Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Foucault week 1 day 2

After reading Panopticism and Eye of Power by Michel Foucault I reflected on the prompt provided by Dr. Arola: Why were these readings assigned as a theoretical foundation for ENG 597 and how do Foucault's ideas on "the Gaze" impact teaching with technology? There are two responses that I would forward: surveillance and discipline.

Foucault's ideas on surveillance in terms of the Panopticon have the ability to inform the remainder of the semester. On page 217 of Panopticism, in the first full paragraph, there is a passage that informs the hedonistic voyeurism of Western culture.
Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power, it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies.
Consider for a moment reality television:Big Brother, the Real World, Road Rules, The Biggest Loser, Joe Bachelor, etc. et al. Television would serve as the circuits of communication in this case, with commercials acting as the abstraction of exchange and the consumer being trained. The casting of the participants in this form of entertainment represent signs, due to the constructed nature of race, gender and sexuality, which act as reified concepts in order to anchor power. These reified concepts obfuscate the power dynamics that occur in construction.

Foucault returns to this concept when he is referencing Bentham's Panopticon as the antithesis of a dungeon on page 153-154 of Eye of Power. He is speaking of the Revolution's (the French Revolution) need to bring light to the dark places. Or more specifically as pointed out by Foucault, the Revolutionaries were attracted to Bentham's "formula of 'power through transparency', subjection by 'illumination'". By reifying socially constructed concepts, power structures held by the dominant society are made transparent.

Discipline is the primary focus of Panopticism. Foucault breaks down power into a tripartite criteria of tactica on page 218 subpoint 1: low cost (in capital), maximum intensity and longevity operating uninterrupted, increase the usefulness and ease of use. Foucault intends these criteria to be related to power. By approaching discipline from this perspective rather than from the perspective of morality, punishment or reform Foucault unmasks a power structure that is intended to operate behind the symbols of the masses. The military, the judiciary, the Nation-State, the Social Contract, investigation...Foucault argues that all work together to fulfill the aforementioned criteria.

In The Eye of Power Foucault brings discipline and surveillance together in this statement on page 155: "An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself." The point of exercising this surveillance would be to cheaply, over a long period of time with high intensity, increase the usefulness and decrease rebelliousness of individuals within society. As mentioned by both Bentham (through Foucault) and Foucault, the Panopticon may have been an architectural mechanism but it is a highly effective model for social control.

Socialization under the pretense of education is a means for instilling forms of discipline in a populace. Technology and the current speed of technology allow for a multiplying of the utility of discipline. Email, streaming audio/video, mp3, video games, blogs, forums, IM, Bluetooth etcetera...are all means of multiplying discipline at low cost. This is one of the potential impacts that teaching with technology will have.

The questions that I have concerning the discussion of Foucault:
Can the subaltern be as amplified as discipline through technology in teaching?

What is the danger of falling into pedagogical experiments as listed by Foucault in Panopticism (page 204) by bringing in technology for the sake of having technology in the classroom?


kristin said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. The way you weave together summaries of Foucault and real world examples is really you use some of my favorite Foucault quotes here (then again, sometimes I think they're all my favorite quotes--the man knew how to write).

At the end, you ask:
What is the danger of falling into pedagogical experiments as listed by Foucault in Panopticism (page 204) by bringing in technology for the sake of having technology in the classroom?

This is a question I am very very attuned to and I'm glad to hear you ask it. I think, in teaching w/ technology, we need to ask ourselves "to what ends" and we really need to think through our answers. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the 'latest and greatest' and lose sight of our real pedagogical goals. There are many times, I think, where perhaps we shouldn't teach with technology.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Shawn said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Particularly with the concept of selectively using technology to communicate concepts that the tool best serves. The lecture method while often ill suited to students learning styles is (in my opinion) superior to spamming powerpoints for the sake of scantron testing.

Then again, I want to experiment with breaking the boundary of traditional pedagogy. Utilizing Video Games as a tool to teach is not new to youth education, but somewhere along the way the concept of education becomes too "grown up" for complex thoughts. I figure that placing a student in a virtual space where they experience Bentham's Panopticon or play out a revolution from mobilization to the transfer into social anarchy, is a worthy endeavor that could reap great benefits.

Thank you again