The average and the normal in nineteenth-century French medical discourse

Cryle, Peter (2010) The average and the normal in nineteenth-century French medical discourse. Psychology and Sexuality, 1 3: 214-225. doi:10.1080/19419899.2010.494893

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Author Cryle, Peter
Title The average and the normal in nineteenth-century French medical discourse
Journal name Psychology and Sexuality   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1941-9899
Publication date 2010
Year available 2010
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1080/19419899.2010.494893
Open Access Status
Volume 1
Issue 3
Start page 214
End page 225
Total pages 12
Place of publication Abingdon, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Publisher Taylor and Francis
Collection year 2011
Language eng
Subject 3202 Applied Psychology
3207 Social Psychology
3306 Health (social science)
3318 Gender Studies
Abstract The concept of normal in nineteenth-century medical thought was by no means as straightforward as is often supposed. The notions of 'norm', 'normal' and 'normativity' were not historically stable, and the use of those terms in modern theoretical talk stands to gain in precision by taking account of their troubled genealogy. Many French scientific authors of the nineteenth century put the normal at or near the heart of their epistemology without actually defining it. Quetelet was concerned to define the type through statistics, and then apply it as a norm in the assessment of specific cases of pathology. Broussais took pathologies as his object of study, but used an unexplicated concept of the normal to define their range. Both Comte and Bernard sought to first establish a science of the normal state and then use that as the base of clinical comparison for pathology. In the most general terms, nineteenth-century biology and medicine wanted and needed the 'type'. The type was, after all, the normal vested with the authority of science. However, the type was never quite to hand. This article engages in a deconstructive reading the point of which is to show how fraught and sometimes how vacuous the concept of the normal could be in nineteenth-century French medical thought. It then goes on to discuss Canguilhem's historical epistemology of the normative and refers to Foucault's use of Canguilhem.
Keyword Canguilhem
Historical epistemology
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collection: School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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