Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish (part 3: “Discipline”). New York: Vintage.
Foucault, M. (1978). History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (part 4: “The deployment of sexuality”). New York: Vintage.
Jette, S. (2006). Fit for two? A critical discourse analysis of Oxygen fitness magazine. Sociology of Sport Journal, 23, 331-351.
This week’s readings on Foucauldian Theory are dense and complex and I will do my best to touch on and summarize the key ideas covered. Written in 1975 Foucault’s Discipline & Punish is very much about the changes in power that were seen through the prison system and it focuses on the control of the body through different kinds of power.
Docile Bodies starts off by looking at the evolution of the bodies of soldiers where the docile body was one which could be “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (p.136). Foucault looked at the scale of the control of the individual body, at the object of the control through exercise, and at modality where the body is controlled through time, space and movement. These controls of the body are what Foucault considered to be the “disciplines” and were considered a way to “master” individual bodies. The rise of factories showed the importance of distributing individuals in space and time in order to supervise them, and the control of activity became an important concept so that the coding of the body and controlling of time were possible.
In The Means of Correct Training Foucault demonstrated the importance of observation in the exercise of power. We were introduced to the “gaze” that could “see everything constantly” (p.173) and the idea that factories need intense continuous supervision. As we have seen in previous weeks’ readings, time, under capitalism, is strictly regulated as any loss of time can result in lost capital – therefore “surveillance becomes a decisive economic operator both as an internal part of the production machinery and as a specific mechanism in the disciplinary power” (p.l75). Disciplinary power, along with being everywhere and always alert, must also be corrective. This is where the idea of “normalization” comes in as an instrument of power that imposes homogeneity and that can punish individuals who deviate from the “norm” (we also see the idea of the “abnormal” here). Individuals undergo examinations, in hospitals/ schools/ barracks/ and workshops to determine these norms which then become used as reference points.
In Panopticism Foucault starts off by looking at the strict spatial partitioning that was enforced during the plague, and we see how the idea of the “central gaze” was prominent – people needed to be accounted for and had to appear in windows while a centrally located inspector did visual roll-calls. This leads us to the introduction of Bentham’s Panopticon – the architectural figure that we now relate to certain prison systems that is also all about a central gaze and the control of space. The main idea of the Panopticon is that of centralized and (in)visible power. There is a central circular tower that everyone (e.g., prison inmates) can see, and from which everyone can be seen, and it is impossible to tell by looking at the tower who is inside or where they might be looking (“he is seen but does not see” p.200). This gives the impression of generalized surveillance where visibility is a “trap” and forces individuals to “self-monitor” and to exert control over their own behaviours.
Being very personally interested in the control of bodies, I found it really helpful to go back to this primary text and to see the context in which Foucault is basing a lot of his ideas. Having been exposed to Bentham’s Panopticon, and knowing how prominent this architectural theory still is (e.g., the Kingston Penitentiary down the street was built around this concept), it was really great to see how this idea can create a niche for the regulation of bodies outside of prisons. How often do we “self-monitor” our own bodies, by deciding what to eat (and imagining the “consequences” of “bad” foods) and when to exercise, in order to maintain the bodily norms that are so prominent in our capitalist consumer society and which are exploited by the media and advertising industries? Can we imagine a body that is not an object and target of power, a body that isn’t manipulated and shaped, a body that doesn’t obey or conform to the norm?
In the History of Sexuality Foucault starts by looking at the prohibitions on sexuality in the seventeenth century and the change to more relaxed views of sexuality in the twentieth century. By highlighting some important historical moments Foucault shows the emergence of a new “technology of sex” at the end of the eighteenth century that made sex a concern of the state and required individuals to place their bodies under surveillance. We can see connections to Foucaults “Discipline” here, as the technology of sex was regulated by medicine, normality and the problem of life and illness: “The medicine of perversions and the programs of eugenics were the two great innovations in the technology of sex of the second half of the nineteenth century” (p.118).
Foucault questions the repressive hypothesis and shows that the history of sexuality was less about repression and more about class dominance. He looks at the control over the mind and body by the bourgeoisie, first over themselves, and then over the proletariat. If repression had only been trying to increase capitalist production then young men and the working classes would have been the “most repressed”, but Foucault shows us that the bourgeoisie were more interested in their own sexualities and in the “purity” of their family lines. Here we see how ideas of pure bloodlines could have “created” an opening for eugenics as the bourgeoisie “placed its hopes for the future in sex… as the bourgeoisie’s ‘blood’ was its sex” (p.124). Foucault shows us that the bourgeoisie considered their own sex as important and fragile, as an affirmation of the self and the body which allowed the working class to escape the “deployment” of sexuality (though still being subjected to the “alliances” (e.g., the exploitation of legitimate marriage and fertility, p. 121)). Sexuality is thought to have been deployed on the working class slowly, through the problems of birth control, the ideas of family, the control of the perversions, and finally, the control of the body and sexuality through constant surveillance. Foucault finishes by connecting psychoanalysis to the dissolution of the “taboos” of sexuality and by stating that the changes in sexual behaviour represented nothing more than a shift in the deployment of sexuality.
Seeing some of the contexts in which sexuality has been socially constructed gave me some good insights into how sexuality might continue to evolve and change over our lifetimes. We’re already seeing the deinstitutionalization of power, and like Foucault suggested, power seems to be everywhere and nowhere. However, we are still placing an incredible amount of “trust” in medicine and in science, and were reminded how female sexuality especially was regulated and controlled. It seems as though we are in a medicalization epidemic, trying to label everything as (ab)normal in order to control and regulate (female) sexuality. This is something I would be interested in discussing in a broader context – what are some ways we might link this regulation to some of our other weeks’ topics?
In Fit for Two Shannon Jette examines Foucaults notions of power and discourse surrounding “fit” pregnant female bodies by looking at six consecutive colums of the “Fit for Two” from Oxygen Magazine in early 2005. She looks at the notion of self-management of risk and the idea of individual (female) responsibility of health that suggests pregnant women are responsible for guaranteeing a healthy population. She uses Foucault’s ideas of discipline and the model of panopticism to show how women are encouraged to self-regulate and discipline their bodies, through ideas of medicalization and healthism, to reach the feminine bodily “norm”. Jette suggests that this regulation of pregnant bodies shows that the female body remains a site of control and her analysis aims to “recognize the complex nature of power” (p.338). By looking at personal responsibility, moderate exercise as responsible exercise, expert advice and consumer culture, and the “yummy mummy” Jette shows how medical expertise and (female) body norms are used to turn the pregnant body into a “fit” body through both self discipline and consumption.
I found it fascinating to see Foucaults work applied in such a practical application in this analysis. Jette challenged the idea that individuals choose how to wear their bodies, and made it apparent that stigma might surround a pregnant body that didn’t conform to the “norm”. I also found it interesting that the idea of “training for labour” came up a few times – did anyone else connect this to Hargreaves or Inghams articles on the sporting body? Do we think that by “training” for something, by imposing self discipline through practice and exercise, pregnant women will feel more in control of their bodies and be more likely to participate in the process of consuming whichever products are marketed to help them increase this feeling of control?
We can see the connection between the “moderate”, “conservative” exercise that is promoted in the fitness magazine and the idea from another weeks’ readings that women should have “weak” bodies – that women’s bodies are more “at risk” then the bodies of men. Seeing how medical discourse has drastically changed, from promoting bed rest and very little physical activity while pregnant to this idea of moderate consistent exercise, do we think that one day pregnant bodies might be encouraged to participate in strenuous exercise? It’s interesting how “scientific” norms can change… when they are advertised as being concrete and all knowing…