Thursday, December 20, 2007

Final Reflection

Final Written Reflection

Instructions: You have two hours to complete this reflection. I suggest that you spend a few minutes thinking about which questions to answer, about an hour writing your responses, and another half an hour revising and editing your responses. As we discussed, this is a closed-book reflection, so I don’t expect to see citations or page numbers. You can, if you want, refer to the syllabus to copy article titles.

Please answer one major question (50% of the final grade) and two minor questions (25% each, or 50% of the final grade).

When you are done, please save your file and give it the following name:
Mine, for example, would be TomFR.doc. Please also be sure to write your name inside the document itself. Attach the document to an e-mail and return it no later than 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 20, 2007. You can take any two hours from the time you receive these instructions until you complete your writing; you are not required to write between the hours of 1 and 3.

Best wishes,

Major Questions (answer one)

1. We read extensively from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Choose any aspect of that book that struck you as particularly relevant, and explain that relevance. What is it about the concepts he describes that seem particularly useful or interesting? How have you seen his ideas at work in your own life? Be sure to use Foucault’s terms.

2. In his texts, Barthes provides some theories of how a viewer understands images. Choose a digital image from your own collection, or find an image on the Internet, and analyze it using Barthes’ terms. Make sure to include a copy of the image in your response.

3. Early in the semester, we read Stuart Hall’s and Richard Johnson’s definitions of cultural studies, and spent a lot of time talking about culturalist and structuralist models of cultural studies. What is your understanding of these models, and in what camp(s) do you place yourself as a student of cultural studies? Be sure to provide examples.

Minor Questions (answer 2)

1. At the beginning of the semester, you were asked to bring in a cultural artifact and discuss its significance. If you were asked to do the same thing now, what would you do differently? Would you bring in the same object? Why or why not? Now that you have completed this course, how would you analyze the object? What might that analysis reveal?

2 and 3.
Choose any article or chapter that we have read this semester (and that you have not discussed in response to the major question, above) and describe it in as much detail as you can. After you describe the article, tell me what you find particularly useful, interesting or illuminating about it. You can answer this question twice, describing two different articles, in order to satisfy the requirement that you answer two questions from this category.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Abstract of "Panopticism," pages 200-209

Foucault lauds the Panopticon as "a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come"(209). He calls it a "perfect disciplinary institution" that will "strengthen the social forces--to increase production, to develop the economy, spread education, raise the level of public morality; to increase and multipy"(208).

Some of the reasons why the Panopticon "perfects the exercise of power"(206):
1. "It can reduce the number of those who exercise [power]" (206).
2. It can "increase the number of those on whom [power] is exercised"(206).
2. "The constant pressure acts even before the mistakes and crimes have been committed"(206).
3. "It assures its efficacity by its preventative character, its continuous functioning and its automatic mechanisms"(206).
4. "The disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible 'to the great tribunal committee of the world'"(207).

The theory behind the Panopticon as the perfect disciplinary design is that "he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection"(202-3). In other words, "it gives 'power of mind over mind'"(206).

We skirted around this issue in class on Tuesday. Diane brought up the example of her faculty member colleague who treats TA's and staffers in ways that she would never dream of with a boss or administrator. Tom mentioned the surly checkers at Boise Co-op. I think that all mature, productive members of society have an internal disciplinary mechanism that self-regulates behavior. We decide what it is we want out of life, what our goals are, and we (try to) discipline ourselves in ways that will help us achieve those goals, be it friendship, work promotions, academic success, athletic accomplishment, etc. We don't discipline ourselves to "behave" if we don't believe our misbehavior will interfere with our goals. For example, if my main goal in life is to avoid contention, I am not going to stand up for myself when I have been wronged. If my goal is to do whatever it takes to get a job promotion, I am going to devote long hours to my work, neglecting other human relationships.

What we call disciplinary mechanisms in our society today are really nothing more than inducements to encourage the individual to perform the actual job of disciplining and self-regulation. That is the theory behind the Panopticon and it is effective because it doesn't require corporal punishment, deprivation, or anything else besides the constant threat of surveillance to encourage one to exercise discipline upon one's own behavior.

However, there are several things that confuse me about the concept of the Panopticon:
1. Foucault says that this model can be applied to "barracks, schools, and workshops"(209). He also mentions its use in hospitals. I don't understand if he is simply referring to the idea of constant surveillance? Or does he actually advocate this architectural design for classrooms and workplaces--each person holed up in a cell with a distant and inaccessible supervisor in a central tower?
2. Foucault talks repeatedly of the ability the public would have to come in and observe human behavior within the Panopticon. So anybody could have access to the central tower? What is the purpose of that and wouldn't it disrupt the normal operation of the Panopticon if untrained "supervisors" were occupying the tower instead of official surveillance officers?
3. He also says that it "enables everyone to come and observe any of the observers"(207). Any ideas what he means by that?

Finally, it seems really idealistic to me that the Panopticon will make it "not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of regulations [...]no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks; all that [is] needed [is] that the seperations should be clear and the openings well arranged"(202). I discussed in class how the physical arrangement of the Panopticon makes it physically impossible for the supervisor to immediately discipline a wrongdoer. And of course, the supervisor is vastly outnumbered and even though he is at a vantage point to see all, that doesn't mean that he actually does see all. I would be interested in actual evidence of this theory working as anticipated in any of the aforementioned settings.

Foucault: Panopticism

Abstract of Foucault's "Panopticism"

by Mike Peterson


In this chapter, Foucault illustrates the shift in the Middle Ages between how people dealt with lepers (mass confinement) to how they dealt with the plague (confinement in segmented, observable spaces), and then he draws a parallel between the shift in confinement methods in prisons to the rise of modern disciplinary institutions, such as prisons, schools, and hospitals.

Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which is an architectural embodiment of the abstract concept of the Panopticon, based on Bentham’s belief that power should be visible yet unverifiable. This unverifiable surveillance, both in Bentham’s structure and in the abstract idea, is an efficient, economic and exercisable power that makes discipline possible.

Foucault discusses how the panoptic discipline mechanism evolved during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through the functional inversion of the mechanisms, the swarming of disciplinary mechanisms, and the state control of disciplinary mechanisms. He ends by sketching the role of the panoptic mechanism in societal contexts: economic processes, juridico-political processes, and scientific processes.


There were two words that kept popping into my head as I read this chapter: Bureaucracy, and Lost.

First, Bureaucracy. On page 207, Foucault says that the “panoptic machine” is under no risk of degenerating into tyranny and that it will be democratically controlled. I struggled at first with this claim. I couldn’t help but think of movies like Cool Hand Luke and Cuckoo’s Nest, and I wondered how Foucault of all people could be so idealistic as to claim the panoptic machine could never degenerate into tyranny. But as I thought of it, I realized that tyranny and abuse of power are two different things. Here, Foucault is talking about tyranny as despotism, dictatorship, or monarchy: where one person has the power—and as we read on the next page, panoptic discipline doesn’t exist in the spectacle of regal power, but in the realm of exercisable, reciprocal power found in the “relations of discipline” (208).

Like our modern bureaucracy, there are checks and balances, there is public accountability, and there is a web of reciprocal power that prevents any one person from becoming a tyrant. At the Sheriff’s office, for example, if we want to change a policy on, say, the use of tazers, there is a gamut of bigwigs (and little wigs) who have to give the OK: the city council, the commissioners, the Sheriff, the captains, the EMS supervisor, the ombudsman, etc. etc. etc.

In Bentham’s panoptic structure, the person in the tower isn’t judge, jury and executioner: he is just one part on a bigger machine. His role, in this case, is that of observer, and while he might express a great deal of power or control over his subjects, his power isn’t ultimate. As we read in previous chapters, we know that Foucault believes power isn’t a static “thing” that a person can possess—it is in a constant state of flux: it is reciprocal, and it is always shifting. Power is exercised, not possessed. The tower worker, like the Sheriff or council-member, is only one of many cogs in this machine that exercises what power they can, but it is a constant game of give and take.

Similarly, in our discussion on Tuesday we talked about how everyone is supervised. Everyone. Even the guy in the tower. It made me think of my Dad’s situation. He is the CEO of a company that supplies doctors to St. Al’s. He is the doctors’ boss: he writes their contracts; he signs their paychecks; and so on. At the same time, those doctors are his boss: they write his contract; they (collectively, not individually) are the ones who can give him a raise or fire him. So there’s a weird, reciprocating exercise of power (and surveillance) between all of them.

On to Lost. I’ll admit I’ve watched a lot of Lost even though it’s the lamest show on TV. It’s like a very long, very bad joke, but I’m dying to hear the punch line even if it’s going to disappoint me. But what has become apparent over these last couple of poorly-written seasons is this sense of being watched, the idea of constant visible but unverifiable surveillance, as the plane-wreck people always feel the pressure of being observed by the “others.” They discover underground laboratories, barracks, etc. all over the island equipped with cameras, logs and journals. And then there is the question of “who is watching who?”

I Googled “Panopticon” and “Lost” and found that I’m not the only one who noticed this: apparently there is a whole online fan community who share there theories about what is going on in Lost, and a lot of them subscribe to the idea of the Dharma initiative being a government-run Panopticon. One fan points out an episode where there’s an obituary or tombstone (or something—he was a bit vague about it) that said “Je …ntham” on it, which he says is proof that the show is based on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

Here's more hard evidence from another fan:

I don’t know that Lost really has any bearing on Foucault’s argument, but I keep a journal of movies and TV shows that I think would be good for teaching a principle (such as clips from Almost Famous or Capote in my ethics-of-representation discussions), and I think some clips from Lost would be a good way of illustrating the Panopticon, both as a physical embodiment (a network of surveillance cameras), and as an abstract concept (the feeling of always being watched and how it effects their behavior, even before they know about any cameras).

Another one...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment. Part 3, Chapter 3, Pages 199-207.

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment. Part 3, Chapter 3, Pages 199-207.
By Bridgett VanDerwalker
Description of Section:
Foucault in this section discusses the two types of controls needed to operate the Panopticon, which are branding and coercive assignment and differential distribution. The Panopticon, provides both separation of the individuals and discipline from the observation tower but more importantly from within the cell that of the individual monitoring themselves. The Panopticon, is seen as a solution to the dark, hidden, and openness of a dungeon to the fully lighted, enclosed, and visible cell of the Panopticon. Foucault goes on to describe the benefits and effects of such an apparatus upon society as a whole in the many different institutions that employ it. Foucault points out that the Panopticon is a machine, an exercise in power, adaptable, and can be a laboratory.
Key Terms:
Differential Distribution
Analytical Arrangement of Space
Laboratory of Power
Comments and Questions:
Foucault starts his argument by saying that "all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode: that of binary division and branding…and that of coercive assignment of differential distribution…" (199). These two modes of control can be seen in the operation of the Panopticon. Foucault then describes the architectural features of Bentham's Panopticon and the features that make it different from the old dungeon model. The features of the Panopticon enclose the individual, exposes the individual to surveillance by shining light upon them, however, one could make the argument that such a system isn't the best for the individual because they are not allowed a moments rest and it affects the mind over the body which is a much more complex entity. Foucault states that "Visibility is a trap" (200). Indeed, visibility is a trap, in that it expresses the individual's true condition while at the same time the supervisor is invisible which guarantees order in the individual. The individual is always under scrutiny and is never allowed privacy or self decency. This situation results in the individual being the bearer of power, the power to behave, and to summit to the will of the system. The threat of observation is stronger than the individual's will to do wrong in most cases. But as Foucault goes on to demonstrate later in the chapter; this situation applies to many different institutions and manifests itself in different ways.
Foucault summarizes that "The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put to it, produces homogeneous effects of power" (202). Foucault is very skillful in presenting an argument in such a way that the reader is left wondering where he stands on the issues he presents. Does he think the previous assessment of the Panoptican a useful and beneficial instrument or an instrument that destroys society's' freedom? Going back to the previous quote that despite the application it individualizes and classifies according to gaps, skills, crimes, or illness. It is this breakdown that allows the observer to survey more efficiently time wise and effort wise. The Panopticon in the above ways can act as a laboratory that acts as a machine that "carries out experiments, to alter behavior, to train or correct individuals" (203). Thus the Panopticon not only acts as a vehicle to carry out tasks but also as a disciplinary apparatus.
Foucault makes the distinction that the measure to contain a plague functions along similar lines of the operation of the Panopticon, the application is different, however, the separation and isolation of a population during a plague is vital in order to keep control over the disease in order to save lives and avoid death. Foucault says: "The Panopticon, on the other hand, must be understood as a generalizable modal of functioning: a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life of men" (205). The situation of the plague is to save lives while the Panoptican functions to shape lives and demonstrate power. Foucault states that "the Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious case" (205). Foucault says it is widely adaptable and permeates society in so many different ways that it is unavoidable to be subject to its power. He says the Panopticon "is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form" (205). I think Foucault is saying that while constricts the individual it was and is a necessary evil to increase efficiency and ensure order in an ever increasing population. My question is what does Foucault mean when he says that the Panopticon "is a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use" (205). How is the Panopticon a figure of "political technology?"
Foucault describes the many applications that the Panopticon functions to achieve such as to instruct, reform, treat, confine, supervise, and to ensure efficacy. He goes on to say, "It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons" (205). This quote best describes this entire section in it describes how it functions and where it can be used.
Foucault says the Panopticon is an "exercise of power" in that it perfects itself in several ways. It reduces the amount of observers needed, it increases the number of individuals subjected to its power, and reduces space. The strength of the system is that it never intervenes onto the individual's acts as they act as their own supervisor. The system runs smoothly and without noise. By its very physical design "it acts directly on individuals; it gives 'power of mind over mind"'(206). The design insures economy, provides a preventive measure, and functions automatically. The Panopticon is adaptable to any situation and it is this adaptability and reliability that has allowed it to spread to many different institutions over the last two centuries.
Foucault says, "The panoptic mechanism is not simply a hinge, a point of exchange between a mechanism of power and a function; it is a way of making power relations function in a function, and making a function function through these power relations" (207). Basically, the Panopticon could be seen as a world view where the individual is separated and individualized, observed, molded to be efficient by the very structure's design and a place where even the observer can be observed. The power is contained within the tower and with each individual cell and thus the control is self sustaining.

Foucault pg 195-200

Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Chapter three, “Panopticism” pg 195-200


Michel Foucault begins his third chapter entitled “Panopticism” with a description on what happens when the plague comes. He writes what first happens is “a strict spatial partitioning” (195). Everyone in the city is put in a space. This is done to ensure that everyone can be seen and accounted for. In order to contain and treat the plague everyone must be “caged.” Foucault explains, “This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised…– all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism” (197). This is necessary, Foucault explains, in order to both control the plague and to control the evil in people that the plague might bring out.

Foucault next compares a leper to the plague. He uses these two examples not only as literal points of distinction, but also as two different methods of being in society. Lepers represent “rituals of exclusion” and the plague “gave rise to disciplinary projects” (198), or, in other words, “The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations” (198). While two separate diseases mostly operating in different times, they represent two different ways to deal with society.

Foucault makes clear that while the leper and the plague are certainly two different things, they are not necessarily totally separate. The ideas that were present during the treatment of leprosy are still present with the means of treating the plague or other unwanted societal distractions. For example, we place unwanted people in the society (madmen, criminals) in segmented places (the panoptic building). Foucault believes that this is not something that was practiced just in the high time of leprosy and the plague, but that we continue to do the same thing in modern society. He writes,

The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time, by applying the binary branding and exile of the leper to quite different objects; the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms to which the fear of the plague gave rise. (199)

We currently do the same thing to those who we feel are unwanted and abnormal. Foucault feels this mechanism “to brand him and to alter him, are composed of those two forms from which they distantly derive” (199-200).


I decided to do the beginning of the reading assignment again for two reasons. First, I feel this beginning part is important in order to understand the subsequent parts of the reading assignment. And secondly, I have had some experience with leprosy and so found his discussion of it particularly interesting.

I was again confused with the language he uses while describing the techniques for trying to contain the plague. I know that his work is mostly based on interpretation and not theory. But, it seemed a very negative description, something that to me felt like he was saying was a bad element of society. Yet, this is what was done in order to contain the plague, which was responsible for killing many people. For example, when referring to the people quarantined in their houses he says, “Everyone locked up in his cage” (196). And he says that this method, “lays down for each individual his place, his body, his disease and his death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him” (197). He is of course right, in fact dead on. But I am still confused if he is trying to tell us how it is, or if he is making a judgment. His use of language to me suggests that he is critical of it, but I am just not sure.

I found the section where he talks about leprosy and the plague coming together in figurative terms to describe the way in which we deal with unwanted people today very relevant. For example, people who are deemed insane are both exiled and segmented. I think this is not only true for situations today, it is still true for leprosy today. I studied abroad in Thailand for a year and while there I was able to teach an English class in a leprosy camp. I had previously thought that leprosy was no longer a modern problem, that it was eradicated. However, not only is it still a problem in Thailand, (in fact a rather large one) but it is still being treated in the same way. These people are made to feel they have something wrong with them, some sort of curse, and they are told to live in a colony with other lepers. The Thai government does not force them to go, but they are given no support or treatment if they do not go and once it becomes general knowledge that you have leprosy you are immediately ostracized. It is in fact the ancient equivalent to what Foucault thought would happen in the modern era with more modern problems. He is absolutely right when he explains that the way abnormal people are dealt with today is directly related to how the plague and how leprosy was dealt with in the past.

Foucault: Panopticism

Response by Matt Dewey

In this chapter of Discipline and Punish, Foucault explains and updates Jeremy Bentham’s theory and structure of the panopticon; ‘a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power’(pg. 202). In practice it affects a simple sense or awareness of being observed, of a visibility or transparentness of action that creates, or disciplines, a method of behavior. It is through this ‘affected consciousness’ that we self regulate.

Foucault discusses panopticism that can or is applied to different type of social contexts. He describes it use or potential uses for the schools, hospitals and prisons as he does throughout the book. But these are concrete or enclosed structures, ‘rigorously closed’ (207) is what Foucault calls it, and in a sense, places that we may have very little say whether we become part of or not. Foucault also discussed the panopticism in the economy, in the mass production of goods; this still seems like an architectural, objective ‘place’ that we move in an out of. What about this movement; physical, conceptual and virtual?

Is this the part where I run for cover from the floating ‘all-seeing eye’?

‘Panopticism is the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline’ (pg. 208).

So the panopticon is not a mechanism for the flexing of sovereign or state power but the order of disciplines; it is surveillance for social norms and habits of production, for the disciplines that have been created out of the logic and rationalization of the processes of an, ‘accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital’ (221). But, for instance, I know I can be locked away for certain behaviors and if I didn’t show up to classes I would lose my assistantship (so which one is discipline and which one is panopticism?).

Boise State is a ‘place’ as well, and its panopticism I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as architectural, though individual spaces, such as the setups of class rooms or the placement of offices in some of the buildings, may stretch the definition. So I don’t necessarily feel ‘observed’ in both Bentham and Foucault’s rendering of the panopticon. However certain mechanisms of validity may have this effect:

-are grades a discipline or a panopticism, is there any reason why they are both?
- is Tenure discipline and panopticism as well?
-are evaluations disciplines or the panopticon?

Though grades and tenure are not physical places, they are concrete applications and they are also integrated into the mechanism that is education. So is education the discipline or the panopticon, or does education use the theory of panopticism to reinforce discipline? Is there a difference between education and an educational situation or atmosphere? What does an ‘F’ in a class really mean then; that the student is refusing to be disciplined? Should we look at an ‘F’ so romantically?

So, this string of questions surrounds where Foucault places the panopticon outside the institution…For instance is it the retrievability of information and traffic in the capabilities of the Internet that serve the modern panopticism? I guess this issue with panopticism outside of physical places, or mechanisms of institutions stems from what Foucault says about movement and discipline:

‘ of the primary objects of discipline is to fix; is an anti-nomadic technique’

‘…That is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion; it dissipates compact grouping of individuals wandering about the country in unpredictable ways; it establishes calculated distributions’ (pg. 219).

- Movements of information, people?

Is 'Staticness' outdated? We move quite a bit today; if not from job to job and house to house, town to town, then from interest to interest, webpage to webpage, the new to the now. In our present state of economic relations a ‘global environment’ one must utilize changeability and liquidation, outsource, consolidate and restructure based on market needs- our human relations are not so physically defined as they were twenty years ago. This creates a picture of constant movement. There is as well another modern trend- the ability with Internet technology to fulfill ones basic needs and not even leave the house; work from home, have groceries delivered, download games and movies, and webcam just about everything.

In the first scenario it would seem that discipline could not be static in order to assert the same type of control, or the type of control that constitutes modern control, but because Foucault describes discipline as the result of our need for efficiency and order (and finally, on pg. 222, referring to the ‘Enlightenment’), has discipline created such unfixed fluidity or simply the ability to ‘aim’ such movement in a desired direction? What is fixed- the need for efficiency or the types of disciplines…The panopticon would have to move too. If discipline, ‘dissipates groups of individuals from wondering the about the country in unpredictable ways’, then it must some how make those way predictable and perhaps this is forging of predictability is a process of consolidation, for instance in media and bandwidth ownership today.

I guess we could predict that the need for efficiency could discipline us right into scenario two, to our sofas. This scene of willful and necessary banishment from the literal outside makes it easy to imagine a panoptic presence through the Internet and internet protocols. I can easily see email and the type of ‘presence’ that IM adjusts for digital communication as a type of discipline. The message then leaves a digital footprint that can be traced, if needed, recovered, dated and timed and authenticated. This capability, or the threat of using this capability by those in authority, seems to be a characteristic of the Panopticon. Individualized, enclosed, and under surveillance- this seems like a return to the control of a plague stricken town at the end of the seventeenth century that Foucault begin the chapter with.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Observation and Individualization in Part 3, Chapter 2: The Means of Correct Training

I am interested in exploring Foucault's ideas of observation and individualization as explained on pages 170-177 and 189-194 of the text. I will do this by correlating the concepts with their real-life applications and testing the theories in that way.

The key term in this discussion is "individualization.", which is based on the Random House Unabridged dictionary, defines individualization as: make individual or distinctive; give an individual or distinctive character to. mention, indicate, or consider individually; specify; particularize.
These definitions, to me, are vastly different in terms of practical function. Certainly observation, normative judgements, and evaluation perform the later function of considering people individually in order to specify and particularize. I am not entirely convinced, however, that these forms of discipline give an individual and distinctive character to people. I will explore my opinion of these definitions throughout this abstract.


Foucault writes at the bottom of page 170, "...the techniques which make it possible to see induce effects of power [...] eyes that must see without being seen". This is the theory behind video cameras to guard against shoplifting, cameras at intersections for law enforcement purposes, and even the idea of God as omniscient--all of these forces have a tranquilizing effect on behavior. However, in the work environment I see a different force at play. I believe many work places today are built "to permit an internal, articulated and detailed control --to render visible those who are inside it [...]to provide a hold on their conduct" (172). What is interesting to me is that power relations are set up based not on who can see but who can't be seen. For example, my father's company "Hawkins Real Estate Development Co." recently moved into a new building in BoDo. The office is in the same wharehouse district that house The Big Easy and other establishments. Since there are so few windows, the company decided to build internal walls of glass in order to allow natural light to shine throughout the building from the few windows. So everybody now has offices made of glass, including my dad, who is the CFO, and his coworker, the company president. However, the company owner and his son and two sons-in-law are the only employees who have offices with walls. So a power hierarchy has been set up based on who still has the freedom FROM observation rather than the freedom to observe. The same is true in the high school I student teach at and in the modern language department. Both the principal at MVHS and the MLL director are the only ones on the staff who have offices without hallway windows.

Foucault says that observation serves towards the "progressive objectification and ever more subtle partitioning of individual behavior" (173). This is certainly true for me. For example, I hate to have my office door open in the MLL department because I can't work as effectively, and it is not because of noise disturbance. It is because with my door open, I am constantly conscious of the possibility of being observed, so I sit straighter (and less comfortably!), worry about my apparent level of productivity (in case my boss walks by) and just generally find it difficult to focus and concentrate. The possibility of being observed definitely alters my behavior to an extent.

It is interesting, too, to think of the role of observation in the digital world. Social networking sites such as facebook, myspace, linkedin, and others all have differing levels of privacy controls and methods of observation. I prefer facebook because I have some control over who I am being observed by. It took me months to finally accept friend requests from professional colleagues because allowing them to "observe me" (view my profile) necessarily changed some of my behavior and activity on the site. Diane also seems to be exploring the function of observation or lack thereof in the digital world through the analysis of anonymous discussion boards.

Another interesting quote: "The perfect disciplinary apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly. A central point would be both the source of light illuminating everything, and a locus of convergence for everything that must be known: a perfect eye that nothing would escape and a centre towards which all gazes would be turned" (173). This idea instantly made me think of the Christian concept of God. If one believes this to be a religious construct, it is apparent that the idea of observation as an instrument of control has been around for centuries. If one believes in God as a reality, His omnisience is obviously a strong disciplinary force.

Foucault writes that "examination also introduces individuality into the field of documentation"(189). At first I think he is talking about the second definition of individualization--procedures that specify and particularize. He says examination places people in a field of surveillance that "situates them in a network of writing; it engages them in a whole mass of documents that capture and fix them" (189). This is true of most types of examination--school grades, medical records, income reports and tax statements, criminal records and more. However, Foucault goes on to say that "[Evaluation] was the problem of the teaching establishments, where one had to define the aptitude of each individual, situate his level and his abilities, and indicate the possible use that might be made of them" (189). This is evaluation that truly has an individualizing effect--that makes a person individual or distinctive. The only place this could be said to be happening in education today is possible in Special Ed where students meet with a team of educators and professionals to determine their abilities and needs and create and IEP (Individual Education Plan). Special Ed is inundated with paperwork designed to both categorize and support the individual needs of students. It may be one of the last frontiers of Evaluation as Individualization.

Foucault talks of two correlative possibilities of evaluation, first, "the constitution of the individual as a describable, analysable object, not in order to reduce him to 'specific' features, as did the naturalists in relation to living beings, but in order to maintain him in his individual features, in his particular evolution, in his own aptitudes or abilities, under the gaze of a permanent corpus of knowledge" (190). This I see as the mission of Special Education--to support students in their exceptionalities. The majority of students, however, fall under the second possibility of evaluation: "The constitution of a comparative system that made possible the measurement of overall phenomena, the description of groups, the characterization of collective facts, the calculation of the gaps between individuals, their distribution in a given 'population'"(190). This is the modern system of school evaluation, or grading, as we know it. I don't think this lends towards creating individual and distinctive identities, except for broad categorical identities based on where one fall in the evaluative categorizations. (Ex. an "A" student--a good, conscientious, or smart student). There are correlations in the workplace, in religion, and in our social lives as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment, Part 3, Chapter 2, Section "Normalizing Judgment." Pages 177-184

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment, Part 3, Chapter 2, Section "Normalizing Judgment." Pages 177-184
By Bridgett VanDerwalker
Description of Section:
Foucault continues in this section by discussing how the process of judgment and punishment becomes ingrained in the routine of everyday life. Punishment as a spectacle has now become habitual and practiced not only on the offender but on the whole of the society. Punishment has become an everyday institution that "compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes"(183). Punishment has in itself become a power structure that not only punishes the offender but the observers and those who enforce the punishment also.
Key Terms:
Penal Mechanism
Disciplinary Apparatus
Hierarchzing Penality
Penality of the Norm
Comments and Questions:
Foucault starts off this section with an example of an orphanage that illustrates his idea of how normalizing judgment/punishment has turned into a system that keeps all inline not just the "offender." Foucault says that "At the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism" (177). I think Foucault is saying that every social system surrounding us has a built in "penal mechanism," to keep people in line. Foucault points to the cause as being an overcompensation to fill in the gaps that law does not regulate. Foucault says that such institutions such as schools and the military are "subject to a whole micro-penality of time, of activity, of behavior, of speech, of the body, and of sexuality" (178). Somehow, Foucault seems to chronicle how punishment became an everyday apparatus that no one can function without; as a result of this gradual process punishment ceased to be a spectacle and became a cultural restraint that affects everyone not just the offenders.
Foucault states that a behavior or individual that doesn't follow the prescribed guidelines can be punished. It seems that punishment has shifted its focus from that of the individual to the group. This next quote exemplifies the above statement. "The order that the disciplinary punishments must enforce is of a mixed nature: it is 'artificial' order, explicitly laid down by a law, a programme, a set of regulations. But it is also an order defined by natural and observable processes" (178). It is human nature, or any living thing for that manner, to avoid punishment by watching and learning from those who are punished. We learn from example and modeling. Foucault says, "In a disciplinary regime punishment involves a double juridico-natural reference" (179). I really don't know what Foucault meant by this sentence perhaps that there are the official punishers and the social judgment or punishment carried out by one's peers.
Foucault talks about how displinary punishment reduces gaps and so performs in a corrective manner. Punishment comes in the form of correcting a 'crime' instead of physically punishing the individual. Foucault states that "To punish is to exercise" (180). This made me think of the army or in PE class when one makes a mistake you are punished by doing extra exercise. I know this is taking what Foucault says literally but it applies to other social activities like school and religion as well.
Foucault states that punishment is based on achieving gratification and avoiding punishment. People want rewards and fear punishment but my question is if physical punishment is not a threat anymore than do we have reason to fear it? If the consequences of one's actions have no dire consequences does that really deter one from committing an offence? Also what about radicals that do things against the establishment in order to reform the system who seek punishment to invoke a response, what then? I think Foucault is too simplistic in his assessment and that it is too cut and dry for any complex society. Foucault observes that penalty operates not on the acts themselves but the individual by their value or nature. I agree and it describes a problem in our own society where the individual is paramount rather than the act itself. For example, those who are on death row, if one commits murder he or she is allowed to live years or decades after judgment has been made. This doesn't seem right to me and doesn't act as a deterrent for the rest of the society when a sentence takes so long to be carried out if ever.
Foucault says that a system that rewards and punishes equally creates gaps and separates people. And that "Rank in itself serves as a reward or punishment" (181). If this is true, why bother fixing the system at all? No matter how hard a system tries, people can't or are unwilling to conform in all possible ways. Conformity is a nice idea but doesn't really work as countless countries, schools, businesses, and other organizations have discovered.
Foucault describes five operations that the regime of displinary power allows. It compares the individuals against the group; it separates individuals from one another, "It measures in quantitative terms and hierarchizes in terms of value, the abilities, the level, [and] the 'nature' of individuals" (183), and defines limits and differences that will be tolerated. This doesn't sound like a system I would want to follow; however, we are all participating in similar systems whether voluntarily or not.
This next point seems essential in this section of Foucault. "The perpetual penality that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes" (183). Foucault seems to think that the law system is the only fair or regulated social structure that avoids or at the very least minimizes these effects in a way that is both fair to the individual and the society as a whole. I also think this idea goes back to Foucault's idea of keeping punishment private and not a spectacle in a way that doesn't affect society in such a direct manner.
Foucault states that the "power of the norm" is the new wave of the future, the new law of society. He says this system improves "homogeneity" while at the same time distinguishing the right qualities and harboring them while allowing the individual to evolve. By allowing individuality and encouraging equality within the society the process leads to a better, more efficient and orderly society. I like the idea in theory but it sounds a little too utopian in practice.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A plea to The Means of Correct Training

by Matt Dewey

What I’ve found to really like about reading Foucault is the somewhat availability or presence of accessible summaries of his main points. Not necessarily the paragraphs that start with ‘ In short,’, or ‘Finally’; they sometimes, in my mind, are not even at what we might naturally or compositionally expect to be the ‘end’ of his reasoning. But discussing some of these ‘neatly wrapped’ conceptual resolutions are what I’m hoping to do in this response...

pg. 182

“This hierarchizing penality had, therefore, a double effect: it distributed pupils according to their aptitudes and their conduct, that is, according to the use that could be made of them when they left the school; it exercised over them a constant pressure to conform to the same model, so that they might all be subjected to ‘subordination, docility, attention in studies and exercises, and to the correct
practice of duties and all the parts of discipline’. So that they might all be like one another.”


Pg. 184

“ In a sense, the power of normalization imposes homogeneity; but it individualizes by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialities and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another."

These two quotes have a relationship that I can’t seem to get straight or that maybe one quote is actually the other and Foucault is simply repeating himself as we all seemed to notice and discuss last week. I think what sticks out in my mind in both of these quotes is the inherent dualities; the double speak or twin objectives that, specifically in the second quote on page 184, seem to conceptually do opposite things.

- The hierarchizing penality is for Foucault a system of ranking, or a reward system that has to do with awarding privilege to those who ‘perform’ to expected levels and a demotion in status or privilege for those that do not demonstrate acceptable aptitude or behavior. I believe Foucault’s observation comes from a military school context, but it seems quite easy to see it happening in other circumstances as well. Morality, ethics (either both good and bad) wealth, and access are all systems in our culture that are both assessed by such hierarchies (straight, pro life, and citizen = ‘the right’ and therefore all others are not, this one plays out in political campaigns; wealth has always been seen as an achievement of a certain level of competency and character while being poor is suggestive of lower skill and aptitude; access is a lot like wealth as far as it suggests certain aptitudes, demands of time, and ‘taste’.) But what Foucault seems to not talk about is the idea that the ‘school’ may be ‘rigged’; that in all the discipline, there are those that never have to take the quizzes. As real as Foucault’s military school discipline observations are, and as much as I agree with its subtlety, privilege is just as real... For instance the ratio of poor to rich soldiers fighting in Viet Nam, or Iraq for that matter.

-Normalization. I love the quote on 184 because I have never read this idea, or seen this concept explained in such a straight forward phrase (though it makes so much obvious sense)... It also illuminates the French obsession with ‘difference’ (specifically, Derrida). I seem to want put the two suppositions in a Foucault ‘action’ timeline:

Normalization ---> Hierarchy of penality ---> Discipline (observation) ---> Gaps?

Normalization ---> Discipline (observation) ---> Gaps ---> Hierarchy of penality?

With each one returning back to normalization?

Or is it simultaneous?

Normalization/ Hierarchy of penality ---> Discipline (observation)---> Gap/Normal?

Or is Foucault saying, like he does on pg. 183, that this process is a byproduct of the rational validity? Of the need to assess and assign facts and proof?

Gap/Norm - For Foucault these are the same or essentially isomorphic. Observation (and examination) is the discipline, and Normalization is the hierarchy of penality (of which we could include things like class, and racial and sexual inequality)?

One of my favorite films by Jean Luc Godard is, Alphaville (1965), which is a classic ‘lone man vs. organization’ film. The central command computer call Alpha 60 becomes a main character and a conscience of the film, computing little fancy tidbits like:

“The essence...
...of the so-called capitalist world...
...or the communist world... not an evil volition... subject their people... the power of indoctrination...
...or the power of finance...
...but simply the natural ambition of any organization... plan all its actions"

What Alpha 60 seems to be saying is that there is a subversive tendency in all processes of organizing that seek to control all its conditions and outcomes; which, then again, is the reason in which we form the seemingly inorganic and purposive instrumental organizations in the first place...

The idea of a ‘natural ambition’ is problematic for me given in its deep apriori presumptions, but Godard gives a subtlety and aloofness to the ideas and realities of control and power that befits Foucault; that power ( in many instances) is in our rational need for protection (or validation) from both science and God.

But in order to complete the utter randomness of this response even further, I have to make the connection, simply because I’m a mass communication student, (and what kind of comm. student would I be?) to the discipline of Foucault and the use of mass media, since the early 1920’s, of the phenomenon of advertising. Given that the problem of capitalism is not in the production of goods but the consumption of them, one can trace during the 1920’s a shift in the field of advertising from describing the qualities of the product it was trying to sell, to incorporating the product socially, in already communally accepted values of family, love, self esteem, etc. By tapping established relationships between individuals and communities, advertising and manufactures were able to penetrate the very mechanisms of our meaning making and litter them with consumable happiness...
I bring this up to reiterate (I think) the discipline of Foucault as systematic; we have been 'trained' I think, rather passively, to justify the irrational, to suffer in the expectation of a joy in the material when we know it doesn’t ultimately make us happy... There is nothing ‘natural’ in this ability but a logic of reproduction and protection and conservation.

Ecole Militaire

Ecole Militaire

Ecole Militaire Paris

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Foucault pg 135-141

Michel Foucault
Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Pg 135-141
Abstract by Patricia Helen Little

In the first few pages of the chapter entitled “Docile Bodies” Michel Foucault explains his theory on discipline. Discipline is a word he uses that describes certain methods that are used to dominate ‘docile bodies’, meaning humans who are able to be dominated, namely all of us.

Foucault starts his chapter explaining when he feels this idea of ‘docile bodies’ was first discovered. To do so he uses the example of the soldier. For a long time soldiers were men who were basically born to be soldiers. These are men who physically fit the needed criteria. But some time in the 18th century it was discovered that soldiers could actually be made. Special training and other approaches were used to make a man who was not perhaps naturally inclined to become a soldier. It is at this time that humans are discovered to be docile.

Foucault writes, “A body is docile that can be subjected, used, transferred and improved” (136). This is an important concept because with the realization that people are docile, then the inclination to rule upon these people is also realized. They (who they are is not clear, Foucault never classifies them but I believe we are meant to see them as the subjugators, those who oppress or try to rule others) found that they could have a lot of control over others. While this is not a new concept, (Foucault reminds us that there have been people oppressed since the beginning of time) different methods to oppress presented themselves in new ways. First, they realized that it was more beneficial to exert control over the individual as opposed to lumping everyone together. Also, they would use their power to control other by their “efficiency of movement, their internal control” (137). And lastly, this new theory on control was focused on the process rather than the product. This would ensure control throughout and therefore would be total.

Putting these three ideas together you have what Foucault defines as discipline.
“These methods, which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility, might be called disciplines” (137). Basically these disciples are used to dominate people.

Foucault makes it clear that this domination is clearly different from slavery, which deals “on a relation of appropriation of bodies” (137). He feels it is also different from a monastery type of domination because a monastery’s main goal is not utility. “The historical moment of the disciplines was the moment when an art of the human body was born, which was directed not only at the growth of its skills, nor at the intensification of its subjection, but at the formation of a relation that in the mechanism itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely” (137-138). It seems that what separates discipline from other forms of domination is its ultimate utility and usefulness to the oppressors.

This utility is ultimately realized because “discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, ‘docile’ bodies” (138). When the masses are individually dominated you have complete control. Foucault does not feel that this was a sudden discovery. He is not painting a picture of a bunch of evil men together in a room devising a plan to rule the world. Rather, it was discovered and used, as it was needed. He writes, “on almost every occasion, they were adopted in response to particular needs” (138).

Because they were discovered and used in very separate ways the whole body of discipline has to be looked at by reviewing specific disciplines that are generally used. These are “small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion, subtle arrangements, apparently innocent, but profoundly suspicious, mechanisms that obeyed economies too shameful to be acknowledged, or pursued petty forms of coercion…” (139).

Foucault believes that “discipline is a political anatomy of detail” (139) and so we must look at the little things in order to understand the big picture. Foucault uses the next two pages to clarify why the details are important to study. He uses quotes from scholars that proclaim the truth of his method. For example, he quotes Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, “How dangerous it is to neglect little things” (140). The rest of the chapter is a detailed account of some of these ‘little things’.


I decided to do this little section because it is very important in order to understand the rest of the chapter. I admittedly ran though these first few pages and was lost and frustrated when I tried to keep going and was not understanding some very key terms. I had to start over and really follow what he was saying to understand the entire chapter.

I feel that this is a strength of Foucault’s writing. He lays everything out piece by piece. This can be bad if you are not reading closely and miss a piece because you will be hopelessly lost. However, he puts his argument out there so that if you are doing a close reading you will be able to follow him, and following Foucault through this difficult material deserves a big pat on the back.

I was especially interested in the way he describes what to me is ultimately the human condition. We are ‘docile’. We can all be led, and we are all led every single day. I have not read enough of Foucault to know what his meaning is overall, if there is one. Does he feel that knowledge is power, and by realizing that we are being subjugated and dominated that we can do something about it? Or is this just the nature of life, something we must resign ourselves to? Did smarter people figure out how to rule and now there is no way to stop it? I am in my end-of-the-semester-paranoia phase and would really like to know where I stand as a human being. Too much to ask? Probably.

Foucault – Pages 16-24

Abstract of pages 16-24 of “Body of the Condemned,” from Foucault’s Discipline & Punish: the Birth of the Prison.

by Mike Peterson


In this section, Foucault discusses the shift in punishment from torturing the body to punishing the soul. He discusses how judgment is no longer passed simply on the crime but upon on the soul (passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments, heredity, environment), on the subject’s will, and on attenuating circumstances. The introduction of these extra-juridical (and non-juridical) elements in the judgment take the sole responsibility of judgment and punishment off of the judge’s shoulders and redistributes it (along with culpability, responsibility, power) to other players—magistrates, psychologists, etc—who become part of a system aimed at not only punishment, but at curing/treating the criminal.

Foucault discusses the way in which article 64, an 1810 code which states that there is neither crime nor offence if the offender was of unsound mind at the time of the act, has been twisted and forgotten, so that an unsound mind is now just one of many variables in the judgment.

Foucault ends the section by establishing the four rules by which he’ll base his study into the history of the modern soul on trial.

Comments and Questions

Foucault’s four general rules for his study of the history of the modern soul on trial (23-24):
1. Regard punishment as a complex social function.
2. Regard punishment as a political tactic.
3. Find link between the history of penal law and the human sciences.
4. Find link between the entry of the soul into the penal justice scene and
how the body is invested by power relations.

Here, Foucault is establishing the way in which he will approach his genealogy of the penal system. He doesn’t want to adopt a limited viewpoint, such as that of the humanists, but instead he wants to analyze the history of the discourse by examining the interconnectedness of politico/socio/epistomologico/scientifico-juridical phenomena.

Judgment is no longer passed on crime as a mere “juridical object defined by code;” it is now passed on “passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments, effects of environment, or heredity”—some object and say this isn’t to judge the subject, but to determine their “will” in committing the crime, but Foucault argues the soul is judged along with the crime and must share the punishment (18). Murder, for example, isn’t just murder: there’s manslaughter, negligent homicide, first-degree murder, etc. So many factors go into it: your state of mind, premeditation, how the crime was carried out. If the soul weren’t on trial, murder would be murder, and the punishment for murder would be equal for all those found guilty.

It’s always troubled me that homicide as a crime of passion usually gets a lesser punishment than other forms of homicide. Or for that matter, that everybody arrested for homicide plays the insanity card in hopes of treatment rather than punishment (though I’ve seen Cuckoo’s Nest, and I have to wonder if treatment and punishment aren’t the same thing).

If judges have started judging something other than crimes, they have begun to do something other than pass judgment. They judge—define, impose, etc.—“normality,” which opens the judging to psychologists, magistrates, educationalists, and members of the prison service. “A whole set of assessing, diagnostic, prognostic, normative judgments concerning the criminal have become lodged in the framework of the penal system” Psychiatric expertise gets a justifiable hold not only on offenses, but on individuals: “not only on what they do, but also on what they are, will be, may be” (18). (18).

This makes me think of a typical law and order episode where so many people have their hands in the pie when it comes to a trial: the defender wants his glory (and pay-check), the psychologist wants to look credible, the DA wants to increase his public standing, the victim wants justice for all, the human-rights activists want fair treatment, the Republicans want heads to roll, the prosecutor wants to send a message, the judge doesn’t want to set a precedent, and so on and so forth. So many outside factors come into play: power struggles, judgments of character, politics, social control—pretty much all the stuff Foucault is talking about.

Key Terms

Soul – “the heart, the thoughts, the will, the inclinations” (16).

Genealogy – From what I understand of this, a genealogy is a study of the history of systems of knowledge. Here, Foucault is studying how the discourse of punishment has developed, and how we can (if possible) step outside of that discourse to examine it’s myths, origins, fallacies, etc, in order to…well that’s my question: In order to what? Create a new discourse?

Normality – In order to judge someone as abnormal, someone has to determine what normal is. Defining and establishing normality increases the power exercisable by judges, psychologists, magistrates, etc (since power through the penal system isn’t something to be possessed but exercised) (23).


Perhaps someone who knows more about literary criticism could answer this. What does Foucault mean on 17 when he says, referencing the end of torture and the beginning of the punishment of the soul, “It was the end of a certain kind of tragedy; comedy began, with shadow play, faceless voices, impalpable entities”? I think it’s beautifully worded, but I’m not familiar enough with comedy and tragedy to get the impact of the statement. All I really have to go on is Sanderson’s summation: Comedy: you wed. Tragedy: you’re dead.

Stabbing at Foucault

Abstract of Michel Foucault’s “The Body of the Condemned” from Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Tyson Livingston

Description of Article

This piece is the first chapter of the book and also serves as an introduction to the topics and methods of research used for the book. Foucault begins by providing a description of a public execution that occurred in 1757. The description is gleaned from a number of eyewitness accounts and reveals the physically brutal and torturous nature of this type of execution. He then compares this event to a “daily schedule” for prisoners that was written about eighty years after this execution had taken place. Foucault acknowledges that these are examples of different situations with different crimes, but he shows them as representations of two different types of penal styles.

The chapter then focuses on the historical shift from this type of torturous public display of punishment to the modern penal system that we have now in most of the western world. Foucault gives two reasons for this. First, the disappearance of punishment as spectacle (8), and second, the slackening of the hold on the body (10). His discussion of these topics also leads to another key element of this chapter, which is that our modern justice system does not judge merely the criminal act, but the passions and normalcy of the accused. He indicates that “the soul also is to be judged and share in the punishment” (18).

The next section of the chapter launches into a description of the goals of the book, and the core methods Foucault uses in his study. He indicates that the book is a “correlative history of the modern soul and of a new power to judge...” (23). The four guiding “rules” of the study are, in short, 1) Regard punishment as a complex social function, 2) Regard punishment as a political tactic, 3) make the technology of power the very principle both of the humanization of the penal system and of the knowledge of man, and 4) Try to discover whether this entry of the soul on to the scene of penal justice, and with it the insertion in legal practice of a whole corpus of ‘scientific’ knowledge, is not the effect of a transformation of the way in which the body itself is invested by power relations (23-4). Foucault finishes the chapter by providing information about other theorists who have had similar ideas and describing in greater detail the foundational ideas of their and his research.

Key Terms

Penal System
Technology of Power
Micro-Physics of Power
Corpus of Knowledge
Power-Knowledge Relations

Comments and Questions:

This is the first time I have read any Foucault, though I have obviously heard him referenced numerous times, and I have to admit that I found the first chapter of the book much more interesting than I expected. Some of the ideas that initially jumped out at me are physical pain being a possible unintentional but inevitable byproduct of imprisonment — can you have a gilded cage? — and especially the idea that in modern penal systems “an army of technicians” takes over the job of the executioner, that the “immediate anatomist of pain: warders, doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, educationalists; by their very presence near the prisoner, they singe the praises that the law needs: they reassure it that the body and pain are not the ultimate objects of its punitive action” (10). Foucault’s take on the formation of this group, and that they are a result of the interplay of knowledge-power relations within the justice and penal system is extremely fascinating.

Foucault’s ideas of power relations are a little different than I previously understood them. That power constitutes a “network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity, rather than a privilege that one might possess” (26) is a slight shift from how I have traditionally viewed such relations. I tend to think of it as haves and haves not, rather than as a sort of eco-system.

How knowledge relates to power is also very interesting. Foucault states that “Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge. We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (27). This is still a little foggy for me, but the idea above, about psychiatry, psychology, and other specializations to determine the nature of deviancy and possible “treatments” or courses of action to determine the future of the criminal, seem to be the best example of this. This whole body of knowledge, and the careers and institutions that rise from it, are produced because of the power relations between the criminal and the members of the justice and penal systems. They are symbiotic and cannot be separated from each other.

Another area that I am having trouble wrapping my head around is Foucault’s idea of the soul. It is obvious, even before he states it, that his concept of the soul has nothing to do with Judeo-Christian ideology. But it also seems obvious that for Foucault the soul is not simply the sum of our personality, experience, and the elements that we would include to form our concept of “self.” He says that “This real, non-corporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power” (29). To me this seems to indicate that the soul is a construct created out of the activity and tension of power-knowledge relations, which is then superimposed upon “the self.” This construct then becomes the “prison of the body” (30).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Reading/Thinking Foucault; The ‘new’ body of the condemned

by Matt Dewey

It is sometimes difficult to read Foucault, after reading so many references to his work in the course of a social science education, and not immediately search somewhere in his books, within some strange sentence or agitating prose, an answer to his most blinding contradiction... “How can he both universalize the domination of subjectless power and still leave space for the empowerment of marginalized voices? How can, or why would, subjects which are the effects of power also subvert it (Haber, H., Beyond postmodern politics, 1994, pg. 97-98)? This problematic has be reified and reified to the point of becoming academically passé in its treatment, merely skipped over in progressive arguments of social reconstruction (as in the case of media reform) and identity politics in order to validate new forms of intellectual, social, and political domination...

...this is unfortunate- that Foucauldian arguments get only so far until we loose a vocabulary to speak about emancipation, and that it is this ‘brain worm’ that arrests my reading of Foucault (is this because of a power relation?); there are other important ideas... his critical approach of ‘genealogy’ or tracing the development of ideas and meaning we’ve historically accepted as self evident, for instance that ‘the idea of a ‘truth’ that exists outside cultural production, which we now accept as invalid, resonates in contemporary human studies...

In the first chapter of Discipline and Punishment, we are introduced to the relationship the body has with history, or more specifically modes of production, and in turn, how that relationship has affected the justifications for the types of punishments administered to those deemed criminals:

“...the penitentiary, forced labour and the prison factory appear with the development of the mercantile economy. But the industrial system requires a free market in labour... the role of forced labour in the mechanisms of punishment diminishes accordingly and ‘corrective’ detention takes its place (pg. 25)”. it seems also worth mentioning that the types of ‘acts’ considered or defined as ‘criminal’ get there justification as well from certain modes and rationalizations of production and accumulation...The illegal and therefore untaxable drug trade and its overwhelming race and class representations in US prisons may be one example...

Foucault then on pg. 26, refers again to the significance of ‘modes of production’ and the idea of the body by stating; ‘the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body’. This seems to be reminiscent of post colonial studies in that colonial power is at its most powerful when it no longer needs to show or articulate a sense of force or violence on those it subjugates; hegemonically they self regulate. It is here that Foucault begins to articulate the ‘all encompassing’ or ‘ubiquitous’ nature of power by characterizing it as a function of an entire network of social relations and institutions (a micro-physics of power, pg 26)

“...this power is not exercised simply as an obligation or a prohibition on those who, ‘do not have it’; it invests them, is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure upon them, just as they themselves, in their struggle against it, resist the grip it has on them. This means that these relations go right down into the depths of society...” (pg. 27).

... Foucault also says that power is ‘exercised rather than possessed’, not a ‘privilege, acquired or preserved...but the overall effect of strategic positions (pg 26) and as much as this maybe accurate in some instances it does not seem to take into account that theses strategic positions are exclusive in many respects to members of elite socio-economic classes. Preservation of power and status and the acquisition of more of both, in many instances constitute the political and economic agendas of this class, however consciously or unconsciously callous or apparent the deliberation is. In this ‘ubiquitousness’ of Foucault’s power it seems important to contrast this idea with the way in which, for instance, ‘modes of production’ and ownership are physically organized- typically in the modern age, in top-down hierarchies. It seems as well that within such organizations, or maybe within different social organizational contexts all together, power is not so inconspicuously manipulative but overtly and visibly modulating (Galloway, A.,’ The Exploit’, 2007). In other words, maybe there isn’t an implicit, all encompassing ‘force’ acting through us and upon us in order to get us to behave certain ways, but a political-economic system that simply and overtly takes and rewards where it most benefits its reproduction (this seems to make just as much sense given Foucault’s suggestions of a ‘subjectless power’ and postmodernism attempts to decentralize the subject also). As well, Cornell West has explained in many places that there are certain realities or truths (power relations) that black people in America cannot deny or suggest exist merely in ‘strategic positions’; the power of racism does not necessarily need such ‘strategic positions’ in order to control, exclude, train and oppress. I can’t help but think that just as the ‘specters’ of ‘big brother’ are personified and exercised in the everyday operations of social relations, that it is equally shadowy to assume, with events such as the War on Terror or the Patriot Act, that there isn’t such a controlling entity, exclusive, subjective and with calculated affectations of power...

On the bottom of page 27 Foucault suggests his most grand theory, one that he will outline in the years to come more specifically in a book of writings entitled, Power/Knowledge. The relation ship between power and knowledge for Foucault is that one ‘directly implies’ the other:

…that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations (pg27).

…This quote along with a similar one that continues on pg. 28, seem to perfectly describe the college experience, and in particular to my major, the prevalence of certain types of communication study. Along these lines, the idea power itself seems to imply a type of control, whether manipulative or modulating, of social processes; in effect, a control, either physically or ‘psychically’, over the behaviors of others. In order to thwart potential revolution by the masses it is important to legitimize the control and this legitimization becomes the logic and forms of institutions (Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, 1975). The imprint of these institutions of ‘civil training’, the sight, place, or ‘element’ where it affects us it characterized by Foucault as the ‘soul’ (pg29), or he adds, the ‘psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness, etc.’ If this is true, then we are simply unable to rescue ourselves…and this is, I think, the new form of prison Foucault is talking about; one without walls or guards, and no hope to escape and we are the new bodies of the condemned...

Foucault - pages 3-16

Abstract of Michel Foucault’s “The body of the condemned” (pages 3-16) from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

By Jenny Lowry

Description of Article

Foucault begins this chapter with a vivid description of a torturous public execution from 1757, he then fast forwards eighty years and gives a “time-table” of prisoners’ daily life. He goes on to give a history of criminal punishment and the transition from a public spectacle to a more private punishment. He states that with the abolishment of public punishment, the publicity is now the trial and sentencing. He argues that there is a shame in criminal punishment; that the “legal violence” or public torture put shame on the executioner, but now the shame is in the justice system. Even the use of chain gangs was stopped because of its spectacle and public display of criminal punishment. Public punishment turned the punishers into criminals as they became the murderers and made the prisoner something to pity.

Foucault describes how the “body” plays a role in punishment. Unlike the public executions of the past in which the body was tortured, in the current penal system the body is no longer touched: It is the deprivation of liberty that has become the punishment. The prisoner is no longer supposed to feel any pain, even in executions, which should be quick deaths. Machines were made to ensure a quick and painless death for criminals, making capital punishment an “equal death for all.” The condemned man was not to be seen by the public; in executions the prisoner head was covered with a “black veil”- making the crime and the criminal “faceless.” Even with these new tactics, the practice of capital punishment was still too shameful so it had to be moved behind the prison walls, making executions completely private. Even the prison system can be seen as a place of torture since the prisoners body is deprived by the “rationing of food, sexual deprivation, corporal punishment, solitary confinement” (16).

Questions and Comments

I am a little confused about the idea of “shame” and who is or should be ashamed in the penal process. Foucault writes:

“Punishment had gradually ceased to be a spectacle. And whatever theatrical elements it still retained were now downgraded, as if the functions of the penal ceremony were gradually ceasing to be understood, as if this rite that ‘concluded the crime’ was suspected of being in some undesirable way linked with it. It was as if the punishment was thought to equal, if not exceed, in savagery the crime itself, to accustom the spectators to a ferocity from which one wished to divert them, to show them the frequency of the crime itself, to make the executioner resemble a criminal, judges murderers, to reverse roles at the last moment, to make the tortured criminal an object of pity or admiration” (9, my emphasis).

I understand the point he is making here to be that the punishment for the crime was often so much worse than the crime itself that the persons who executed the punishment (executioner, judge) were just as guilty, if not more so, than the criminal himself, but was it there intention do this? I wouldn’t think so, but it kind of sounds like that is what Foucault is implying. I am also confused by the section in italics: does Foucault mean that by this public torture the spectators would (hopefully) not commit crimes? I am assuming that is what he means but I don’t understand the “frequency of the crime itself”? Where the executioners acting out the crime of the criminal? He states later that the shame was on the executioner - but what about the shame of the criminal? In the torture account, the confessors repeatedly tried to get the criminal to admit his guilt but he wouldn’t, is Foucault saying that the criminal is not shamed by the torture? That the act of torturing itself is what is shameful or that the persons doing the torturing should be ashamed by their behavior, their acting like criminals?

I also find this confusing: “Justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice” (9). Has justice every taken responsibility for the violence in its practice? Did justice take responsibility when they held public executions? Was the fact that they were public seen as responsibility? Are they no longer taking responsibility because the punishment happens behind closed doors?

He goes on to say that punishment was kept in secret that “It is ugly to be punishable, but there is no glory in punishing” (10). Then later in the same paragraph, “Do not imagine that the sentences that we judges pass are activated by a desire to punish; they are intended to correct, reclaim, ‘cure’; a technique of improvement represses, in the penalty, the strict expiation of evil-doing, and relieves the magistrates of the demeaning task of punishing […] there is a shame in punishing” (10). I am still confused as to where the shame comes from? I don’t really understand why the judges or magistrates should be ashamed of punishing a criminal? I can see how the public executions of the past would be shameful in that they were often worse than the crimes committed, but I don’t see how putting someone in prison is shameful. Maybe I am missing something; this is just confusing to me.

Another source of my confusion is the section on the body, which begins on page 10. Foucault writes:

“But the punishment-body relation is not the same as it was in the torture during public executions. The body now serves as an instrument or intermediary: if one intervenes upon it to imprison it, or to make it work, it is in order to deprive the individual of a liberty that is regarded both as a right and as property” (11).

I think he means that punishment is no longer physical in the torture sense, but physical in that the prisoner is confined – not to do as he chooses, but as someone else chooses for him. The prisoner’s body is now the property of the prison system and no longer belongs to him.

It also seems like all of the things Foucault describes as physical punishment are meant more to break the spirit of the prisoner than to cause physical harm. He does discuss the soul in the next section as well as the prisoners state of mind, but I think that the physical punishment, even that of torture, was meant to break the prisoners spirit more than anything else. Even when death was inevitable it was still the ultimate goal to get the prisoner to confess his sins, as is shown in the torture account.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Latino subculture, focusing on media representation

Here is a link to my cultural studies project. I'm sorry that the technology wasn't working for me today in class. I hope you like the music videos and expect many changes to come!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jenny's Project

Here is the link to my blog: Flavor of What? This is just a rough draft, so bear with me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mike's Presentation

Here's the blog I'll be using in my presentation. I don't know when I'll be presenting yet, but feel free to take a gander.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Diane's Project

Here is the link for my cultural studies project. It is most definitely a work in progress, so a lot of the pages are still blank. Don't worry, it won't stay like that forever.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rethinking West

After our discussion in class yesterday I would like to offer a "rethinking" of West's article.

I still think that "the threat of nihilism" is a cop out. And these are my reasons: First, West argues that when Africans were brought to the New World that there was a struggle against nihilism, but that the people overcame it by turning to culture and community (277). Second, he states the reason nihilism is a threat now is because of the "commodification of black life and the crisis of black leadership" (278). Ok, I would like to address the commodification of black life first. It was brought up in class that this commodification is of the "hip-hop" culture. I am confused how this leads to nihilism. Is this because other races/cultures are taking on the attributes of a traditionally black culture? In my opinion, and granted it may not be the "correct" one, much of the hip-hop culture has brought community and agency to black Americans. I realize that now, in this day and age, that there is a ongoing debate as to the content of rap and hip-hop, but at the time of this article, I don't think that debate was as prevalent - maybe I am wrong. It seems that many black Americans have been able to pull themselves out of the "asphalt jungles" because of the commodification of black life. Although, this may be an example of what he is arguing is part of the threat of nihilism.

On page 279, West argues that the nihilistic threat was "at bay" because of the breakthroughs in the 60's. But "the combination of the market way of life, poverty-ridden conditions, black existential angst, and the lessoning of fear towards white authorities has driected most of the anger, rage, and despair toward fellow black citizens, especially black women" (279). Is he arguing that history is causing black Americans to turn against their own race? I am confused. I understand that living in poverty would make someone angry or feel hopeless, howver, I don't see the connection between a lessoning fear of white authority and the turning of this anger towards their own people. The market way of life also makes me think that West is arguing that commodities, or the lack their of, are a problem within black communities. Obviously, poverty addresses this issue.

I hope this helps to make my point more clear. I realize my abstract wasn't as concise as it could have been.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Not One More

Abstract of Cornel West’s “Nihilism in black America”

by Tyson Livingston

Description of Article

The article discusses the plight that is at the center of the issue of the future prospects of black America. West initially indicates that currently there are two camps, the Liberal Structuralists, who are concerned with such issues as equal employment opportunities, availability of child care and health care, etc., and the Conservative Behaviorists, who focus on the waning of the Protestant ethic black America, specifically issues such as hard work, deferred gratification, frugality, and responsibility.

West indicates that both camps ignore the central issue facing black America, which is nihilism, an issue that he asserts is a threat to the very existence of black America. He defines what he means by nihilism with this statement: “ Nihilism is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine that there are no national grounds for legitimate standards or authority; it is, far more, the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness” (277).

West states that the Liberal Structuralists tend to shy aware from this type of issue because it focuses more on morals, which tends to be a taboo subject that they feel takes away from their focus on structures. On the other hand, the Conservative Behaviorists are inadvertently contributing to the nihilistic condition because they describe blacks as agents to affect their upward mobility while avoiding the inherent structural barriers that exist in society. The result is a deepening of nihilistic attitudes as much of black America encounters barriers that the conservative say do not exist.

In highlighting the central issue of nihilism in black America, West also provides a brief background of the issue, and how it has really been central to the struggle of blacks since their first encounters with the New World. He states that, however, black America was able to maintain civic and religious organizations that provided a form of armor against this condition of hopelessness by teaching and passing down cultural and community values of love and service to others. Ironically, it was after the civil rights movements of the sixties and early seventies, and the reduction of the fear of white physical retribution, that nihilism began to take a firm hold. He also points out the role of the market way of life, which creates an image of the “good life,” especially as expressed through the culture industries of TV, music, video, etc., promoting a way of life that espouses comfort, convenience, and sexual stimulation. In his words, the result of all of this is that “sadly, the combination of the market way of life, poverty-ridden conditions, black existential angst, and the lessoning of fear toward white authorities has directed most of the anger, rage, and despair toward fellow black citizens, especially black women” (279).

West does provide something of a solution to the problem of black nihilism, or at least an initial stepping stone. He is highly critical of black leadership, and indicates that solutions must rather come from grass roots movements that focus on local issues rather than strive for the limelight, be centers of political conversion, and that hold black political leaders responsible to promoting love ethics and the support of these local issues.

Key Terms

Black Nihilism
Liberal Structuralist
Conservative Behaviorists
Love Ethics
Political Conversion
Cultural Armor
Corporate Market Institutions
Political Accountability

Comments and Questions:

Let me start by saying that I really liked this essay, mostly for its structure. West is very good at outlining his topic and supporting points within the essay, making it very easy to understand and follow what he wishes the reader to be aware of. He is also excellent in defining his terms and stating what he means when he uses them. He does this for nihilism, love, the two camps in the black American debate, political conversion, corporate market institutions, pleasure, and other terms.

Overall, I think he makes a good argument. I had some initial trouble with his critique of the Conservative Behaviorists trying to make black people see themselves as agents. My initial reaction is to think that by thinking of yourself as an agent it provides at least a modicum of empowerment. He states that “on the surface, this is comforting advice, a nice cliché for downtrodden people. But inspirational slogans cannot substitute for substantive historical and social analysis” (277). Even though he continues his argument by indicating that any agency on the part of a black American must be considered within the context of his or her victimization, I got the sense that he was opposed to the idea of agency almost completely. He uses phrases such as “inseparable from, but not reducible to” that initially made me feel he was trying not to sound polar in his views but actually was.

However, my initial impressions began to change as I read further. Later, he indicates that he rather promotes agency through the love ethic, which is in fact “a last attempt at generating a sense of agency among a downtrodden people” (280). This would seem to be a legitimate attempt to promote black Americans as agents in the way that West approves, in relation to their level of victimization. This is especially true in light of his criticism of black leadership from which the initial ideas of the Puritan ethic stem. In this light, it is no wonder that he critiques the Conservative Behaviorist for their attempts to promote agency. Their version of it is a shallow and blinded agency that is only open to a few privileged few and would hide the conditions of the bulk of black America.

My only other mild complaint about the essay, is that I feel I have missed out on some of the power of his argument by not having read Toni Morrison’s book. While he holds it up as an example of a solution, he gives little in the way of details. Perhaps this is intentional, as he feels his readership would be more familiar with the work, or as a push for more people to read and consider this piece of literature.

Overall, I find this article very engaging, and wonder if the questions he deploys toward black America are not applicable elsewhere in American culture. Nihilistic ideas are present in other aspects and sub-cultures of American society, and have expressed themselves in such things as school shootings, home-grown terrorism, and increased crime statistics, as well as just general discontent and feelings of powerlessness. Materialism and the values espoused by the Corporate Market Institutions are ever increasing and solidifying. I wonder if some of West’s solutions could be applicable on a broader scale, that if localized grass-roots movements are the way to bringing back some of the values West idealizes to our society as a whole.