Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Foucault 1 (week 2)


  1. While I was reading “The Examination” section, I was attempting to extend Foucault’s points to the internet and social media. The third point in this section—“The examination, surrounded by all its documentary techniques, makes each individual a ‘case’” (191)— seems to be almost prescient about data-mining and internet-shaming. If it used to be the case the normal people’s lives were not documented in detail but that “examination” produced written records of prisoners, patients, children etc., power became even more efficient when social media convinced the majority of people to document not only their own thoughts and lives but also to monitor and share the lives of their friends and families, as well as the lives of any strangers or celebrities they happen to run into or know about.

    It seems like the easiest way to talk about this might be a specific example: when it was announced that Trevor Noah, a relatively unknown comic to most of the world, would be replacing Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show, people immediately began to comb through the over 9,000 tweets Noah had posted on Twitter over six years, eventually stumbling onto jokes that the general public could be counted on to find offensive enough to certain groups of people to make new articles out of ( He received a great deal of scrutiny, with some calling for him to be removed as host before he’d even taken the position, but in the end Comedy Central chose to stand by him.

    On the other hand, in the case of Jon Stewart, also relatively unknown at the time he took over The Daily Show circa 2000, the only places he, presumably, could try out jokes that could be construed as offensive were in live venues or among friends, and, for the most part, no public record was kept of these potentially career threatening attempts. Also, to maybe stretch Foucault a bit far, American culture in general hadn’t been participating in constant debates online about the character of comedians and what they should and should not be permitted to say, therefore not yet normalizing a set of standards to hold a prominent TV comedian to.

    The most sophisticated form that power takes in this example, however, is that Noah was not just posting questionable jokes to see if they worked. Culture has shifted in such a way that practically every person or corporation trying to make money or gain attention now must find a steady stream of things to say to an audience that potentially includes the entire world. Taco Bell speaks with a voice on Twitter; it is as much a person as Trevor Noah as far as your Twitter feed is concerned. All of this pressure to always be saying something has created untold amounts of data whose uses are only beginning to be commoditized and weaponized.

    1. I also thought about public shaming as a function of examination when reading "The Examination" section. Public shaming as a form of corrective punishment is a reasonably old tactic (see: the martyrdom of Christina Bolsena) but has evolved into a regular occurrence because of the advent of social media. Part of the power of the examination is the exercise of visibility as an exercise of power ("It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able to be seen, that maintains the disciplined subject in his subjection" [187]) and the visibility of the individualized subject over the power. In terms of social media, it would see that the subject willingly buys into this individualization rather than being subjected to it – part of the power of public shaming and examination comes from the shame of being non-normalized, correct? Everyone has a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on in order to assert their own individualization – which in some ways seems a sort of subversive act in an economy of visibility and power (i.e. I put myself in the spotlight before anyone else can thereby giving me the power). However, as you point out – public shaming is a popular form of contemporary examination in which the individualization by the subject is taken and turned into a spectacle ( as a means of corrective training. This public shaming is meant to create a sense of “wrongness” in the subject vis-à-vis judgment by their peers as they differ against some standard of what is “normal” and “right.”

      However, I think what has occurred because of the ease of which someone is able to be shamed on the internet the corrective training motive of examination has lost its power. While I think your point about Trevor Noah is correct – I think the cases of outwardly public figures (celebrities, politicians, and so on) are the only cases in which the corrective behavior can occur because of their already visible relationship with the public mass. In cases of teens on the internet tweeting not-so-politically correct ideas, the function of examination loses its purpose because while they may be forced to renounce their Twitter accounts (for the time being) there is no concern of whether or not their behavior has actually been corrected – only that their outward, public displays of individualism have been stopped.

    2. I think I am less trying to assert that internet shaming changes the course of individual lives afterward, but that feeling compelled to be a public persona on the internet is actually normalizing and controlling ways that we think and act in such complicated ways that, even while we're still existing within the internet's infancy or teen years, we can barely conceptualize how our lives would be different without it. The shaming aspect is only one of many factors in the back of a person's mind when they go to post something. Even more scary would be what is in the back of the person's mind when they are unconsciously steering their actions in a direction that optimizes what they will later post about it, essentially only acting in order to exist on the internet in some way afterward.

      That's sort of a Terminator Sequel-level paranoia, but hopefully you understand what I mean.

  2. I approached this reading prepared to search for a way out, some form of possible resistance, since I figured that Foucault's vision of power is a dark one of metastasized control consuming even the daily life of individuals. However, now it seems that perhaps this question of "resistance" is misguided, but nonetheless provoked by the text. When I think of resistance, I think of attempting to exert a counteractive force against some restrictive external force of oppression and manipulation, either something small like kicking a person who has a constraining hold on you, or larger like a militant coup against an oppressive tyrant. These notions of resistance may not be exactly relevant for Foucault's picture, since, as he says several times, he's focused on the "technologies" of power, using, significantly, the metaphors of "physics" and "anatomy" in his analysis. Physics and anatomy deal both in means and limits. For instance, physics describes both the means through which an object-body moves through space and exerts an effect on another object-body. But this instrumental means at the same time limits the possibilities of movement -- motion works through force but is always contingently limited by the role of other forces, such as gravity. Anatomy is similar, though perhaps more pluralistic, in that it describes the various systems of the body which allow the body to function and also, implicitly, limit the possible functions of the body.

    Foucault's use of the word "power" however throws me off. At times it even seems like an empty word which he has used to make these processes seem more nefarious than, perhaps, they could be. He says that these "disciplines" which he describes are the technology--the physics or anatomy--of power, but that discipline "may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus" (215). So he is describing an instrumentality, and the ways this instrumentality functions, but the instrument is not inherently associated with some actor or interest.


  3. But then elsewhere, power looks almost like an agent itself, or some mystical force: "One would be concerned with the 'body politic', as a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communication routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge" (28). So this makes the disciplines seem like not only the MEANS of exerting power over another person, but also that they themselves ARE the exertion of power over another, subjecting the person through its inherent logic. This then makes the disciplines seem like something we should want to find an escape from, to resist. But the way which the disciplines, in themselves, subject us are the same way physics or anatomy subjects us. Would we even consider "resisting" the normal ("normal" being an important word here) functioning of our bodies, resisting the persistent work of the circulatory system and its interactions with digestion and the pulminary system? Is it even possible to consider "resisting" gravity? No, I think. These forces constrict us but only necessarily; they also constitute the logic of movement. Foucault's vision seems dark, but what if it is merely a description of the contingent field of action which is opened in modernity, the particular elements of which may be exerted upon by anyone privileged enough by their specific appearance in this contingency to realize their interests through it. If this is the case, resistance comes not necessarily through resisting the disciplines (unless we are resisting Foucault's conception of the disciplines as inadequate or too theoretically totalizing, which I think is possible), but through resisting the ways in which institutions or agents have taken hold of these disciplines in order to produce their own interests through the manipulation of the rest of us human subjects. But in this, we would use the disciplines and the gaps between them, just as they would.

    1. Dillon, I think you point to a pretty significant entry into reading this particular work, but also any Foucault text in general—interrogation of the different ways “power” is being used, both as a word and term and also as a gravitational point on a conceptual map—less a determined meaning than a force which assigns meanings and relations to the pieces affixed in its orbit. And maybe this is a fairly obvious point for me to make, suggesting the primacy of “power” as foundational to reading—certainly, Foucault seems to raise that primacy in the surface of the text itself. And yet, I tend to agree with Dillon in that Foucault’s use of that language, “power” as a descriptive term, is deceptive. It does in most uses register, more or less, as divorced from any one actor/agent—more a force meant to evoke being acted upon or subjected, diffuse, rather than as attributable to a singularity which enacts it. I suppose this brings to mind discussions from Society Must Be Defended, power is both everywhere and nowhere, which feels just as important here as an implicit framework. In ‘Torture’, especially, the increasing invisibility of power is what inevitably leads to the tension between the body and justice ultimately through the invention of a life “other than” the body, or something like the spirit. Punishment, in Foucault’s initial genealogical stance, transforms from the body as a site of mere production, capable of simple judgment in its action, to one that can be anticipated, treated in various capacities, calculated and manipulated to reflect more desirable lives (whatever that might mean relative to judgment.) Foucault suggests, I think, that punitive measures in the form of bodily torture enable a certain kind of transparency in the dimensions of the application of power—and, ultimately, a certain type of subjection to the law (or more precisely, of the body to the law.) The public ritual of capital punishment makes that subjection visible—but (and this is what I was on about initially) the viewership of the application of power is nevertheless paradoxically accessible and inaccessible. Punishment, genealogically speaking, evolves into a different kind of application, one that seems even more paradoxical in this regard—all the agents of judgment and punishment are visible, and yet their ability to wield definitive power over the condemned is so diffuse as to alleviate (from the moment of response to the transgression, to that of trial, judgment, down to punishment) any accountable of the shame of performing that punishment. What I’m really fascinated is that evolution into something Foucault suggests carries an element of ‘inevitability’ buried within it—coupled with the diffusion of punishment, models ideas of panopticism at its most idealistic…the social capacity to self-regulate and condition ourselves on the basis of social and ethical acceptability.

  4. Foucault presents an interesting genealogy of modern humanity. He states that his project is to provide “a correlative history of the modern soul” (23). The transformation of humanity from pre-modern to modern seems to be based upon a few key concepts that underpin the structures of discipline and power, and seem to be closely linked to industrialization. Foucault begins by tracing this change in a shift from judging the actions of people to judging the people themselves; i.e. to judge a kind of essential character of the person, thereby establishing the soul (19). This shift involves a tendency towards making normative judgments, and valuing rehabilitation over simple penalization. Foucault seems to imply that this shift was primarily initiated to serve as a means to maintain power in the hands of those who held it. The purpose was to dissolve the burden of punishment amongst a multiplicity of people and agencies, and in doing so make those who utilize power seem less culpable in the subjection of those whom power acts upon.

    The purpose of discipline seems to be to give structure to power, to enable the action of power. Foucault doesn’t seem to give a fixed definition of power, and as such almost makes power seem like the basic ontic unit akin to Nietzsche’s conception of power. Foucault’s examination of power focuses heavily on its economic nature. The goal of power seems to be to produce efficiently and discretely. To this end, the implementation of power tends towards segmenting individuals and space, delineating time and procedures, and examining and judging performance. The result is the formation of an individualistic society, ranked in a hierarchy of utility and efficiency where conservation and precision of movement are valued. “Temporal imperatives” are applied to those of the disciplines (military, workforce, etc.) in order to produce maximum profit and product at minimum expenditure and loss. It would seem that since the initiation of this shift, the exercise of power over society has been intensifying towards the “military dream of society” in which individuals are trained into subordinate and docile parts of a machine (169). In examining the panopticon, we see how subjection by power has been outsourced to the very people subjected to power. This has the effect of both increasing the efficiency of the functioning of power and the normalization of subjection to power, making it mundane and promoting docility (205).

    I find Foucault’s characterization of the relationship between knowledge and power very interesting. He states that “it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge” (28). Power and knowledge seem to be placed in a dialectical relationship in which each contribute to the existence of the other. In this statement, it seems to me that Foucault is saying that there is no intrinsic “Knowledge” that exists in something to be discovered, but rather the interaction of power and knowledge produces a body of knowledge. It seems that the process is constitutive of knowledge, much like Hegel’s conception of knowledge.


  5. Much of the secondary literature in my field (social sciences) will use Foucault for 'critical discourse analysis'. In this literature, Foucault is made out to be an 'everything is discourse' scholar. For that reason, I was trying to make sense of why Foucault refers to the 'body' so much. Foucault's story, in short, seems to be about how the disciplining of the body is accomplished through the control of its movements, through supervision, and examination of each movement and gesture. It is the supervision and examination that allows for knowledge to be created about the body, and hence for a 'truthful' judgement to be made regarding an individual. These forms of knowledge consists of the numerous ways of categorizing, ranking, or the way one can be measured according to the gap from the norm.

    One of the problems of have encountered with the 'critical discourse analysis' is that it seems to argue that a different way of speaking, or inserting new terms, will produce radical change. But what is intriguing about D & P, is that Foucault appears to be saying that there needs to be a link between a discourse and the body. In other words, the body needs to perform certain drills, go through examinations, or partake in certain actions in order for a categorization or rank to make any sense—for power to penetrate the body.

    Somewhat switching gears, I think Foucault argument is so strong cause it shows how ‘power’ measures the ‘nature’ and the potential of individuals (p. 181, 183). Foucault says that disciplinary power measures and does so in quantitative, scientific ways. This makes ‘power’ tough to dispute because it claims, after all, to simply be measuring the ‘truth’ and producing knowledge about yourself. If life isn’t going your way, disciplinary power continues to individualize you, compare you, can produce a truth judgement about you, and finally, offer a corrective remedy. There is no need for historical, social, political analysis.

    Finally, as Dillion was speaking of resistance, my only thought would be that resistance would have to account for the forces that have taken hold of disciplinary tactics. Foucault mentions that the monasteries were using disciplinary tactics (exercises) to seek salvation. However, discipline will ‘change direction…to economize the time of life’ (p. 162). I believe he is saying that discipline is taken over by forces of war (the army) or forces of capitalism (factory).

    (Note: I haven't yet read 'Panopticism', so I might change my mind by tomorrow)

  6. I’ve had two musings while reading for this week. I don’t think I can fully finesse them together, so I’ll lay them out individually.

    1. The introduction chapter to the Campbell and Sitze reader last week has really attuned me to a more thoughtful reading practice. I’m finding myself listening for where Foucault was working on & developing biopower, semi-unintentionally. I feel like such a fool, but the coherence of the last chapter in The History of Sexuality is really singing for me as I read. I feel more aware of the generative, not just negative, forms of power in Discipline & Punish. The shift from sovereign power as ruler of death to the State as investor in life (or rather the soul) is clear, as exampled in Foucault’s insight that “knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised” (204). Power is a hungry, hungry hippo; power creates more knowledge/discourse (& thus more control) through this seemingly obvious link of curiosity and care. From prisons to sexuality, I’m getting it.

    2. As I was sitting in the new Learning Commons today reading, I was kind of struck by how even this space plays into the logic of Panopticism, especially at night. This shouldn’t be too shocking, I know, since 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” (208), but it didn’t really hit me how the windows work rhetorically/critically. While it seems so full of light and open-concept goodness, the Learning Commons’s glassed in walls actually mimic the guard tower function in Bentham’s prison. It’s secured WiFi is an individualized marker, like each individual cell or plague-ridden count-off. With it being a 24 hour space, sure—there are some security cameras. However, what I believe is the over-determining power formation of the space is the inability to see out the windows at night; you can trace every movement of people in the building in the evening, but when you look outside, all you see is darkness. The entire space is designed to make you easily visible while still social. The example is a bit ironic, though, since Foucault argues “we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended” (27). Indeed, the knowledge creation of the Commons is power creation. What is supposed to be a place for students to earn their freedom through education is really “the effect of a subjection much more profound than” themselves (30).

    That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m sure I’ll have more to think through as we discuss!

  7. Before turning to Dicipline and Punish proper, a brief discussion of power relations seems necessary to stabilize what is at stake in the discussion the modern soul’s invention. Foucault identifies 4 types of technologies in “Technologies of the Self:”
    “(1) technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate things; (2) technologies of sign systems, which permit us to use signs, meanings, symbols, or signification; (3) technologies of power, which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an objectivizing of the subject; (4) technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations … to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.”

    Technologies of power manage possibilities through designating “the ways in which the conduct of individuals or groups might be directed” (Foucault, 1994d, p. 341; Truth and Power). Thus, a relation of power requires that “‘the other’ (the one over whom power is exercised) is recognized and maintained to the very end as a subject who acts” (Foucault, 1994b, p. 340; History of Sexuality Volume 2). Thus, the question of power relations pose the question of how persons act the capacity of others to act, to establish a legitimate horizon of action.

    Interestingly, in a later work on the Penal system, Wrong Doing, Truth-Telling: The Function of Avowal in Justice, questions of power, while present, appear under another heading: techniques of government. When enumerating three (not four) broad types of technologies, Foucault retains technologies of production and communication, but replaces both technologies of power and self with “techniques of government, through which individuals act on each other’s conduct in order to attain certain ends or objectives” (p. 23). This leads to the problematic of governing through truth, which seeks to integrate the question of penal avowal into the border history of “technologies of the subject. … The technique through which the individual is brought, either by himself or with the help of the direction of another, to transform himself and to modify his relationship to himself” (p. 24). Collapsing technologies of power and technologies of the subject into a single category seems a significant shift, which indicates the interplay of acting on others conduct (while leaving them free to act). Here, technologies of the self appear as a species of technologies of government that cannot be separated from technologies of power.

    The (long) prefatory comment is need to begin interrogating the distinction between the modern soul’s relation to discipline—the reappropriation of religious forms with an eye toward dynamic production—and the medieval soul. It seems that a new grammar of the body, a new form of heraldry to be read. The soul, “an effect and instrument of political anatomy,” that imprisons the body exists at the intersection of a technology of governance (p. 30). The body must be made docile so that it can fall within the prison of the soul, and the panopticon, the paradigm for disciplinary mode of governance, inclines the subject—through malvalence—to modify his/her/its relation to the self to conform with the disciplinary apparatus. The prison, then, forms our relation to ourselves. It seems that, while not developed, the seeds of Foucault’s later work can be seen in D & P. I am out of space. I will stop. I think I about to start rambling.

  8. In reading the first section of Discipline and Punishment, “The body of the condemned”, I was struck by Foucault’s deployment of Damiens and the way Foucault recounts the public execution. This post probably runs the risk of pointing out the obvious, but I wanted to take some time to appreciate how this introduction accomplishes more than I initially gave credit for.

    This introductory scene’s purpose initially seemed to serve just as a historical contrast from Leon Faucher’s house rules. Which is already a tall order. By prefacing his thoughts with this historical contrast, Foucault creates a space to genealogically trace punishment’s transition from public spectacle, to the removal of bodily pain, and, ultimately, to the judgement of extra-juridical abstractions (madness, normalcy, etc.). It is a tale that accentuates punishment’s shift from a violently negative practice to a diagnostically generative one that produces further channels of control. In this vein, Foucault’s treatment of Damiens must simply illustrate torture’s reductive quality in contrast to Faucher’s house rules. But if this were the only condition, then why go to such length to describe the inefficiencies of public torture as a mechanism for “apportioning blame”? What exactly does the text gain by presenting the public execution of Damiens as a series of failed executions?

    However, after rereading the passages through Foucault’s sense that a contemporary desire for humanization fueled several ruminations on the disappearance of public torture, it makes sense to present the public execution as a farce of sorts. My initial reaction towards the macabre scene of making “amende honorable” was the perhaps typical wincing and squirming. I felt sympathy for the tortured victim and instinctively summoned a sense that the scene I was reading was both outdated and ethically inhumane. However, Damiens continued to defy death and the execution kept going. It even gets to the point, after his limbs had been pulled away, that the executed figure continues to defy death by virtue of his lower jaw’s moving as though he were still talking. In a very Monty Python and the Holy Grail sort of way, what was at first a sympathetic figure then becomes a nuisance, a problem. Despite mutilating the body, the “subject” has not been punished, blame has not been apportioned, and the scene ends with a joke about a dog who had to be shooed from the cremation site. All this to say that this introductory scene contrastingly renders a historically older mode of reductive punishment, attempts to circumnavigate existing humanization readings of disappearing public executions, and presents the problem of failed punishment.