Friday, February 25, 2011

Postructuralism and Power

As I prepared this week for this post, I thought hard about the concept of power- what it means, how it is produced and what are the mechanisms that proliferate it. I thought of the themes of struggle and negotiation because when we examine power or the idea of it, these themes are consistent with the application of power and in the resistance to it. Human beings are constantly engaged in a power struggle, whether it is on a macro-level (national/international politics) or a micro-level (workplace or family dynamics). As the recent events in Libya and Egypt indicate, we are living in times where regimes are becoming increasingly unstable, and the battle over who controls territory, resources and populations are in a constant state of flux which heightens anxiety and uncertainty of what the future will hold. War in fact is an extreme form of negotiation as sides engage in combat either physical or ideological to decide how power is distributed among objects and subjects. War has rules of engagement that exist because humanity negotiated the terms in which we kill and destroy in our power struggles.

Postructuralism is the culmination of the progression of thought that can be traced to the Marxian thesis. We discussed structuralism last week and structuralism is important because structuralists sought to understand the mechanisms than govern or produce human activity. Postructuralists recognize that these structures are never static, even in language. Foucault departs from Marx’s top-down philosophy as he recognizes that discourse exists across the line of discernable power and people outside the realms of power have the ability to change it. We all have agency. So as we proceed I will discuss the broad concept of postructuralism briefly, then I will discuss Foucault’s visitation of the repressive hypothesis and his concepts of biopower, biopolitics and panopticism.

Jacques Derrida in deep concentration

For postructuralists, meaning or structure is never fixed but always in negotiation. What is ‘meaning’ exists in a flow of interpretations following interpretations. Meaning is perpetually unstable. Signifiers do not produce signifieds but more signifiers (challenging Saussure) (chain of signifieds). Derrida’s idea of differance is important because he recognizes the importance of the discursive shift that is always in negotiation. “If we look up the signifier letter…we discover five possible signifieds: a written or printed message; a character of the alphabet, the strict meaning of agreement, precisely (as in “to the letter”) and to write or mark letters on a sign…” (CTPC, 126). Binary oppositions exist in a relation of power “in which one term is in a position of dominance over the other” (CTPC,127).

Foucault is concerned with how power operates within discourse as discourse can enable, constrain, or constitute. “Language…is a discourse, it enables me to speak, it constrains what I can say, it constitutes me as a speaking subject (situates and produces my subjectivity)” (CTPC, 128). Where power exists it is also resisted, and power is productive, as it produces reality through discourse. In the History of Sexuality, Foucault examines the discursive formation of sexuality as an invention of the Victorian discourses. The Victorian invention of sexuality did not invent sex itself but produced power over sexual behavior to organize and regulate activity. It sought to determine what was productive or unproductive, what was normal or what was deviant. The discourse acts as an authority over the activity, the “regimes of truth” insomuch as they are accepted, thought to be, and acted on as if they are true.  This process is always negotiated or in flux as discourse does not simply impose power, but exists in a space where power is resisted with the opportunity to undermine or thwart it.

Michel Foucault in a good mood

The Repressive Hypothesis
Foucault examines the history of sexuality and the proliferation of the subject of sex in public discourse. As sex in the private sphere was something that was censored, the opposite happened in discourse. “There was a steady proliferation of discourses concerned with sex- specific discourses, different from one another in both by their form and by their object: a discursive ferment that gathered momentum from the eighteenth century onward” (HS, 302). Power wanted to discuss sex in specific detail, articulating the specific acts, the “positions of the partners, the caresses… an entire painstaking review of the sexual act”. The discussion of sex became more explicit in the pastoral confession, as power needed to know these details about the “evil” in order to eradicate it. Ultimately the discourses on sex define what makes sex productive as they inform society how they should have sex and what acts are outside of normative behavior. Marriage existed as the ideal for sexual relations, in fact, any sex act performed without the specific purpose of procreation in a sanctioned marriage was not acceptable. With this example we can see how the discourses on sex have modified this Victorian attitude. While sex in the institution of marriage still in many ways is ideal, there is much more space and public acceptance for sexual behavior outside of this traditional institution. The fascination with defining acceptable sexual behavior in scientific, medical and legal discourses ostensibly produced a categorization of people based solely on their sexual activity, which is how the idea of the homosexual was born. This is not to say that these sex acts did not exist before this classification, but that the formation of this categorization through discourse acts as a
Good times in the Victorian Era
mechanism for power to regulate this activity. Even as late as the early 20th century,heterosexuality was considered outside of the normative acceptable behavior, as the term defined a deviant abnormal appetite for the opposite sex. Regulating the means of reproduction was necessary for power because of the emphasis on controlling the population. “Governments perceived that they were not simply dealing with subjects, or even with a “people”, but with a “population”, with its specific phenomena and its peculiar variables: birth and death rates, life expectancy, fertility, state of health, frequency of illnesses, patterns of diet and habitation” (HS, 308). The masses were seen as economic components for prosperous industry and it was important to understand and regulate how people reproduced. Marriage existed as an institution to control sex and economic power and sex was regulated by the court system. These regulatory practices are examples of what Foucault called biopower, or the mechanisms or technologies used to control society.

Biopower and Biopolitics
The mechanisms for controlling and regulating human activity in society function to make these human subjects productive. Foucault argues that institutions of power exist in a continuity to discipline society into the acceptable forms of behavior. “The continuity of the institutions themselves, which were linked to one another (public assistance with the orphanage, the reformatory, the penitentiary… A continuity of the punitive criteria and mechanisms, which on the basis of a mere deviation gradually strengthened the rules and increased the punishment” (ST, 418).  In other words biopolitics are the political practices that regulate or govern the activity of subjects. This is what Foucault calls the “carceral network” or the complex material framework where society is organized. The delinquent is an ‘institutional product" and prison serves as the ultimate in the exercise of discipline. The exercise of the carceral system makes the “power to punish natural and legitimate, in lowering at least the threshold of tolerance to penality” (ST, 419). The various mechanisms employed by the carceral system legitimizes the ultimate forms of punishment and violence, as these modes of justice are naturalized through the various discourses and institutions. Components of the carceral system acting in concert produce the appearance of a system with checks and balances to regulate it. For example, when someone is executed or a declaration of war or other sanctioned violence is activated, the carceral system insures that this mode of action was necessary and a natural consequence after going through the checks and balances of the established order. Foucault writes, “the carceral pyramid gives to the power to inflict legal punishment a context in which it appears to be free of all excess and violence” (ST, 419).
Discourse and more importantly the discourses of power serve to legitimize and make the exercises of discipline regulation and correction normative.  “The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator judge, the “social worker” judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based, and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects it to his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements “(ST 420-421).  This is why discourse is analogous to power, as power dictates what is acceptable through discourses insomuch as the people in society mirror these regulatory mechanisms because they are agreed upon as normative and necessary.


Jeremy Bentham designed a prison in 1787 that “allows an inspector to observe all the prisoners in the surrounding cells without the prisoners knowing whether or not they are in fact being observed” (CTPC, 
Get in that damn cell!
 131). This design can be viewed as analogous to the mechanisms of control in modern society, as society has a constant awareness of the possibility of being under surveillance.  As it exists in this prison design, the inmates are constantly aware of the guard’s ability to watch them, even if this is not the case. In this design power is assumed as automatic, which in turn produces self-regulated activity. “Therefore, they learn to behave as if they were being watched. This is the power of the panopticon. Panopticism is the extension of this system of surveillance to society as a whole” (CTPC, 132).

Foucault describes this shift in social control from punishment to discipline. Instead of the outrageous public displays of punishment and torture to frighten people into behaving, panopticism serves to create awareness that we are always observed by power. We discipline ourselves according to the conventions and laws of society because the real possibility that someone, or most importantly, power, can see us. This historical shift revolutionized the way social control was exercised. Now the overt displays of punishment were no longer necessary, and the discourses and institutions would function to regulate society in a subtler fashion. 

Foucault writes:

“In short, to substitute for a power that is manifested through the brilliance of those who exercise it, a power that insidiously objectifies those on whom it is applied; to form a body of knowledge about these individuals, rather than to deploy the ostentatious signs of sovereignty. In word, the disciplines are the ensemble of minute technical inventions that made it possible to increase the size of multiplicities by decreasing the inconveniences of the power which, in order to make them useful, most control them.” (Panopticon, 209-210)

Tell me who’s watching?

We are all being watched. All around us cameras record our activity; we can be tracked through GPS technology in our cell phones, our exact locations can be pinpointed from satellite view. What does this mean for us? How does it regulate our activity or explicate our subjectivity? People are becoming more paranoid over these mechanisms of surveillance and concerned with their privacy. Citizens are becoming more outraged at this level of surveillance post 9/11, our civil liberties are at stake and individuals feel violated on many fronts. 
We know if you've been bad or good...

Many would argue that our modern conveniences and advances in technology are simply mechanisms to monitor, regulate, dictate and ultimately control our activity. We are living in a time where panopticism is greater than ever, as most of our activity can be aggregated through databases.

Here are my questions:
1. How do you view power and how do you see it being exercised or negotiated in your life? Do you buy Foucault’s theories of knowledge, power and discourse?

2. Are you at all paranoid because of panopticism? Do you feel that advances in technology, surveillance and information are beneficial or detrimental to humanity?

So as we close I will leave you with clips of a debate between Foucault and Noam Chomsky.




  1. Part I.

    I’ll warn you in advance that I have gone overboard this week, because appearing together, for the first time in print, are two of my favorite topics: Foucault and Bob Jones University ( Brace yourselves, colleagues.

    Marcus, you ask an excellent question in your blog posting: “How do you view power and how do you see it being exercised or negotiated in your life? Do you buy Foucault’s theories of knowledge, power and discourse?” Of course, writing about (my past life at) Bob Jones University is too much of a temptation to resist at such an opportune moment.

    I’ll say up front that, based on this post, you’ll see just how salient I actually find Foucault’s theories to be for illuminating the intertwined and complex nature(s) of power, knowledge, and language. I focus this post, primarily, on how "discourses work in three ways: they enable, they constrain, and they constitute" (Storey 128).

    For your reading pleasure, here is a link to the 2010 – 2011 BJU Academic Handbook: I strongly urge you all to read through it sometime, for a genuine sense of what Foucault is talking about. Also, appreciate that this is even available. I recall in my time there that I signed a contract (as did every incoming freshman) agreeing never to distribute or publish anything from the Handbook. Clearly, someone has resisted. Technology is so liberating!

    In the vein of Foucault, the possibilities for textual analysis of this Handbook are endless, but I submit two fragments for your consideration. [Note: All bracketed clarifications/commentary are interpretatively my own, based on my recollections of experiences had from 2002 to 2004.]

    #1 The University’s Statement of its Legal Rights.

    In executing its disciplinary system, as other educational institutions do, BJU reserves the right to:

    1)Inspect residence hall rooms and lockers [this includes all of your personal belongings in your dorm room, such as journals and letters, as well as your car if you are a Day Student (“Townie”) like I was]

    2)Scan e-mails or viruses and objectionable content and to review if deemed necessary [internet use is closely monitored to begin with and access to most popular webpages is prohibited due to the strong filters employed]

    3)Revoke a student’s network access without prior notification if the student’s computer poses a threat to other computers or to the stability of the network

    4)Inspect the content of any electronic device (e.g., MP3 player, computer, cell phone, etc.) if deemed necessary [which is largely unnecessary, since students are prohibited from having headphones in the dorms or anywhere else on campus]

    5)Communicate with a student’s parents and/or pastor on any situation involving the student

    I use these Legal Rights not only to establish context, but also to highlight the nature of what constitutes public and private. Essentially, nothing – including and especially discourse – is ever private at this university. I recall hearing a story of a girl expelled after her roommate (“PC,” or rather “Prayer Captain” – the “leader” of every dorm room, appointed as such due to a strong record of Biblical leadership) found her journal and turned it into the Dean of the Students (can you imagine your Dean reading your journal?). The girl was promptly expelled for writing about indiscretions that had taken place over the previous summer, when school wasn’t even in session (lesson to learn: never kiss and tell your journal).

    So, beyond making a point about the lack of boundaries between public and private, I would also highlight the perceptible link between this kind of existence and Bentham’s “panoptic machine” (Storey 131). At BJU, someone is ALWAYS watching, reading, listening, inspecting, and judging. “In other words, inmates do not know whether or not they are being watched. Therefore, they learn to behave as if they are always being watched”… (Storey 132).

    Now, to language.

  2. Part II.

    #2 Policy regarding the Use of Social Media.

    “Language should not violate scriptural commands regarding abusive, slanderous, complaining, profane, blasphemous or tale-bearing speech, and content should be biblical and avoid promoting a lifestyle contrary to principles taught in Scripture or at the University.”

    Notice this all-encompassing clause about the (regulated) use of language in social media, in a public sense since, after all, nothing is private at this university. This does not just suggest what you might initially be thinking: swearing, slang, off-color humor, sexual references, and the like. This policy is also intended to curb criticism of the university and all that it entails. It is not only the Bible from which this policy derives credibility, it is from the University itself, which interprets, teaches, and enforces these principles, intending to produce a certainly “lifestyle” that is in line with both the Bible and the University.

    Undoubtedly, this policy reflects well the university’s understanding that (and fear of how) “discourse produces knowledge and knowledge is always a weapon of power” (Storey 130). In this instance, to use language in a certain way is to identify, resist, and criticize the powers that be. For instance, though left off this particular list in the Handbook, I recall “griping” being a frivolously enforced, demerit-worthy term used to catch students who questioned policies, practices, and persons at the university. More substantially, I know that the university monitors closely and even edits comments left by alumni on the official Alumni webpage, the wikipedia entry about the university (, and what people write in both the official and unofficial Facebook groups (groups like “Bob Jones University survivors” and “Alumni of BJU interested in the truth” are increasingly active and demonstrate discursive resistance). Language is powerful, knowledge is powerful, and the university suspects both. Even my writing this blog entry counts as discursive resistance and, if discovered, would land me on an existing list of undesirables kept in “The Database,” a much-whispered about massive online system for classifying faculty, staff, current students, former students, alumni, and prospective students as "friendly" or otherwise to BJU.

    I have to restrain myself from writing more, so I’ll leave you with this last gem of a policy and let you figure out how repression ties into all of this:

    “On and off campus, physical contact between men and women students is not allowed.”

  3. I guess if this blog gets mysteriously hacked and/or crashes, we will know why. Melody’s old friend, Bob Jones, is watching…


    Marcus, nice work dealing with some challenging material. On thing is for sure regardless of whether or not we agree with Foucault’s theories of knowledge, power, and discourse, as you ask: we can’t think about “power” without thinking about Foucault.

    One of the themes in the readings this week and in Marcus’ blog post concerns Foucault’s emphasis on the productive aspect of power. As Storey and other commentators on Foucault’s theory of power point out (e.g. Jasinski, _Sourcebook_On_Rhetoric_), Foucault stresses that, whatever “power” is, it is not merely a “negative force, something which denies, represses, negates.” Instead, “power is productive” (Storey 130). In other words, power comprises not simply a vertical, top-down force that constrains and limits what people do, but it also comprises a horizontal force that produces relationships, practices, and knowledge, often from the “ground up,” so to speak.

    I found this point most clearly illustrated in Foucault’s discussion of (and challenge to) the “Repressive Hypothesis.” This “hypothesis” is that “modern industrial societies ushered in an age of increased sexual repression” (Foucault 327) supposedly through the exercise of negative power. Foucault replies that, while modern societies may have caused increased sexual repression, they did not necessarily do so by denying the “sexuality” of people but, in fact, by increasing, expanding, and heightening people’s sensitivity to it. This increased sensitivity to sex occurred through discursive practices, and these discourses effected new categories that exercised new silences and controls over sex.

    For instance, Foucault points out how “sexuality”/ “sex” increasingly became the subject of “analytical discourses” in the 18th century: “one had to speak of [sex] as a thing not to be simply condemned or tolerated but managed […]. Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered […]. it called for management procedures; it had to be taken charge of by analytical discourses” (F. 307). These analytic discourses emerged in an increased attention to demography and “population,” to child rearing practices and pedagogies, and to medical study and categorization of sex, and in the process, Foucault argues that “sex was driven out of hiding and constrained to lead a discursive existence” (314). Once driven out into the open, sex could be controlled more effectively and thus silenced. Hence, one of Foucault’s key points: the power that asserted itself on modern sexuality was not imposed from above (like from the law) but from within the networks of society itself, specifically its discursive practices.


    In light of Foucault’s insights, I think it would be interesting to examine the ad campaigns of certain “sex” drugs like those for erectile dysfunction (ED). The emphasis in many of these pharmaceutical commercials (not limited to sex) is to “talk to your doctor to see if this drug is right for you.” In this Viagra commercial ( ), the add not only emphasizes the need to “talk to your doctor,” but it also stresses the agency of the male subject in being able to carry out this talking: “This is the age of knowing how to get things done. So why would you let something like erectile dysfunction get in your way? Isn’t it time you talked to your doctor about Viagra?” Not only is sex in this commercial something to be controlled (over and against the subtext of being powerless to control it—impotence), but it is something to be strategically managed through talk and consumption (of a commodity).

  4. It seems to me that once we get into the process of defining, we are in the process of creating structures. An essential element of definition is the inclusion/exclusion. In fact, this is the irony of post-structuralism. It only has meaning in relation to a previous ideological stance known as structuralism.

    A dictionary definition summarizes post-structuralism ( this way:

    "Any of various theories or methods of analysis, including deconstruction and some psychoanalytic theories, that deny the validity of structuralism's method of binary opposition and maintain that meanings and intellectual categories are shifting and unstable."

    The question has been posed concerning our experiences with power. Melody and I share some common fundamentalist roots. From this, I understand power to be firmly established because it is typically raised to a metaphysical level (ala "divine right of kings") and thus beyond contestation. Within power is the ability to exercise authority. The two are closely related, but not the same. When I was in the Navy, I was part of the military power of the United States. Structure was everything and the structure would crush the individual or any group of individuals for the sake of the dominant paradigm. I had some authority based on my rank and rating. I was a personnel clerk. However, I had little power. The illusion of power was a function of my skill set over and against someone else’s skill set, such as the storekeeper or the electrician or the hospital corpsman.

    On the other hand, when I was a local church pastor, I had both authority and power, which was exercised in the context of a specific denominational structure. Unlike the military structure, the denominational structure could be characterized as dialogic/discursive. The negotiations would eventually result in revisions to the written rules of order and discipline.

    So, while the base/superstructure binary is the subject of critique and reinterpretation in the work of Foucault, I assert that they continue to be components of power. I am cynical enough to believe that once power hierarchies are established they never fundamentally change. Discourse may open more space at the table, but paradigmatically things remain the same. Boundaries are fixed and the hierarchy doesn't fundamentally change. So, agency is at once real and an illusion. It is real, but at the most basic level, every human can assent or dissent within a set of bound choices. It is an illusion, because agency is always in context - never absolute. That is to say we are all born into a world already in progress. Negotiation is a nice fiction. Who among us can negotiate biology? Difference is real. Male is not female. There are phenotypic distinctions among humans. The labels may be negotiable, but the structure is not.

  5. I would argue that I am not paranoid when it comes to panopticism, but that I am extremely aware of the presence of others watching. Foucault’s extension of Bentham’s panopticon into our social structure provides me with an understanding of this concept is clear in the teachings of my father. My father always insisted that I be very aware that someone is always watching; watching to see if I am who I say I am, if I will be consistent, if I will represent my family well. It is this belief that someone is always watching that has guided me and plagued me throughout my life.

    It was through discourse with my father that I began to understand the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that should guide me as I grew. It was not just this discourse but the lack of discourse. Not only were appropriate and inappropriate behaviors conveyed, but appropriate and inappropriate discourses were conveyed as well. It is discourses like this that demonstrate their three ways of working: enable, constrain, and constitute (Storey, pg. 128). In these discourses with my father, I learned how to behave and what I could discuss (enable), what behavior and discussions were prohibited (constrain), and ultimately how I was to be (constitute). In my life, he was the primary “judge of normality.”

    Once these discourses have taken place, it is the panoptic society reinforces the power structure constantly watching for those who are delinquent. I am well aware that everything I Google is kept in archives and that cameras are constantly recording my presence in public spaces, such as businesses and roadways. So in addition to adhering to behaviors discussed by my father, I also adhere to appropriate societal behaviors and laws, such as not running a red light in the event that I might receive a ticket due to a camera catching me.
    However, I believe that there is a generation of youth, particularly those in undergraduate below, that feel more like they are only those who are doing the looking, much like the “Big Brother” scenario which Storey describes (pg. 132-3). Most current online ethnographic research shows that these students, particularly teens, feel that no one other than their friends care about what they are doing online. I there was a similar feeling in my generation when it came to downloading music illegally online. However, in our “panoptic society of which incarceration is the omnipresent armature, the delinquent is not outside the law” (ST, pg. 418). We saw this when prosecution began against illegal downloaders ( However, currently, there has been a surge of arrests due to Facebook content ( The panopticon is alive and very active and “the judges of normality are present everywhere” (ST, pg. 420).

    Back to my discourses with my father, as I become older, I continue to have conversations with my father. However, now, through the pushing of the boundaries and negotiations (sometimes intense ones) I have been able to gain more power in the conversations.

    BTW, I can completely relate to Melody’s experience at Bob Jones, as Baylor had many Christian based rules that dictated normal behavior. I graduated prior to the explosion of social media and I honestly cannot imagine what a nightmare that was for those enforcing rules and those haphazardly making posts.

  6. The article and Marcus’ discussion about panopticism is what intrigued me the most about this week’s reading. Interestingly, I was driving on Poplar last night towards downtown and I actually had a panoptic experience and revelation. The close one gets to down from Poplar, the more crime-ridden the surrounding neighborhoods are perceived to be. While at a stop light in front of a Kroger in Midtown, my attention was drawn to a police surveillance/recorder setup in the Kroger parking lot a few feet away from a bus stop where homeless people in the area are known to hangout at night. I noticed the surveillance not because it stood over ten feet tall, but because of the occasional blue light that occasionally flashed to remind people that a police presence is present. I drove about another mile towards downtown and noticed another police surveillance in the parking lot of a gas station adjacent to 201 Poplar—the police station.

    The police surveillances in those parking lots were planted to serve the same purpose as the one placed in Bentham’s prison in 1787. Though the machines are there flashing every few minutes and people can see the enclosed cameras at the top, no one really knows if an officer is monitoring the surveillances or if a tape is actually recording everything that happens. Nevertheless, I bet everyone like me—I intentionally did the speed limit as I drove through those areas—are less likely to commit a crime in light the surveillances. In this way, the surveillances perform Foucault’s assumption that “the major effect of the Panopticon is to induce….a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Storey 131).

    The goal of such initiatives is to instill in people the importance of “doing the right thing” at all times because the powers that be are always present, even when we do not see an actual person (officer) in blue. Such efforts are designed to overpower our id nature, which is to “fuck and kill.” Interestingly, I went to the movies the other night with a friend and because our movie ended a few minutes before another movie was starting next to our theatre, she wanted us to sneak into the next theatre without paying—her id nature was in full force. However, I told her I was not interested and I gave her some speech about how integrity is what a person does when no one is watching. Long story short, what she doesn’t know is that I have noticed the closed circuit strategically placed throughout the movie theatre lobby. Though I want to believe I chose not to do it because of my integrity, I’m not 100% sure my consciousness that the powers that be could be monitoring our actions did not play an integral role in my ethical decision.

    To answer marcus' question, I'm not paranoid about the surveillances, but my awareness of them motivates me to do what's right.

  7. I would first like to point out that there are no country artists in Marcus's get pumped up for power week postings. Although country music often concentrates on struggles with power (especially in interpersonal relationships), I suppose the music does not convey the message with the urgency that hip hop and rap artists do. Anyway...

    I find it interesting that the posts thus far that deal with panopticism do so in the literal sense of "someone is always watching" and how this affects individual behaviors. Bob Jones University survelleince (which is unfathomable to me), internet archives, red light traffic cameras, and the like are blantant example of the panopticism phenomenon in today's society. Yet, EVERYTHING we do is in reaction to the belief that someone is watching. John Berger discussion of the differences between men"s and women's behavior in Ways of Seeing is appropriate here. "A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies...The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual- but its object is always exterior to the man. A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you" (45-46). I quote this passage only to give context to the world of womanhood. Women have been "taught and persuaded to survey [themselves] continually" (46). Reading Berger is interesting and somewhat disturbing as one considers how power structures affect our behaviors. According to Berger, "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being look at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves" (47). In keeping with this philosophy, I am not concerned with advances in technology being a benefit or a detriment to me. Big Brother is watching. So what? What is a concern, albeit one that I can do nothing about, is that unofficial brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and the like are watching and their gaze upon me determines how I will dress, how I will speak, how I will behave,in sum how my entire personhood will be displayed. At times, this conforms to expectations of ideals about womanhood, adulthood, sisterhood, graduate student-hood, and all other signifiers that I encompass. At other times, I am in direct opposition. But either way, I am aware that someone is watching, even if I wish they were not.

    Foucault's idea that "power produces reality" (Storey, 130) is reflected in the paragraph above. Men have the power in our society and because of this power, the "truth" about womanhood is constructed by them. So, while I can agree that power is productive, I cannot agree that what it produces is always "right" or "fair." Just as it was difficult for some members of the class to accept a defintion of violence that was contrary to the violence status quo, it is difficult for me to not think of power as something which "denies, represses, [and]negates" (Storey, 130).

  8. What “carceral network” is making me get up on a Sunday before noon? We have Bob Jones who tells me what mediums I can or cannot use, the doctors, if I had insurance, who I might need to call after four hours, the United States’ Navy that crushes individuals creating war machines, “Big Brother” in the form of a search engine, or the police surveillance camera making sure I got my veggies. I cannot get Marcus’s musical example out of my head, “Somebody’s watching me.” It seems what Foucault provides is a method for us to figure out who is watching us and why. He allows us to examine or discover the institutions that are exerting power through discourse, bio-power, or the micro-powers we are allowed to defeat. I think we recognize power through those “points of confrontation” where we feel we have temporarily, changed the power relations. We feel in those instances that we have the power. But our resistance is still institutionalized.
    Like everyone else I will pull an example from my experience. In “The Body of the Condemned” Foucault explains, “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” (p. 175). Would it be right to translate this as knowledge is power? Riding Marcus’s theme of surveillance, a group of friends of mine formed the Arizona Surveillance Camera players. They operated off of the belief that knowledge is power. They would locate cameras out in public space and make people aware of their existence by putting on shows for the cameras. They would basically entertain the poor soul whose job was to monitor the camera. Sometimes they would have security personnel who cooperated and give them copies of their performances. Other times these rent-a-cops would attempt to enact a corporation’s sovereignty and prohibit the performances. But these confrontations were what the performers wanted, they completed the performance.
    “So, with the performance winding down, the Centerpoint's chief bouncer, a friendly beef of a man named Andy, emerged from the shade cast by buildings west along Sixth Street and demanded, "Who's in charge here?"
    Now this was theater, the moment Banaszewski had been performing and waiting for.
    "I'm Centerpoint security," said Andy. "I work for this property. Get your signs off of here or I'm going to throw them in the trash."
    Banaszewski, standing opposite in a white tee shirt and green khakis, thrust out his chest and deftly tried to change the subject.
    "So you're telling me that a government-owned Web cam is broadcasting images in a privately owned space?" he bellowed.
    "I don't know anything about a government Web cam on a private space," says Andy. "All I know is you need to get your signs out of here." (

    If power creates reality and truth, then is it more fully revealed in those moments when we are disciplined and willingly follow the rules or when the institution exerts itself?
    Post Foucault I guess my paranoia, is now located in those instances when my discipline kicks in and I don’t realize it.

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  10. Power acts to annihilate freedom, whereby the individual finds himself subjugated to a lesser status as he enslaved to that society in which he belongs. That is, according to the structuralist theory of power the individual will never reach fulfillment as he is an agent of the controlling system. However, the post-structuralist theory scrutinizes this dire condition differently than structuralist theorists before them. Michel Foucault discusses discourse and power. Discourses work in three distinct ways. First, discourse acts to enable. Second, discourse constrains. Finally, discourse ultimately acts to constitute something.

    For Foucault, individual agency acts to ensure that structures in place do not remain unchanged or static. That is, negotiation is ongoing. Discourse through language ultimately reveals “regimes of truth” (CTPC, 130). Power ultimately produces reality (Foucault stresses the positive consequences of such ideologies. For example, he states, “Discourse transmits and produces power, it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it” (CPTC, 130).

    Marcus raises the paranoia that has accompanied itself to the digital age mindset. There will come a point at which progress becomes a detrimental force to society. The panoptic is overwhelmingly part of everyday life in the twenty-first century. For example, in Culture and Technology, the authors explicitly address this notion of human surveillance, stating, “There are surveillance cameras, microphones, and tracking technologies operating nearly everywhere. The average Londoner is photographed 300-500 times per day” (Slack, 2005). Essentially, we are all subject to the panoptic. The structure controls us just as its original design intended.

    Similarly, for example, in the Wizard of Oz, individuals are not to pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. Namely, we as individual actors are distracted away from the powers which ultimately inhibit our freedom. That is, once agency kicks in one may see the system in which he or she lives to be an ultimate illusory world in which few control many. Just as Bush-era legislation such as the “Patriot Act” repressed freedom, citizens were calmed by the government’s control for “our” safety. That is, the act allows widespread surveillance of our country’s people while, stressing the need for obliterating the other and protecting us. Meanwhile, we are not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, for he only acts for our benefit… Cheers.

  11. I loved all of the clips and links, but I especially appreciated the Chomsky/Foucault debate.

    Like those who have previously commented, my paranoia due to panopticism stems from an early age. I grew up in a town of less than 1,500 people, so deviations from “appropriate behavior” were very quickly noticed and more importantly, remembered. This not only influenced how you were treated, but your family members as well. I learned at a very young age not to mention anything to anyone outside of my family unless I was comfortable with the entire town knowing. I’ll skip any more details and go straight to my point—my background combined with the fact that I know things like the FBI has the ability to listen to my conversation through my cell phone (1), yes, that makes me paranoid, i.e. conscious of it. However, I think this rubs up against what Foucault means when he says, “power comes from below” (ST, p. 474). Instead, one’s reaction to panopticism becomes a point of struggle for power and knowledge. Yes, there are certain things that individuals won’t do, because somehow they will get in trouble if caught, but there are some things—like public (and private) dissent of unethical policies that are more important than getting caught.

    To extend this to answer the other half of your first question, I’m on the fence with whether or not I buy Foucault’s theories of knowledge, power and discourse. Do I agree with the fact that discourses enable, constrain, and constitute as Storey puts it? Well, yes, of course. However, there is a difference between saying, “power produces reality” (Storey, p. 130) and “Rhetoric is epistemic” (2). One could easily make the claim that rhetoric is power and then power produces reality or that the negotiation of rhetoric is actually the negotiation of power, which in turn produces a way of seeing the world. However, like Darren, I am hesitant to completely jump on board with that claim. Although I agree “History has no ‘meaning,’” I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding how one can advance the claim “one’s point of reference should not be to the great model of language (langue) and signs, but to that of war and battle” without meaning (Truth and Power, p. 56). As Lakoff (3) argues, the metaphors we choose to use construct our reality. We view rhetoric differently if we treat it as a dance versus a battle. We view power differently whether we accept it as pouvoir, puissance, or both (4). I am torn, because I want to accept Foucault, and I do agree there is a power struggle in how words are defined. However, I believe meaning still plays a very large role.


  12. In regards to this week’s readings, I think that one key aspect that Foucault emphasizes that links back to our discussion of ideology and power structures is the idea of historical naturalization. However, I do not find this to be that surprising being that Althusser, who was Foucault’s teacher, along with Barthe also believe in this notion pertaining to ideology. I believe that Storey points out the similarities in Foucault’s notion of ideology- power and truth- with Althusser’s concept of ideology as perpetuated naturalization and Barthe’s concept of justified myths. Similar to the later two concepts, Storey writes, “What Foucault calls ‘regimes of truth’ do not have to be ‘true’; they have only to be thought of as ‘true’ and acting on as if ‘true.’ If ideas are believed, they establish and legitimate particular regimes of truth” (p. 130). In Power as Knowledge, Foucault elaborates and distinguishes his views as different than Marxists thoughts of power and base/superstructure complex by asserting that he does not see a system of power constructed in one dominant group exerting such power over another, which he calls “only the terminal forms power takes” (Social Theory, p. 473); rather Foucault believes that power is always in a state of flux and within it, negotiations and resistance can be at play. According to Foucault discourses of resistance “by definition… only exist in the strategic field of power relations” (Social Theory, p. 475). I find Foucault’s notion of power to be very intriguing. For example, while I do believe in a more Marxist approach to power, I also believe that discourses emerge that try to “fight the system (power)”. Hence, I believe that power is, at least, attempting to be resisted/negotiated.
    I think that a good example that illuminates this Foucauldian concept is one that Marcus shared in this week’s post- Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the music genre of hip hop was created, with emerging ideas to “fight the power”- in other words, resist and stand up to dominant hegemonic regimes. Throughout this time period, black rappers and singers wrote about their oppressed experiences in the Ghettos, being victims of police violence/brutality, and racism itself. In this time period, most Black musicians formed a resistance to bring attention to their oppressed experiences and show that they were not going to simply sit back as the dominant force exhibited this power over them; they were fighting for equality and negotiations within the system of power.
    Lastly, in regards to panopticism, I believe that Foucault was spot on with this notion and that surveillance and censorship are obviously guiding force in the systems of power in present day. It seems that technology is positioning the protection against violence, especially in the post 9/11 world, ultimately as an excuse to integrate more surveillance into the world. A good example of this that comes to mind is the chip that is placed on merchandise for Wal-Mart stores. Every time someone buys merchandise with a credit/debit card, the chip in the merchandise (which last in the item forever) is tracked in relation to that person and their actions as long as they keep the item. Big Brother must be busy at work!

  13. Hello, fellow incendiaries. I meant to have my post up last night, but I had to do a bunch of GA work for the department yesterday and was running around for a better part of the day not able to focus on Foucault. I promise to have an insightful post ready in a couple of hours and I assure you that it'll be worth your time.

    PS - Melody, I can't believe you survived BJU with an objective voice and independent opinions. God Bless You! If you want a funny anecdote RE: BJU, look up a chapter in Al Franken's LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM, where he and an intern pose as a father and son visiting the campus. Funny stuff.

  14. Thanks, Robert! Franken is epic stuff. Here's the link for everybody else. I promise you won't be disappointed.

  15. I tried my best to keep this brief :-(
    I will try to lay out a cogent argument in response to Marcus' two questions.

    Response to question # 1: yes, I buy Foucault's notions of knowledge, power and discourse. I think the most important aspect of power is how society creates structures and norms that create a perception that violence is okay in certain situations as long as the atmosphere inherent in the society overall appears non-violent. In his article BIOPOLITICS AND THE CARCERAL SOCIETY, this carceral society has a powerful yet subtle effect on the populace: "The most important effect of the Carceral System is that it succeeds in making the power to punish natural and legitimate, in lowering at least the threshold of tolerance to penalty...carceral continuity and the fusion of the prison-form make it possible to legalize, or in any case to legitimate disciplinary power, which thus avoids any element of excess or abuse it may entail...the carceral 'naturalizes' the legal power to punish, as it 'legalizes' the technical power to discipline" (ST 418-19). We see these effects throughout our system; take the death penalty, for instance: ostensibly this is government sanctioned murder. The idea that a person can be reformed seems to be completely disregarded so that society and the victim's family can receive recompense for an individuals crimes. Ironically, the methods of death penalty have become more "humane" over our country's existence. We now find a way to kill our criminals without making them suffer. This idea segues into another of Foucault's ideas: ENTRY OF LIFE INTO HISTORY.

    Take for instance a passage from "Right of Death and Power over Life" from PRACTICES AND KNOWLEDGE: "...the development of the different fields of knowledge concerned with life in general, the improvement of agricultural techniques, and the observations and measures relative to man's life and survival contributed to this relaxation: a relative control over life averted some of the imminent risks of death. In the space for movement thus conquered, and broadening and organizing that space, methods of power and knowledge assumed responsibility for the life processes and undertook to control and modify them. Western man was gradually learning what it meant to be a living species in a living world, to have a body, conditions of existence, probabilities of life, an individual and collective welfare, forces that could be modified, and a space in which they could be distributed in an optimal manner. For the first time in history, no doubt, biological existence was reflected in political existence...Power would o longer be dealing simply with legal subjects over whom the ultimate dominion was death, but with living beings , and the mastery it would be able to exercise over them would have to be applied at the level of life itself; it was the taking charge of life, more than the threat of death, that gave power its access to the body" (264-65). Man's ingenuity over the past several centuries has ultimately shifted the balance of power for monarchs, despots and power structures. I think the most fascinating aspect of this shift from a culture of death power to a culture of discipline is that we have found ways to prevent disease, famine and death. As a consequence, we see less death around us or at least death on scale of the Black Plague (not redeemable in: Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, East Timor, Russia, etc.). Because we see less death -- especially death from those in power -- death is no longer the norm and expected but an aberration. The people simply won't accept it. Consequently, I back Foucault's assertion that there has been a shift from power structures. We are still not free; we just think we are because we don't have someone cutting off heads in the village square.

  16. Part II

    Response to question # 2: No, I am not paranoid because of panopticism. Sometimes, however, I find that I can get paranoid and that it almost seems daunting that little ol' me can have any effect in society, especially one as corrupt and evil as ours. This usually occurs immediately following an Oliver Stone/Noam Chomsky/Bill Hicks/Loose Change documentary viewing or a marathon of one or several of these. Eventually, I quit drinking and realize that yes there is a lot of validity of reading about panoptic structures and that they are important to study so that I will recognize them in the future, but I also take the idea of panoptic structures at face value and try to keep it at arms length so as not read into panoptic structures when they're not there.

    Do I think that advances in technology are beneficial or detrimental to society? Overwhelmingly beneficial. Take for instance the internet or personal laptops. I have a MacBook Pro and wireless internet. With a few key searches and good ideas, I can research, script, develop, and produce short films if I want to that will rail against society or panoptic structures or power centers and for very little cost. This is absolutely groundbreaking. Consider the current Jasmine Revolution. I saw a piece on CNN a couple of weeks ago where a former Google employee helped spark the revolution in Egypt. Or consider the Green Revolution in Iran. Though it isn't finalized, the people will eventually rise up and dismantle the radical state. I can name plenty of others. I think the way technology is detrimental in society is when it is used in ways that pacify the people -- sports, TV, iPhone Apps. However, I think the technology will ultimately free us because it will allow us to be fully self-sufficient without necessitating the introduction of power and those in the "know" to help us.

  17. I'm posting late, but I suppose late is better than never, right?

    There is an aspect of Foucault's theories about the carceral system that hasn't been discussed much in the thread. Foucault posits in BIOPOLITICS AND THE CARCERAL SOCIETY that the power to punish is made natural and legitimate. The power extends from the harshest corporal punishments (think labor camps) to minor limits on behavior (think a child being grounded for a week). Although individuals might consider 23 hours of solitary confinement or a lifetime of breaking rocks to be cruel, society writ large does not say the power is excessive and violent.

    Foucault questions how and why such immense power can be wielded without resistance. It can be explained partly through developing a tolerance to castigation. The division and fragmentation of power is also responsible. It is not just 1 judge who sentences a criminal. The prosecuting attorney, the jury, medical officials, and the media, among others, all pass their judgments upon the suspect. The most important factor in this equation is that people consent to the ideology of discipline and punishment. Foucault writes that the "power to punish" is granted "a sanction from below...a sanction of technique and rationality." (BIOPOLITICS)

    We accept the existence of the mechanisms of the prison system. We also play an active role in the techniques of surveillance. We all know (and many have commented) about how satellite technology allows your location to be tracked through your cell phone, but we continue to use the devices and even say they are necessary.

    The panoptic eye can watch our movements, but it cannot get inside our heads, inside our souls. Foucault identifies the soul as the target of the carceral system. We provide that insight. We post intricate and nuanced profiles on Facebook. We tell where we like to go and what we like to do on Foursquare. We weigh our opinions on message boards and Twitter feeds.

    I don't really have a conclusion. This is turning into a rant that reveals how yes, I am paranoid of panopticism. I think the technology it utilizes is beneficial or detrimental according to the power wielding it. The cliches are apt: with great power comes great responsibility; power corrupts. Ultimately, the tools and techniques are designed to control populations.