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Psychiatry, Subjectivity, Community

Franco Basaglia and Biopolitics


Alvise Sforza-Tarabochia

Law 180, which abolished mental asylums in Italy, was passed in 1978. It came to be known as the ‘Basaglia Law’, after the physician whose work revolutionised psychiatry in Italy and worldwide. Franco Basaglia (1924-1980) battled to overturn an obsolete but prevalent conception of psychiatry, rooted in the asylum, where allegedly dangerous madmen were incarcerated rather than cured. Following Law 180, the asylum system was indeed dismantled in Italy, to be replaced by community centres. This radical transformation coincided with the emergence of ‘biopolitics’, a direct involvement of political power with the biological lives of the subjects, by means of homogenising disciplines such as the statistical analysis of the population.
Examining both his practice and his theory of psychiatry, this book argues that Franco Basaglia foresaw this change in the paradigm of power, and that it is possible to trace its embryonic conception in his writings. Combining history of ideas, social and cultural history, and philosophical analysis, the book contextualises Basaglia’s works within the intense current debate on biopolitics. In doing so, it shows not only how his theory of the subject and his criticism of psychiatry are still as powerful and relevant now as they were in the 1970s, but also how Basaglia’s philosophy makes an integral contribution to the burgeoning field of contemporary Italian theory.


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This book would not have been possible without many exceptional people, who have helped me, in dif ferent ways, over many years. I owe all that I have done and much more to Wissia Fiorucci who has always been there for me, emotionally and intellectually, stimulating my ideas, clarifying doubts and never letting uncertainty get in the way of creativity. No word suf fices to acknowledge my parents, who have patiently and ceaselessly encouraged me on my life path. No small thanks are due to Marco Piasentier, with whom I engaged in so many heated discussions that at least half of my ideas (if not much more) took shape while talking to him. I would also like to thank Angelos Evangelou, who has kindly helped me in my work on dif ficult sections. I am much indebted to Professor Lorenzo Chiesa for all his support during the years I have worked on this project and also to Dr Francesco Capello. I would also like to thank wholeheartedly Maureen Speller for her impressively accurate proofreading. I express my gratitude to Mario Colucci for his help in this project during its embryonic stages, and also to Giuseppe Dell’Acqua, Giovanna Gallio, Franco Rotelli and, last but certainly not least, Pier Aldo Rovatti. Note on References All cited works have been referenced using Harvard In-Text style. If the work is cited in its original language of publication, the year refers to the actual date of publication of the text consulted. If the citation is...

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