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Michel Foucault. The Examination. new mechanism that linked knowledge to power (p. 187) 1. transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power

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The Examination

  • new mechanism that linked knowledge to power (p. 187)

    1.transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power

  • “disciplinary power… is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility.” (p 187)

  • “In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen; their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them.” (p 187)

  • “The examination is the technique by which power, instead of emitting the signs of its potency, instead of imposing its mark on its subjects, holds them in a mechanism of objectification.” (p 187)

  • inversion of visibility = in sovereign power, the sovereign was seen; in disciplinary power, subjects are seen


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The Examination

2. introduces individuality into field of examination

  • situates individuals in a network of writing; “it engages them in a whole mass of documents that capture and fix them” ( p 189)

  • intense registration, documentation

  • made possible to integrate individual data into cumulative systems in such a way that… an individual could be located in the general register (p 190)


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The Examination

3. makes each individual a ‘case’

  • each individual becomes object of descriptions and biographical accounts

  • “examination as the fixing, at once ritual and ‘scientific’, of individual differences, as the pinning down of each individual in his own particularity… clearly indicates the appearance of a new modality of power in which he is linked by his status to the features, the measurements, the gaps, the ‘marks’ that characterize him and make him a case.” (p 192)


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The Examination

  • examination is the center of procedures that constitute the individual as the effect and object of power/knowledge (p 192)

  • this is how individuals are ‘made’: what makes us an individual is what distinguishes us from others, and examination is process by which we observe and mark that distinction

  • under sovereign power, “ascending individualization” : individualization is greatest if powerful

  • under disciplinary power, “descending individualization”: less powerful individuals more subjected to disciplinary gaze



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The panopticon

  • individual is seen, but does not see

  • the perfection of power renders its actual exercise (force) unnecessary

  • “the ceremonies, the rituals, the marks by which a sovereign’s surplus power was manifested are useless. There is a machinery that assures dissymmetry, disequilibrium, difference. Consequently, it does not matter who exercises power.” (p 202)

  • “he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” (p 202-3)


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We all live in the panopticon!

  • panopticon therefore becomes “great and new instrument of government”, applicable to other institutions outside penitentiary (p 207)

  • “Panopticon… [is] intended to make [power] more economic and more effective, it does so not for power itself, nor for the immediate salvation of a threatened society: its aim is to strengthen the social forces – to increase production, to develop the economy, spread education, raise the level of public morality; to increase and multiply.” (p. 208)

  • two examples of panoptic discipline: in the prison (exceptional discipline) and in society as a whole (generalized surveillance) (p 209)

    • historically, moved from exceptional discipline to its extension across society


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3 characteristics of disciplinary society

1. economic component (pp 218-221)

  • function of panopticon is to obtain exercise of power at lowest cost

  • disciplinary power can be organized to increase output, efficiency of individuals over whom power is exercised (as well as to make them more docile)

  • can’t separate growth of capitalism from rise of disciplinary power


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3 characteristics of disciplinary society

2. politico-juridico component (pp 222-224)

  • formal equality ↑ with discipline

  • “Whereas the juridical systems define juridical subjects according to universal norms, the disciplines characterize, classify, specialize; they distribute along a scale, around a norm, hierarchize individuals in relation to one another, and, if necessary, disqualify and invalidate. In any case, in the space and during the time in which they exercise their control and bring into play the asymmetries of their power, they effect a suspension of the law that is never total, but is never annulled either. Regular and institutional as it may be, the discipline, in its mechanism, is a ‘counter-law’.” (p. 223)


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3 characteristics of disciplinary society

2. politico-juridico component (pp 222-224)

…discipline obscured within egalitarian framework

  • discipline invalidates equality, is a check on equalizing forces

  • contradiction between formal equality of law and the inequality of discipline

    (remember the quotation from last time about the minor court?)


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  • “The disciplinary mechanisms secreted a ‘penality of the norm’, which is irreducible in its principles and functioning to the traditional penality of the law. The minor court that seems to sit permanently in the buildings of discipline, and which sometimes assumes the theatrical form of the great legal apparatus, must not mislead us: it does not bring, except for a few formal remnants, the mechanisms of criminal justice to the web of everyday existence… the disciplines created…a new functioning of punishment, and it was this that gradually invested the great external apparatus.” (p 183)


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3 characteristics of disciplinary society

2. politico-juridico

  • “the real, corporal disciplines constituted the foundation of the formal, juridical liberties” (p 222)

  • representative democracy can only exist on base of microspheres of power (discipline)

  • discipline is the underpinning of democracy

    3. scientific (p 224-228)

  • growth of scientific technology fundamentally alters the way power is exercised


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Comparing Foucault to other thinkers

What is the relationship between law and justice? How do we understand gaps between equal rights and unequal reality?

Liberal thinkers: strive to improve

Marx: equal rights are a bourgeois lie

CLS: “equal to male”, “equal to white”

Foucault: discipline largely invalidates legal equality


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What are the results of this new penality?

Punitive procedures transported from penal institutions to entire social body by “carceral archipelago” (p 298)

1. punishment shifted from response to infractions of law, to “correction” of anomalies, deviances (p 299)


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What are the results of this new penality?

2. prison produces its own inmates

  • “The delinquent is not outside the law; he is, from the very outset, in the law, at the very heart of the law” (p 301) – because the law’s purpose is to examine and detect anomalies, it is in this examination process that the criminal is created

  • “But it is not on the fringes of society and through successive exiles that criminality is born, but by means of ever more closely placed insertions, under ever more insistent surveillance, by an accumulation of disciplinary coercion.” (p 301)

    • criminals are therefore not “outlaws”, those outside society, but those who are more thoroughly examined by social institutions


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What are the results of this new penality?

3. makes power to punish “natural and legitimate” (p 301)

  • “carceral pyramid gives power to inflict legal punishment a context in which it appears to be free of all excess and all violence.” (p 302)


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What are the results of this new penality?

4. Rise of the norm (p 304)

  • “Judging” has changed:

    • is no longer limited to criminal justice, is everywhere (doctors, teachers, social workers, etc. all exercise normalizing authority)

    • at same time, we shy away from recognizing their authority as normative, instead insist it is based on science


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What are the results of this new penality?

5. Ever-extending panopticon (or “carceral archipelago”) guarantees that man is “knowable”, always subject to examination; this process makes modern science possible (p. 305)

6. To focus on question of abolishing or reforming prison is insufficient; the problem is really the “steep rise in the use of these mechanisms of normalization and the wide-ranging powers which, through the proliferation of new disciplines, they bring with them” (p 306)

  • prison no longer central site for understanding or resisting discipline