Monday, November 5, 2012

Foucault: Lectures at College de France, 1973–74 (Lecture 1–3)

The academic year 1973–74 gave a course on the history of psychiatry. His approach during the course both rested on and differed from his work on madness ten years earlier.

The course mainly focuses on a period spanning roughly from the Revolution to the middle of the 1800s. Foucault's hypothesis is that the function of the psychiatric reforms of that period was to implement the new techniques of control that he calls "disciplinary power."

The Asylum as a Battlefield

This means that he frames the idea behind the psychiatric system essentially as one of fighting and defeating the patient:
So what is organized in the asylum is actually a battlefield. (p. 7)
What is involved is the confrontation of two wills, that of the doctor and those who represent him on one hand, and then that of the patient. What is established, therefore, is a battle, a relationship of force. (p. 10)
This is not completely without basis in the texts of the period. Foucault quotes a number of texts by Philippe Pinel and others that talk explicitly about "subjugating and taming the lunatic" (p. 8) or describe the patients as "individuals who think they are superior to everyone else" (p. 4).

Being King in One's Head

One way to interpret this spite towards the insane is to see their madness as a refusal to accept as true what they are supposed to accept:
Whether you believe yourself to be a kind or believe that you are wretched, wanting to impose this certainty as a kind of tyranny on all those around you basically amounts to "believing one is a king"; it is this that makes all madness a king of belief rooted in the fact that one is kind of the world. Psychiatrists at the start of the nineteenth century could have said that to be mad was to seize power in one's head. (p. 28)
And while such a "madness of error" would be relatively harmless in a system of sovereign power, it is a provocative and potentially dangerous act in a system of disciplinary power, since it shows the bounds on that system's ability to "subjugate and tame." 

All Power is Physical

The term "power" is used here in the same partly idiosyncratic way as in other works by Foucault:
… in the asylum, as everywhere else, power is never something that someone possesses, any more than it is something that emanates from someone. Power does not belong to anyone or even to a group; there is only power because there is dispersion, relays, networks, reciprocal supports, differences of potential, discrepancies, etcetera. It is in this system of differences, which have to be analyzed, that power can start to function. (p. 4)
This leads to some interesting observations:
It seems to me rather that what is essential in all power is that ultimately its point of application is always the body. All power is physical, and there is a direct connection between the body and political power. (p. 14)
Disciplinary power, as a particular paradigm of control, is then one example of this:
… I think that in our society, disciplinary power is a quite specific modality of what could be called the synaptic contact bodies-power. (p. 40)
This specific "disciplinary technology" (p. 57) would then have a history that could be traced, just like, for instance, the use of contracts and the use of paper money have a specific history.

What is Disciplinary Power?

One of Foucault's big ideas is that this specific form of power was invented in a specific period and in specific places and then slowly made its way into more and more corners of society.

In these lectures, he reiterates the claim that these disciplinary techniques were invented in religious institutions such as monasteries (p. 41) and then applied to armies, prisons, schools, hospitals, and asylums.

As an example, he gives the new organization that the Gobelin school of tapestry started using in 1667, with age-dependent class divisions, supervised work, and regular written assessments (pp. 49–50).

Another example is the transformation of police work in the 18th century, with the introduction of the police report and a notion of curing the subject of the their bad behavior rather than simply punishing them. A whole machinery of writing and documenting ensued (p. 50).

With respect to armies, he also mentions that highly ceremonial practices or "war games" such as jousting were replaced by physical exercises such as marching in order to train the bodies of the soldiers. This had "hardly existed before," Foucault claims (p. 48).

The Consequences of Discipline

Under the old system of power, the power of sovereignty, "[t]he pinning of the subject-function to a definite body can only take place at time in a discontinuous, incidental fashion, in ceremonies, for example" (p. 44).

According to Foucault's hypothesis, this is changed radically under the new system, since one of the main functions of this system is cause people to internalize the norms of the system. Disciplinary power, by its very nature, thus
… looks towards the future, towards the moment when it will keep going by itself and only a virtual supervision will be required, when discipline, consequently, will have become habit. (p. 47)
Or, similarly:
One must be able to spot an action even before it has been performed, and disciplinary power must intervene somehow before the actual manifestation of the behavior, before the body, the action, or the discourse, at the level of what is potential, disposition, will, at the level of the soul. (p. 52)
A consequence of this set-up is that disciplinary power cannot simply be content with harassing or assaulting transgressions. Like the O'Brien character in 1984, it must attempt to cure it. This obviously entails the constant production of fringe bodies, and when new strategies are taken up, fringes of those fringes (p. 53).

No comments :

Post a Comment