Freak show: Modern constructions of Ciceronian Monstra and Foucauldian monstrosity

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Monsters, a mixture of two realms, the animal and the human, have always defined the boundaries of society. Michel Foucault (1974-1975) suggests that monsters are living transgressions, deviations from a preconceived idea of "normal," the kind of irregularity that calls law into question and disables it. Foucault’s theories of monstrosity reach back to Cicero and ancient etymologies, according to which monsters are things or people to be shown or displayed. Building off of Foucault’s notion of the insane as a representation of a monstrosity behind all criminality, this article analyzes qualitative research completed with sex offender parolees. Due to recent legislation, these individuals are forced to live in public with a visual surveillance technology permanently equipped to their body, thus displaying their status as "sex offender." Throughout, we document how, in the modern construction of "monster," technology is now an essential element in the codified relationship of "madness" and society. In conclusion, we suggest that recent legislation does not protect the public from monsters; it actively creates them. To anticipate our conclusions, we document Foucault’s monster-as-spectacle as being alive and well in our current cultural and legal landscapes. © The Author(s) 2014.


Cicero; Etymology; Foucault; Monsters; Monstra; Monstrosity; Sex offenders; Surveillance

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