of the patient where everything he had learned from books are set aside and practical learning is presently conceived. It is assumed that such work by Foucault allows the development of the clinical gaze in the wake of modern mdecical knowledge and practices.

It helps to define the place of modern medicine, of doctors and patients and of medical organization in this fast changing world. With such assessment on the work of Foucault as he explicitly states, is not only about the birth of the clinic, as it is about the birth of ideas and knowledge – how conceptions of good and bad science come to be. In The Birth of the Clinic, we see the discipline of medicine grow and change into a science, and within this backdrop we see medicine tied together with sciences such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and biology.

Taking its place with the institutions in society brings medicine into a place that associates it with other political and social institutions. (Customer review 2002-08-01) It is through this theories and understanding of Foucault that modern knowledge in the field of medicine is co- related with the modern social and political composition of our society. It is widely noted that this work of Foucault has influenced in one way or the other, modern practices on different fields of studies in modern times.

Health Information As Influenced by Birth of the Clinic In the present health care context, different institutions in health and medical services are surpassing the age modernity giving their public and patients an edge over previous and latter day individuals from previous era wherein this information and services were not available mainly because of undeveloped technology, scarcity in tools for information, the inexistent of communication and the ill doing of the governing body of an institution or a country.

In the framework of Foucault in his literary work The Birth of the Clinic, Foucault traces the transformation of examining changes in medical theories and practices as well as in political, institutional and social contexts during the period of this work, which dates back between 1769 and 1825. It is through this work that this study would be based. The constant change of times has brought about new means of disseminating health information and services through different means. Information technology has influenced all fields of studies and works in relaying information and services.

That health institution now relies actively in disseminating information to broaden the willful knowledge of their public. In an issue from the Harvard School Of Public Health, it clearly stated the idea of usefully transmitting health information and their viewpoint as: “A key challenge facing health professionals is to mobilize the power of mass communication to empower individuals to adopt healthy behaviors, to direct policy makers’ attention to important health issues, and to frame those issues for public debate and resolution.

To address this challenge, the Center for Health Communication has helped pioneer the field of mass communication and public health by researching and analyzing the contributions of mass communication to behavior change and policy, by preparing future health leaders to utilize communication strategies, and by strengthening communication between journalists and health professionals. “

As such predicament was the correlation of institution and medical practitioners in the study of Foucault that postmodern learning brought about by constant change through information of wisdom and knowledge from both social and political structure of our society. The social impact of this information has benefited much of those who are direly in need of these services. It has changed the outlook of different individuals in terms of healthcare and medical practices.

The social responsibilities of both health institutions and the government have gone at ease with the new technological climate of bringing information to the public through journals, mass media and the Internet. Non-government and independent institutions have made it a primary concern to specifically include policies concerning health information campaign. In the mission statement of NO HARM, states that: “… transform the health care industry worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment”

This assertion assures its public that health care would be distributed worldwide and that movement would be parallel with concern to both the safety of the public health and the environment. Health care and medical have been in constant transformation in the context of the works of Foucault, Birth of the Clinic. It has influenced institution to study important issues in reference to the relationship of the doctor and the patient. On how a doctor or a medical practitioner examines and assert clinical gaze over his patient.

Information on the health care context have been very well thought to students of the medical field. In the point of view of Wikipedia Encyclopedia states five things that a student must understand in the study of Foucault’s work in the context of health care as : (i) That all human cultures, institutions and practices were invented at some point in history. A knowledge (even rudimentary) of the history of these matters allows one to see that existing medical knowledge, healthcare practices and institutions are not fixed in stone – even if changes can’t necessarily be made overnight.

(ii) No element in the system is insignificant in producing change. Everybody participates to some degree in either the continuation or modification of existing power relations. The smallest changes can eventually lead to significant improvements in the way things are done, as long as one remains aware that each solution brings new problems. (iii) Medical knowledge is only partial, not absolutely true. There are complex relations between medical knowledge and institutions of power, which does not mean to say that health care or medical knowledge are not scientifically valid.

(iv) Contemporary Western society functions primarily according to a medical rather than a legal model – that is, people’s existence and actions are defined in relation to the medical concepts of the ‘normal’ or the ‘healthy’ rather than in relation to whether or not they obey the law. Even failure to adhere to the law can mean in this setting, that one can be regarded as in some sense ‘sick’ or ‘abnormal’. (v) One of the principal objectives of the modern state is the health of its population.

A healthy population is a productive population. Health replaces salvation in the modern state. It is important to note that the principle of the literary work of Michael Foucault have influenced health care and the construction of social awareness on medical knowledge one way or the other. In parting a notable question have been asked regarding such influence of Foucault and his work Birth of the Clinic in Wikipedia as: “Would modern health care be any different if Foucault had become a plumber, not a philosopher?

It probably would, but there are also many other thinkers and influences at work here. He has helped a lot of health workers to understand that things have not always been the way they are now and need not stay the same and they have worked to improve conditions. In the psychiatric domain Foucault has helped to modify perceptions of how madness should be treated at an institutional level. “

Bibliography :

  • Shawver, L. (1998). Notes on reading the Birth of the Clinic. Retrieved 10/03/05 from the World Wide Web: http://www.california. com/~rathbone/foucbc. htm
  • SHU, United Kingdom (2005), Birth of the Clinic,commentary(2000) Retrieved 10/02/05 from World Wide Web: http://www. shu. ac. uk/schools/hcs/learning/soct/bofc1. htm
  • Editorial Reviews for Birth of the Clinic, The : An Archaeology of Medical Perception (2004) Retrieved 10/02/05 from World Wide Web: www. amazon. com
  • Who was Foucault (2000), Retrieved 10/02/05 from World Wide Web: http://dspace. dial. pipex. com/town/drive/pm17/theory/soct/bofc2. htm
  • WHO WAS Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia (2005), Michael Foucault (2005) Retrieved 10/3/05 from World Wide Web: http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
  • Foucault Information(-), Biography of Michael Foucault(2000) Retrieved 10/03/05:from World Wide Web: http://foucault. info/foucault/biography. html
  • McMaster Univ. Health Science Library(2005) Retrieved 10/03/05 from World Wide Web: http://www-hsl. mcmaster. ca/tomflem/top. html
  • HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH CENTER FOR HEALTH COMMUNICATION (2005) Retrieved 10/03/05 from World Wide Web: http://www. hsph. harvard. edu/chc/

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