The
Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

25: Michel Foucault part II:
The Politics of Space, Transparency and Bio-power

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Nature of Power
        
         Foucault conceived of power in a deeper sense than the traditional definition. The traditional notion of power was judicially prohibitive and negative: power laid down the law; said 'no, do not do that'; power repressed, censored, prevented, excluded, rejected and obstructed. This widely accepted but limited analysis of power is dangerous because one will miss the more insidious forms that can be detrimental to one's life. In addition to this negative sense of power a deeper understanding of power should be considered by thinking in terms of technologies and strategies.
        
         The end (or goal) of power is to affect discourses (the linguistic and practical activities of humans – in other words how we talk and act). For Foucault the ways, methods, manners and maneuvers by which systems of thought changed are the keys to a deeper understanding of power.
        
         Three of Foucault's technologies and strategies of Power are (1) The Investiture of Space, (2) the Institutionalization of the Gaze, and (3) Bio-power.
        
         The Politics of Space
        
         Architecture has always been used to support power: in medieval churches, the power of God; in castles and fortifications, the power of the sovereign. In the modern era new economic, political and social problems arose that needed solutions that required a change in the discourses of entire populations.
        
         Foucault claimed that the economic, political and social problems of modern civilization instituted the need for experts to solve certain problems that required a change in how people behave. Urban utilities required changes in the architecture of cities. Problems such as water, sewage, ventilation, animal care, disposal of the dead, residences, security (of person and of society) etc. these problems were solved in ways that required the change of habits of the whole population. The investiture of space with a purpose creates political tensions: the politics of space. How these various political forces each achieve their goals are each examples of the procedures of power.
        
         Take, for example, how in western culture, the houses for the middle class started to have specialized rooms: a (bed)room reserved for the parents for the sake of procreation; a room (the kitchen) for the woman. By saying that 'this room' is for 'this action' expectations of conduct were established and reinforced. By saying that 'this room' belongs to 'this person' a place was set aside (and often a job) for some person. This institutionalized, proscribed and normalized a morality and structure to the family.
        
         The Transparent Society
        
         A dream of the french enlightenment was to create a transparent society in which no exercise of power was invisible. It was a reaction against the absolutism of the french monarchs who could use their power without answering to anyone. Today we talk of progress in the transparency of society in which governments must act publicly according to public rules: the ostensive goal is to eliminate corruption and arbitrariness. However, in order to catch these evils we must look and so we have what Foucault called the Institutionalization of the Gaze. Various technologies have been developed to facilitate this gaze. Foucault draws attention to the Panopticon: a prison in which the guards could see the prisoners but the prisoners could not see the guards. This was the ideal technology of power. Today we have many such technologies that allow people see others at will without the target knowing they are being looked at. Consider the prevalence of video cameras (CCTV, government, corporate and personal), security scanners (at airports and corporations), public opinion (the gaze of the people around you). Two other technologies include (1) electronic and paper trails of where we have been and what we have done and (2) evaluations and inspections (medical, financial and professional). All designed for the sake of a transparent society.
        
         The Politics of the Body (of Society): Bio-power
        
         If power is to be wielded over people it must be wielded over their bodies. One cannot force someone to do something without control over or the treat of control over the body. But this is the negative commonly accepted definition of power at work.
        
         Foucault pointed out that the body has health needs. The biological features of the healthy human body can be enhanced (or better said: prevented from decaying too soon). The very fostering of a 'good life' became a strategy for power over people – directing them to politically unimportant things. For example: (First, set a normalizing standard of normality) Scientists determined that clean teeth last longer than unclean teeth therefore people should clean their teeth if they want to have good teeth. (Second, separate dissenter as deviant) People who do not want clean teeth are not normal. (Third, project all the relevant worst qualities on to the deviant group) they are strange, dirty and disgusting. (Fourth, create self-perpetuating interest groups to promote the new standard of normality) Companies begin to sell toothbrushes and toothpaste, dentists find cleaning teeth more profitable than pulling teeth, ad companies and the media show off the great effects of clean teeth. Soon having clean teeth is a normal and the previous normality (people lose their teeth as they age) is abnormal. Part of the price we all pay is the requirement to work, to develop habits and to spend resources in order to maintain our normal status.
        
         Questions
        
         1) Do you agree with Foucault's claim that thinking about power in solely negative terms is dangerous?
        
         2) Can you think of a better way to describe some of power's more insidious tendencies?
        
         3) Architecture is used to solve certain problems, create and perpetuate an expectation and a need. Consider how middle class homes are different from upper class homes and lower class homes. Consider how Korean homes are different from the homes of your home country.
        
         4) Space is absolutely necessary to the exercise of any power, this is clear in Churches, fortresses, torture chambers and courtrooms. Considering technologies of power that invest in space, what do you think is being proscribed and normalized in each of the following:
         1. bathhouse/sauna or Jinjilbang
         2. A modern Korean apartment or a studio apartment
         3. Cemetery or mausoleum
         4. Honeymoon and love hotels
         5. Schools and universities
         6. Parks, theaters, community recreation centers and Amusement parks
         7. Offices, factories, shops and other work places
         8. Male and female bathrooms
         9. Clinics and hospitals
        
         5) How do you feel about the possibility of being watched nearly all the time for signs of deviancy?
        
         6) Do you feel safer with CCTVs at every corner? Do you feel saver with the new full body scanners the government is installing in airports? Do you feel that there is too much surveillance or not enough?
        
         7) Is peer pressure too high or too low in your society? And in Korea?
        
         8) A sentence like 'Such and such a product is good for your health' is often followed by the silent expectation that you buy or try the product. This is often benign. But what about when it is not? Is the expectation generated by each of the following list of popular things or treatments benign or not?
         1. Vitamin supplements
         2. Organic food
         3. A yearly physical exam
         4. Exercise regime
         5. Cosmetic or plastic surgery
         6. The latest X fashions X = clothing, make up, sunglasses, car etc.
         7. The latest gadgets
         8. Gender specialized clothing
        
         9) In the case of clean teeth I think this is a good normalization but I also recognize the peer and social pressure to have clean teeth as power being exercised over me. Do you believe we have a duty to look good for each other?
        
         10) Which technologies of power would you like to eliminate for a better society?
        
         11) Which technologies of power would you like to enhance for a better society?
        


© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren