The production of the psychiatric subject: power, knowledge and Michel Foucault

Nurs Philos. 2005 Jan;6(1):33-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-769X.2004.00196.x.


The issue of power has become increasingly important within psychiatry, psychotherapy and mental health nursing generally. This paper will suggest that the work of Michel Foucault, the French philosopher and historian, has much to contribute to the discussion about the nature, existence and exercise of power within contemporary mental health care. As well as examining his original and challenging account of power, Foucault's emphasis on the intimate relationship between power and knowledge will be explored within the context of psychiatry and mental health nursing. This is to say that the paper will investigate Foucault's account of how power and knowledge are central to the process by which human beings are 'made subjects' and therefore how 'psychiatric identities' are produced. In doing so, it will be suggested that Foucault's work can not only make a valuable contribution to contemporary discussions about power and knowledge, but can also provide a significant critique and reconceptualization of the theoretical foundations and associated diagnostic and therapeutic practices of psychiatry and mental health nursing.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Existentialism / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Mental Disorders / history*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Philosophy, Nursing / history*
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Psychiatric Nursing / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Michel Foucault