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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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Chapter 2 The Subject and the Body


Introduction Having contextualised Basaglia’s work in Chapter 1, in this chapter I focus especially on those of his writings that show a clear inf luence of phenomenological psychiatry and existentialism, with the aim of pre- senting Basaglia’s notion of subjectivity. From Basaglia’s writings it can be understood that he envisions the subject, the individual and ultimately the person as intrinsically, always-already situated in a world and in a con- stitutional and constitutive relationship with all other people, with ‘the other’.1 In brief, Basaglia establishes a logical and ontological primacy of intersubjectivity over subjectivity: there is no subject outside of a world. The privileged pole around which this constitutional relationship is established is the body, which makes one aware of ‘being oneself ’, and of the presence of the other, by projecting one into the world. Through the body one can 1 It is important to note that throughout the following sections I will use the terms ‘individual’ and ‘subject’ almost interchangeably, in accordance with Basaglia’s use. I will leave an analysis of the distinction between individuality and subjectivity in Basaglia’s often undistinguishable use of the terms to the final chapter of this book. Furthermore, Basaglia often resorts to terms such as sé (self ) and io (I and ego). It is critical to note that, for the time being, these two terms are used neither with a Foucauldian connotation nor with a psychoanalytical one (i.e. the self is not regarded as the product of self-disciplining techniques and the ego is not...

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