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Michel Foucault Essay

1787 words - 7 pages

Michel FoucaultMichel Foucault, generally in his philosophy, has created a system wherein heexamines the relations of power as they are transmuted down in a society (not onethat it is held by individuals-and, indeed, it is not so perpetuated), wherein therefinement of discourse over time allows for the normalization of behaviors and then thatindividuals are encouraged, as docile bodies, to adhere to this program of normalization.Foucault locates the origins of this process in asylums and prisons, and considers them anEnlightenment technological development, which he calls "technologies of the self":But I became more and more aware that in all societies there is another type of technique:techniques which permit individuals to affect, by their own means, a certain number ofoperations on their own bodies, their own souls, their own thoughts, their own conduct,and this in a manner so as to transform themselves, modify themselves, and to attain acertain state of perfection, happiness, purity, supernatural power. Let us call these kindsof technologies technologies of the self. (Foucault "Sexuality and Solitude 367)Foucault locates these technologies of the self at the center of the process ofnormalization that has shifted the process of punishment from an outward display ofpower as in medieval executions to an internal process in which the prisoner becomescomplicit in his own punishment. By employing these technologies of the self anincreasingly analytical and ever more refined manner power is able to normalize almostall of life and make the distinction between punishment and education trivial.In attempting to diagnose the evolutionary trend of the manner in whichpunishment has been historically meted out throughout the ages, Foucault suggests thatthere has been a gradual evolution from tactics of raw displays of power to more subtleforms of control. While this might suggest a certain amount of progress in that it is aprogressive movement towards a less obvious brutal form of maintenance of the statusquo it is nonetheless a pervasive manner of social control and thus the obfuscation ofmeans of social control over the passage of time, especially since the enlightenment,should not be mistaken for true liberation or the work of real progress toward a deepergoal of recognize some eternal truth about human rights. Whereas medieval societyemployed the public display of punishment in intricate and executions of the mostexcruciating form (such as beheading, drawing and quartering, hanging etc.) to helpmaintain social order by showing the direct result of a failure to comply with law,contemporary society uses more indirect and less overt methods for encouraging itssubjects to adhere to the traditional social order. Indeed, where medieval societies usedovert displays of brute force, modern society prefers processes of normalization, whichare less intrusive:Another instrument used to achieve discipline is the normalizing judgment.Instead of punishing offenders...

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