Foucault's Monsters and the Challenge of Law  book cover
1st Edition

Foucault's Monsters and the Challenge of Law

ISBN 9780415430319
Published February 1, 2010 by Routledge-Cavendish
200 Pages

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Book Description

In contrast to other figures generated within social theory for thinking about outsiders, such as Rene Girard’s ‘scapegoat’ and Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘stranger’, Foucault’s Monsters and the Challenge of Law suggests that the figure of ‘the monster’ offers greater analytical precision and explanatory power in relation to understanding the processes whereby outsiders are constituted.

The book draws on Michel Foucault’s theoretical and historical treatment of the category of the monster, in which the monster is regarded as the effect of a double breach: of law and nature. For Foucault, the monster does not simply refer to a particular kind of morphological or psychological irregularity; for the body or psyche in question must also pose a threat to the categorical structure of law. In chronological terms, Foucault moves from a preoccupation with the bestial human in the Middle Ages to a concern over Siamese or conjoined twins in the Renaissance period, and ultimately to a focus on the hermaphrodite in the Classical Age. But, although Foucault’s theoretical framework for understanding the monster is affirmed here, this book's study of an English legal history of the category ‘monster’ challenges some of Foucault’s historical claims.

In addition to considering this legal history, the book also addresses the contemporary relevance of Foucault’s theoretical framework. Structured around Foucault’s archetypes and the category crises they represent – admixed embryos, conjoined twins and transsexuals – the book analyses their challenge to current distinctions between human and animal, male and female, and the idea of the ‘proper’ legal subject as a single embodied mind. These contemporary figures, like the monsters of old, are shown to threaten the rigidity and binary structure of a law that still struggles to accommodate them.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction  Part 1: History/Theory/Monsters  2. Foucault’s Theoretical Framework  3. Foucault’s Monsters as Genealogy: The Abnormal Individual  4. An English Legal History of Monsters  Part 2: Contemporary Monsters  5. Changing Sex: The Problem of Transsexuality  6. Sharing Bodies: The Problem of Conjoined Twins  7. Admixing Embryos: The Problem of Human/Animal Hybrids  8. Conclusions

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Alex Sharpe is Professor of Law at Keele University.


“One of the rites of passage for all legal and socio-legal scholars is to give at least some consideration to the fundamental norms of modern liberal rule … Foucault’s Monsters … [is] an attempt to speak to this rite of passage topic. It is, moreover, a very good attempt. … Sharpe is to be congratulated for her contribution to this longstanding debate. Making a mark in this field is no mean feat”

- Professor Gary Wickham, (2010) 37(4) Journal of Law and Society 691

Foucault's Monsters and the Challenge of Law is a very erudite and impeccably serious book about monsters … it is the first book in English which seriously engages with [Foucault’s] Abnormal lecture course. It is clearly written, well-researched and full of insightful historical and theoretical detail. [An] excellent book”

- Associate Professor Ben Golder, (2011) 74(4) Modern Law Review 639

“Sharpe’s book is a rare gem in this second wave of Foucaultian legal research. … Th[e] book is exceptionally relevant. It works its way through the genealogy of the monster in law only to enter into a very current debate that will be highly illuminating for anyone working in, for example, medical law or bioethics as well as the general history of legal thinking”

- Professor Panu Minkkinen, (2011) 7(3) Law, Culture & the Humanities 488