What is it about?

This study examines Adolphe Quêtelet's conception of deviance. It investigates how he identified social marginalities and what actions he recommended governments to undertake. To get a close understanding of his views, this paper examines three cases of “monstrosities,” namely mental alienation, drunkenness, and criminality. My main thesis is that Quêtelet provided scientific authority to a conception of deviance as sickness, immorality, and cost thus encouraging legislators to use statistics for containing social marginalities. The case of alienation shows that Quêtelet viewed insanity as a pathology of civilization to be understood through phrenology. The case of drunkenness demonstrates how Quêtelet conflated the notion of statistical mean with moral decency. The case of criminality illustrates Quêtelet's major concern with the cost of criminals for the state.

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Why is it important?

While advocating for the perfectibility of mankind, Quêtelet urged governments to take actions against what he considered the monstrosities of society.

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How did normality become a scientific problem?

Filippo Maria Sposini
University of Toronto

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This page is a summary of: At the borders of the average man: Adolphe Quêtelet on mental, moral, and criminal monstrosities, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, December 2019, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.22019.
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