Foucault’s ‘About the Concept of the Dangerous Individual’ lecture in Toronto in 1977 – three minor questions

Dangerous IndividualIn 1977 Foucault gave a lecture in Toronto entitled ‘About the Concept of the ‘Dangerous Individual’ in 19th Century Legal Psychiatry’. It was published first in English in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol 1 No 1, pp, 1-18.

It was reprinted in Politics, Philosophy, Culture and again in Essential Works Vol III. The French version in Dits et écrits may be a translation or the original – it isn’t clear. Most texts in that book that originally appeared in languages other than French are re-translations, but no translator is listed for this one. The text in French can also be found here. We know there was an original text in French, not just because translators are credited for the English version, but because there is a note to say that it was previously translated for Foucault to use at the event. So, is the version in Dits et écrits the original French, or a re-translation with an uncredited translator?

The note in Politics, Philosophy, Culture says it was given to the “Law and Psychiatry Symposium at York University, Toronto”. The note in Dits et écrits says that it was a contribution to a Toronto symposium on ‘Law and Psychiatry’ at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, 24-26 October 1977. There is no note in Essential Works beyond the reference to the journal (with the name slightly incorrect).

The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry appears not to be linked to York University, but to the University of Toronto. There is a useful discussion of the Institute here. But the two translators of the English version, Alain Baudot and Jane Couchman, were both based at Glendon College, York University. So, was it at the Clark Institute or York University, or a joint event?

Daniel Defert’s “Chronology” says the same as the note in Dits et écrits, but adds that the lecture was a “summary of his 1976 seminar at the Collège de France” (p. 52/65). Foucault’s summaries of his Collège de France courses usually contain a brief note on the seminar that accompanied the lectures. But the one in «Il faut défendre la société»/‘Society Must Be Defended’ inexplicably doesn’t contain this, despite Foucault writing it for the Collège’s Annuaire. The relevant passage can be found in the compilation of the courses in Resumé des cours (p. 94); in Dits et écrits (Vol III, p. 130) and Essential Works (Vol I, p. 64)It reads:

This year’s seminar was devoted to the study of the category of the ‘dangerous individual’ in criminal psychiatry. The notions connected to the theme of ‘social defence’ were compared to notions connected to the new theories of civil responsibility, as they appeared at the end of the end of the nineteenth century.

Any ideas as to why the seminar paragraph was omitted from «Il faut défendre la société»? I can think of two reasons – either by mistake, or because the volume was the lecture course (and not seminar protocols). The subsequent lecture courses have not made that distinction however. (It would then follow that because ‘Society Must Be Defended’ was a translation of «Il faut défendre la société» it too didn’t include it.)

The text itself is interesting because, aside from the content itself, it is one of the insights we have of what went on in Foucault’s seminars. Other indications would include the I, Pierre Rivière collection; some of the other collaborative volumes such as Les machines à guérir; the posthumous collection The Foucault Effect; and Foucault’s use of cases discovered for the seminar by Jean-Pierre Peter in The Abnormals (which I discuss here).

This entry was posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Michel Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Foucault’s ‘About the Concept of the Dangerous Individual’ lecture in Toronto in 1977 – three minor questions

  1. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade – seventh update | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: “About the Concept of the ‘Dangerous Individual’ in Legal Psychiatry of the 19th Century” – details of variant English and French texts | Progressive Geographies

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