Events Calendar
Nov 18
17:00 - 19:00
Poison in the Archives: Pharmacy, Toxicology and the Law in the July Monarchy
Centre for Modern European Literature Seminar
Dr Larry Duffy

Abstract: Michel Foucault uses archival evidence of the medical profession's increasing involvement – via psychiatry – in criminal justice as a means of accessing the workings of disciplinary power. This paper considers the pharmaceutical profession's parallel imbrication with the law via the rising discipline of toxicology. Its key concern is the extent of pharmacy's involvement in criminal justice via toxicology analogous to medicine's via psychiatry. For Foucault, medical power spreads through the mechanisms of the legal system via aliénisme, a key element of forensic medicine, which builds its authority through involvement in criminal cases where expert opinion is sought. In lectures at the Collège de France, and in Moi, Pierre Rivière…, Foucault uses medical treatises, medical case histories and contemporary press reports of criminal trials, along with other associated documents, to identify the emergence of discursive mechanisms connecting medicine and the law, and of discourse produced by disputes concerning professions' disciplinary remit. This paper's hypothesis is that a contemporaneous, analagous process occurs whereby the rising pharmaceutical profession establishes its authority through toxicology – like psychiatry, a key forensic field. It investigates this hypothesis by analysing a number of archival and other documents: official accounts of criminal trials for poisoning written by Prefects for the ministry of the interior; press reports of the same trials; accounts of these trials provided in medical treatises and in literary narratives (notably, Dumas's Madame Lafarge); pharmacists' collective written reaction to attempts to regulate their profession in response to the plethora of poisoning cases occupying the courts during the July Monarchy. The paper aims to read documents in all these genres for their revelation of intra- and interdisciplinary medico-legal disputes with implications for the future development of the health professions.


Seminar Room 2,
Cornwallis North West,
University of Kent,
United Kingdom


Open to all,

Contact: Dr Ian Cooper


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