The as the major target of penal repression disappeared’

            The body is pivotal in Foucault’s critique. His
exploration of the history of power and knowledge is ‘an examination of the
transformation of the self, subjectivity and human agency in the emergence of
modern western social and political institutions’ (Caldwell, 2007:6). Foucault
identifies a manifestation of power which is a contrast to ‘existing models
that conceptualized power as “domination”, that is, as a centralized
and repressive force exerted by one group over another — a
“possession” which could be acquired and imposed on others through
physical coercion’ (Pylypa,1998). In Discipline & Punish (1977), Foucault examines
the penal system of Europe, and he begins with an extremely detailed recounting
of the gruesome public torture and execution of Robert-Francois Damiens in the
mid-18th century. The body of the criminal, tortured upon the
scaffold in public, clearly displays the power and might of the sovereign. Foucault
proceeds to argue that since then control
through coercive methods such as military power declined, whilst social control
through discipline of oneself and one’s body increased (Pylypa,1998:21).

According to Foucault, this transfer from ‘sovereign power’ to
the ‘disciplinary power’ of modern regimes such as prisons, schools, hospital
and so on, has been momentous and new forms of power and tools of discipline ‘reach
into subjects through a web of regimes of power and knowledge that regulate the
body and mind, including our most intimate behaviour and inner thoughts’ (Caldwell, 2007:6). The advent of the prison
system saw ‘the disappearance of the tortured, dismembered, amputated body,
symbolically branded on face or shoulder, exposed alive or dead to public view’
(Foucault, 1977:8). The public ‘display of power and punishment of an
individual as the major target of penal repression disappeared’ (Foucault, 1977:8).
Foucault outlines three historically evident modes of punishment: penal
torture, humanitarian reform and penal incarceration. The Guillotine, observes
Foucault, was a form of publicised punishment making the body the focus of
direct penal torture. In contrast, penal incarceration deprived people of their
liberty for periods of time and provided a framework for the transformation of
individuals to make them ‘docile’, meaning ‘passive, subjugated, and productive
individuals’ (Pylypa,1998:22). This reminder to conform
subsequently results in the transformation of subjugated bodies as objects of
knowledge (Monami, 2017). Furthermore, for Foucault, power operates through the
production of desire and knowledge. Knowledge produced by scientific discourses
such as social sciences, criminal justice and psychiatry is not ‘neutral or
objective’ (Pylypa, 1998:23); it produces particular perspectives, conventions
and motivations. Subsequently, for Foucault, the type of knowledge produced in
this way influences our behaviour and
has a controlling effect on people’s bodies, meaning consequently knowledge is
inseparable from power. Foucault says there is no inconsequential or
disinterested form of knowledge; he saw knowledge and power as inseparably
interdependent: ‘there is no power
relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any
knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time, power
relations’ (Foucault, 1977:27). Thus, the prison becomes a place where
knowledge is derived and employed in order to attempt a transformation of the
offender. Foucault states that from the mid-18th century, there was
a shift from the tortured body, subject to sovereign power, to the juridical
subject. The spectacles of torture ceded to labyrinthine prisons (Koopman,
2017). Foucault’s examination of modern European penal systems ‘provided a
renewed conception of power that captures an individualizing form of discipline
that acts first and foremost on the body’ (Lee et al., 2014: 620).  Power thus operates through both the
production of knowledge and the ‘creation of a desire to conform to the norms
that this knowledge establishes’ (Pylypa,1998: 24).

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Foucault
highlights how power is implemented beyond the institution and how the body is a
central site of struggle and discursive conflict (Mills, 2003). Rather than
constructing a top-down model of power relations to observe how people are
oppressed by the State or institutions, Foucault’s critique develops ‘a
bottom-up model, where the body is one of the sites where power is enacted and
resisted’ (Mills, 2003: 81). Individuals voluntarily adhere to social norms and
are controlled by their own ‘self-surveillance’ and ‘self-disciplinary’
practices (Pylypa, 1998:22). For Foucault power is
not imposed from above by a dominant group, but rather comes “from below”. We
are all vehicles of power because it is ’embedded in discourses and norms that
are part of the minute practices, habits, and interactions of our everyday
lives’ (Pylypa, 1998:23). The body, either as the
single body (or the societal body) is, therefore, a highly significant aspect
of Foucault’s critique. His work is traditionally assigned according to three
different periods: ‘archaeology, where the body is an object of knowledge in the discursive practices; genealogy, where
the body is the target of power in
the non-discursive practices; and ethics, where the body is a matter of concern for techniques of the
self of Greek and Roman ethical subjects’ (Protevi, 2011).

Foucault introduces a manifestation of power that is no
longer the conventional power symbolised in the opening chapter of Discipline and
Punish. Instead, it is derived from ‘modes of power that serve to control
individuals and their knowledge , the mechanism through which power ‘reaches
into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself
into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and
everyday lives’ (Foucault 1980:30). Power is sustained, and society produces
the kinds of bodies it needs, via the production of these
‘docile bodies’.

Foucault
describes the ‘impact of institutional and discursive forces on the body, in
The History of Sexuality’ (Mills, 2003: 81). Furthermore, Foucault asserts that
the body should be seen as the ‘focus of a number of discursive pressures: the
body is the site on which discourses are enacted and where they are contested’
(Mills, 2003: 81). Moreover, in The Order of Things (1970) and in Discipline
and Punish (1977), Foucault examines the changes that affect the academic and
governmental analysis of the population as a whole and presents the term ‘bio-power’,
which he defines as the ‘increasing organisation of population and welfare for
the sake of increased force and productivity’ (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1984: 8).

There
is a significant focus on the body as opposed to the individual in Foucault’s
work. In Foucault’s framework the individual is considered to be an effect
rather than an essence, indeed: ‘the notion of bodies as the target of power is
part of Foucault’s attempt to avoid the liberal conception of individuals as
unconstrained creative essences’ (Wickham 1986: 155). Foucault argues that ‘the
individual is not to be conceived of as a sort of elementary nucleus . . . on
which power comes to fasten . . . In fact, it is already one of the prime
effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses,
certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals’
(Foucault 1980: 98). Therefore, instead of seeing bodies as those of
stable individuals, Foucault analyses the ‘discursive practices through which
bodies are constituted’ (Mills, 2003: 82).

For
Foucault, the body is a valuable tool which can be used to analyse important political
decisions and events that leave observable effects upon the body. Thus, the
body is ‘inscribed’ with these effects, (Mills, 2003). Foucault also regarded
the body as ‘the illusion of a substantial unity’ and ‘a volume in perpetual
disintegration’, thus emphasising that what appears to be a solid entity is, in
fact, ‘constructed through discursive mediation’ (Mills, 2003: 83).  The task of Foucault’s genealogical analysis
‘is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the processes of history’s
destruction of the body’ (Foucault 1984: 83). In addition to questioning the apparent
solidity of the body, Foucault also focuses on the body as ‘an historically and
culturally specific entity’; the body is viewed, experienced and treated
differently in different contexts and in different periods of time (Mills,
2003). Thus, bodies are always subject to change and can never be regarded as
natural, but rather are always experienced as mediated through ‘different
social constructions of the body’ (Mills, 2003: 83).

Foucault
displayed how the sovereign power of the Leviathan became superseded over the
last two centuries by ‘disciplinary power (which he also called
anatomo-politics because of its detailed attention to training the human body)
by and bio-politics’ (Koopman, 2017); Biopower being focused upon in The
History of Sexuality, Volume One. The power of discipline, the anatomo-politics
of the body, was ‘Foucault’s focus in Discipline and Punish – it is power in
the form of correct training’ (Koopman, 2017). Furthermore ‘Discipline does not
strike down the subject to whom it is directed, in the way that sovereignty
does’ (Koopman, 2017). Rather, discipline can be observed to work more subtly, and
delivered carefully; to result in the production of obedient people. Foucault dubbed
the obedient and normal products of discipline ‘docile subjects’; the soldier
representing this concept in discipline and punish.

Foucault
developed the term ‘biopower’ to refer to the ways in which power is
constituted in the form of daily practices and routines ‘through which
individuals engage in self-surveillance and self-discipline’ (Pylypa, 1998: 21)
and thus subjugate themselves. Foucault deemed “biopower” to be the dominant
system of social control and manipulation in modern western society (Pylypa,
1998). Furthermore, Foucault argues that a phenomenon has occurred in which
Europe has witnessed a reduction in coercive mechanisms of control such as
military force and an increase in social control through individual
self-discipline. Biopower’s force derives from its ability to function through
“knowledge and desire” – the production of scientific knowledge which ‘results
in a discourse of norms and normality, to which individuals desire to conform”
(Pylypa, 1998: 21). Furthermore, Foucault believed political control and order
is ‘maintained through the production of “docile bodies” passive, subjugated
and productive individuals’ (Pylypa, 1998: 22). Moreover, according to
Foucault, the types of body that society requires were produced via practices
of disciplining, surveillance and punishment which creates bodies ‘habituated
to external regulation’ (Pylypa, 1998: 22). This habitual regulation serves ‘to
discipline the body, optimize its capabilities, extort its forces, increase its
usefulness and docility, integrate it into systems of efficient and economic controls’
(Foucault, 1980: 139).

 Additionally, as a consequence individuals
control themselves by imposing conformity to cultural norms on themselves;
through practices of self-discipline and self-surveillance ‘especially those of
the body such as the self regulation of hygiene, health and sexuality’ (Pylypa,
1998:22). Historically, biopower came about alongside the transformation of
power formations in Western societies beginning in the 1700s. Foucault asserted
that biopower developed in two main ways, which he highlighted as the anatomo-politics
of the human body, or discipline, and biopolitics of the population. Discipline
is concerned with rendering the human body docile and thus useful, the latter
with managing human populations. Both require a great amount of scientific
knowledge (Arnason, 2012).

The
social body is a central aspect of Foucault’s work on ‘bio-power’. He argues
that it is at the level of the body that much regulation and intervention by
the authorities from the nineteenth century onwards is enacted; ‘knowledge is
accumulated, populations are observed and surveyed, procedures for
investigation and research about the population as a whole and of the body in
particular are refined’ (Mills, 2003, 83). This view of the population as a
whole as a resource was innovative. As the critics Hubert Dreyfus and Paul
Rabinow state: ‘The individual was of interest exactly insofar as s/he could
contribute to the strength of the state. The lives, deaths, activities, work
and joys of individuals were important to the extent that these everyday
concerns became politically useful’ (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1986: 139). Unlike
disciplinary power aimed at the training of individual bodies, the management
of populations ‘relied on biopower, understood as the policies and procedures
that manage births, deaths, reproduction, and health and illness within the
larger social body’ (Mills, 2003). And so, while surveys of the population
undertaken by the government had a veneer to improve the wellness and wellbeing
of the whole population, for example, through eradicating venereal disease and
incest among the working classes, they in fact had a more tyrannical purpose.

To
conclude, the body is central to Foucault’s critique. In his genealogical exploration,
he unveils the body as an object of knowledge and a target for the exercise of
power. His genealogy of power examines economic thought and other human
sciences to understand how individuals became subjects in the modernity. Foucault
shows how power is not ‘only repressive, but also productive: it produces
subjects, conducts and patterns’ (Guizzo & De Lima, 2015). His analyses
shifted from disciplinary power to biopolitics and the impact and role of the
body in power structures and interactions. Foucault defined biopolitics as a
specific technology of power that ’emerged in the end of the 18th century and
aimed to deal with biological elements of human beings, such as: birth, mode of
living, prosperity, health, reproduction and death’ (Guizzo & De Lima,
2015). His dissection of power relations via disciplinary power and his focus
on biopower and self-regulation also show how his work on the body are highly
significant critique.