By Stijn Vanheule
Originally published June 3, 2014
In his writings on the topic of diagnosis, the French philosopher and physician Georges Canguilhem makes a crucial distinction between pathology and abnormality, thus paving the way for the studies of his student Michel Foucault on the topics of psychiatric power and biopolitics. In Canguilhem’s view, decision making about normality and abnormality is generally based on two factors. One starts from the observation that there is variability in the ways human beings function: individuals present with a variety of behaviours just as their mental life is characterized by a variety of beliefs and experiences, of which some are more prevalent than others. Then, a judgment is made about (ab-)normality; this tends to be based on a norm or standard against which all behaviours are evaluated and considered as deviant or not.
At this level, two possibilities open: a judgement is made based on either psychosocial criteria or statistical norms.
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