Foucault and the Madness of Classifying Our Madness


  • Drew Ninnis The Australian National University



psychiatry, psychology, kind-making, biopolitical episteme, Ian Hacking, DSM-V


This paper notes the re-ignited controversy surrounding the publication of a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), suggesting that the early work of Michel Foucault can explain why the mere diagnosis of or criteria for mental illness remains a heated flashpoint. In particular, it argues that Foucault articulates a common issue within the philosophical foundations of psychiatry and psychology that the paper terms the ‘subjectivity problem.’ It observes, using Foucault’s work, that these disciplines treat not just simple objects but complex subjects that are capable of interacting with that labelling and who are shaped by it. Drawing on the related work of Ian Hacking on kind-making as world-making, the article fleshes out why the subjectivity problem remains persistent within psychiatry and psychology as forms of knowledge, preventing them from operating as many commentators might desire them to – as pure and objective sciences. Finally, the paper reflects on the relationship of psychiatry and psychology as forms of knowledge, the manner in which they constitute their objects, and how this might shape the biopolitical episteme in which we find ourselves today.




How to Cite

Ninnis, D. (2016). Foucault and the Madness of Classifying Our Madness. Foucault Studies, (2110.22439), 117–137.