According to the wikipedia entry on his book it represents his turning away from phenomenology to structuralism. What exactly does this mean? How should one understand his book as a demonstration of structuralism? Is it because his analysis is hinged on institutional disciplinary forms?

1 Answer 1


The sentence in the Wikipedia article prior to the one you cited gives a rough idea of how Foucault moves towards to structuralism.

it is an examination of the evolving meaning of madness in European culture, law, politics, philosophy and medicine from the Middle Ages to the end of the eighteenth century, and a critique of historical method and the idea of history.

Foucault has clearly moved away from a phenomenological perspective if he now concerns himself with the meaning of a sign or a fact such as madness, and how that sign is defined by cultural and political agendas, rather than possessing an objective definition. Concurrently Foucault addresses the impossibility of an objective definition for such a term that is not intrinsically biased.

  • Ok, so by demonstrating that the idea of what construed madness evolved over centuries he's showing the lack of an intrinsic objectivity. Does this mean that the phenomenological perspective is closer to objectiveness? Structuralism looks at the structures around the sign, and phenomenology at the sign itself? Jan 9, 2014 at 22:29
  • Just in passing -- for a post-structuralist (i.e., Deleuze/Derrida/etc), phenomena are signs
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jan 10, 2014 at 1:17
  • @amdouglas I disagree, he did solidify what Madness means in the book (I would even say, objectively). Within the first chapter or two he states that madness is a reflection of our own mortality. The term itself might evolve, but the cause and reaction do not. Madness, therefore, speaks more of the people that are not considered mad, by society, than it does of the people that are. May 13, 2016 at 13:32

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