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The French human sciences and the crafting of modern subjectivity, 1794–1816

Laurens Schlicht opens the volume at the moment of the French Revolution, which inculcated a profound sense of moral and political shock within its citizens. Writers within medicine, politics, and the developing human sciences maintained that it had been necessary to inflict this kind of shock in order to dismantle the rigid structures of society and make way for a radically new regime. Sustained metaphors of the medicalised human body, the social body, and the body politic commingled in the critical questions that were raised about the relationship between individuals and their wider social collective, and about the ways in which the passions might be either stirred into action or carefully regulated by external influences. Manifestations of this conscious interaction between medical and political spheres included the emergent psychiatric practice of intentionally shocking patients as a form of therapy, and the evolving instruction of deaf-mute pupils, as schools and asylums provided experimental spaces for controlling and adjusting the passions. In addition to an overt politicisation of the body and its responses to shock and strain, these discussions carried sustained analyses of the medicalised human body, and informed an evolving scientific practice directed towards an essentialised sphere of individuality.

in Progress and pathology