Chris Philo – ‘A great space of murmurings’

Chris Philo, “‘A great space of murmurings’: Madness, romance and geography”, Progress in Human Geography, online early (requires subscription).

Prompted by the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Foucault’s famous book commonly known in English as Madness and Civilization, this essay explores how the book has changed between versions, in the process losing what can be cast as both its phenomenological undertones and a ‘romanticism’ about the truths supposedly revealed by madness. Reasons for Foucault’s own disavowal of these elements are considered, and taken together – conjoining a critical biography of the book with attention to Foucault’s reactions to it – this essay fashions a mirror to hold up to certain currents within contemporary human geography. It is argued that the ‘romantic fantasy’ which permeates the original book, if not overwhelming it, has significant echoes in the ‘romantic gesture’ displayed by some present-day geographers. The older Foucault’s distancing from his earlier romanticism is hence instructive for scholars critiquing the recent history of human geography, but there may also be grounds for claiming that it would be mistaken to lose this romanticism, together with its phenomenological correlates, entirely.

This was the Progress in Human Geography lecture at the Royal Geographical Society conference in 2011,

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