Canguilhem (Polity 2019) reviewed by David Beer at The Sociological Review

Canguilhem coverMy recent book Canguilhem (Polity, 2019) is reviewed by David Beer at The Sociological Review.

In his new book, his ninth authored volume, Stuart Elden casts his laser vision on the frequently overlooked work of Georges Canguilhem. A keystone in French social theory, Canghuilhem was born in 1904 in Castelnaudary and studied at the École Normale Superérieure. He spent two years in military service between 1927 and 1929 before moving into medical training. The interdisciplinary thinking that would continue through this works, ranging across medicine, history and philosophy were established in these early biographical moments. Various incidents then led to him, a decade or so later, joining the philosophy department at the University of Strasbourg in 1941. The publication of his book The Normal and Pathological followed shortly afterwards in 1943. That particular volume opened up a style and approach that combined the philosophical and the biological (or medical) that he would go on to explore and develop in the years that followed. Indeed, Elden’s book, which captures both the thinkers key ideas and the means of their formation, is rich in its exploration of the distinctive ways that Canguilhem combines history with philosophy in this work. Mostly focusing on lectures and essays, his work probed at the conceptualisation of norms, pathologies, reflexes, medicine, disease, evolution, regulation and the knowledge of life. A far-reaching set of concerns that partly explains his wide but latent influence. Canguilhem explored the transformations, changing conditions and  shifting ideas in these different areas. Following a productive and, Elden notes, reflective period of retirement, Canguilhem continued to write and speak on these issues until his death in 1995. Beyond his own work, it is perhaps his support and written report on Foucault’s thesis on the history of madness that is his most widely known intervention. [continues here]

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