domingo, marzo 01, 2009

Foucault and Harvey.... The Spatiality of Domination

Michel Foucault. 1980. Questions on Geography. In Colin Gordon, ed. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. New York: Pantheon.
------- 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
David Harvey. 2005. The Political Economy of Public Space. In Setha Low and Neil Smith, eds. The Politics of Public Space. New York: Routledge.

The self.

Foucault’s conception of critique can be traced in relation to his writings on Kant. Kant saw Enlightenment as a process of release from the status of immaturity in which we accept someone else’s authority to lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for. Enlightenment is self-enlightenment through reason and rational thinking. “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” and “Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another” (2007: 29). Whereas Kant sees maturity as the rule of self by the self through reason, Foucault sees it as an attitude towards ourselves and the present through an historical analysis of the limits, and the possibility of transgression, of going beyond. Critique is thus a permanent interrogation of one’s limits, it is a self-creation, it is an escape from normalization, and a facing-up to the challenges of self-creation while seeking to effect changes in social structures that are also shaping the self. Foucualt defines the individual as “the product of relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”

Central to Foucault is the interaction between self and self, and self to social reality, because these relations represent performative processes, powerful forces in which ‘truth’ is negotiated and legitimated through discursive and practical fields at various scales. Foucault was interested in how subjects came to stand for and act for the ‘truth’ of their own thoughts and practices and how this ‘truth’ was constructed in relation to governmental, institutional, and social administrative structures of power and knowledge. Another key element in his analysis was the different processes of internalization of power and hierarchical forces and the resistance to this internalization as well.

Foucault argued that technologies of the self must be understood as inextricably linked to his notion of governmentality: the guiding rationalities whereby individuals and social structures regulate and police norms of thought and behavior. According to Foucault, there is “contact point” where “technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself and, conversely, where techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion.” For Foucault, the main point was “the possibility of a discourse which could be both true and strategically effective, the possibility of a historical truth which could have a political effect”

Question: In Foucault there is a clear political effect, the individual becomes the principle of their own subjection, but do you think that these are descriptions of how the mechanisms of power function or do you think they are a mystification of these mechanisms that cannot understand the everyday forms of struggle that not only constrain but also expand individual and social possibilities of the self?

Bentham, the Panopticom, the super-ego, and our modern world

Panopticom: Efficient in terms of cost-benefits because it needed fewer staff, but ultimately the instrumentality and utilitarianism led to a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind. This technology is associated with a series of concepts such as mass surveillance, omniscience, total institution, governmentality and biopower. And it presupposes a hierarchical space, one that using Lefebvre’s words create a representations of space in order to produce specific forms of spatial practice and representational space.
In Freud, Bentham: Panopticism and the Super-Ego, Philip Tonner puts together Freud’s super-ego with Bentham’s panoptic. According to Tonner, for Bentham two main principles guide human action, and here I quote Benthams, he says
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters,
pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as
well as to determine what we shall do. (Bentham, The Principles of Morals
and Legislation, p. 1)
So for Bentham the human goal was to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. And this process was a conscious one, for him individuals can be conscious of their drives. Thus the disciplinary structure of the panopticom was a sort of super-ego in Freudian’s terms, for Freud the super-ego is a mental agency specifically concerned with the internalization of external coercion. The super-ego is a voyeuristic mental agency. It keeps watch over the ego and keeps it in check. So in a way this panopticom-super-ego in it double-role of process and result is a coercive force, external to the agent, but which is gradually internalized. Thefore, the panopticom is dual, is both a process of discipline and the result of that discipline internalized.
And talking about coercion internalized, there is an article from the NYT on Feb 17, by John Markoff called “The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives”. In one part it says,
Increasingly, phones will allow users to look at an image of what is around them. You could be surrounded by skyscrapers but have an immediate reference map showing your destination and features of the landscape, along with your progress in real time. Part of what drives the emergence of map-based services is the vast marketing potential of analyzing consumers’ travel patterns. For example, it is now possible for marketers to identify users who are shopping for cars because they have traveled to multiple car dealerships.
“When I go from point A to point B with my feet, there is something of real value there,” said Tony Jebara, a Columbia University computer scientist who is a co-founder of Sense Networks.
Recently, for example, Sam Altman, a 23-year-old Stanford University computer science graduate and the founder of Loopt, a pioneering friend-finding service, was having dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., when he noticed from the screen on his phone that his freshman college roommate was having dinner just two restaurants away. The two met after dinner at a bar, where they were joined by another former Stanford student who noticed on his display that they were socializing together.

Besides this friendly uses of map-bases services the flip side is that people are constantly being scrutinized via multiple technologies of surveillance. In a sense, we are not so close of Orwell’s 1984, actually we’re in a 1984 world. The panopticom effect in the prisoner’s mind and his or her use of public space could easily be described using these Orwell’s words: "It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face...; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..."

Perhaps this thoughtpolice that Orwell refers in 1984 is now what produce our current spatialized and technologized experience, a sort of neurotic panoptic world in which our lives are constantly being disciplined. Going back to Tonner’s article, one could think that what is behind the idea of panopticom, what sustains this effort to changing behaviors through spatialized practices is what Freud considered as the super-ego. Tonner says, “The super-ego is omniscient. With its pervasive eye the distinction between acts and intentions is blurred. With the super-ego in place an individual will feel guilty for ill acts merely intended but never carried out.” And this is precisely what Foucault describes in discipline and punish. Indeed, the normalization process that is being carrying on in the last 2 centuries in our modern world is one that transformed these technologies of the self so efficiently that one can say that what we see now is self-discipline and self-punish already internalized, and thus, naturalized.

Question: Do you think that these local forms of power concentrated in changing the individual behavior of prisoners, schoolmates, and patients now has overflowed beyond the total institutions and is flooding our current modern world? Or do you think that it was always-already all over only that was even more intensified in the total institutions? In other words, do you agree to see the change from the society of discipline to the society of control exemplified with the Panopticom?

The will to truth

For Foucault discourse is not “merely” words or concepts or ideas, is materiality and power-effects. This has to be highlighted. The dialectic relation between power and knowledge is that one produces the other, there is a history behind the production of certain knowledge that produces certain forms of power, and vice versa. But this knowledge-power is certainly spatialized in the space of the body and the political body of society.
What are the effects of this will to truth? How all this is interwoven with relations of power? For Foucault there is not geography of power but fragmented and always-resisted forms of power that were historically constituted through certain forms of knowledge. Thus, the archeology of knowledge traces the path, the “hazardous career that Truth has followed”, for instance with the changes in how prisoners were punished and how others were seeing this punishment. This led to different forms of self-correction, which was also a form of self-creation. The key was the self-correction, how inmates were self-transforming themselves through a technology that was working almost without human agency (although there was a human action that created this technology). Foucault in the interview we read suggests that his obsession with spatial concepts and metaphors were connected with his understanding of power and knowledge, for him power and knowledge can only be understood when we see them in space, how power is spatialized in certain knowledge and how knowledge is spatialized in certain power. They are inseparable connected. Faucault says, “Once knowledge can be analyzed in terms of region, domain, implantation, displacement, transposition, one is able to capture the process by which knowledge functions as a form of power and disseminates the effect of power”.

So one question I need to pose is: how useful and effective is to see how knowledge and power are spatialized? And how different is Foucault’s approach if we compare it with Lefebvre’s?

Splitting the see/being seen dyad
According to Foucault the central feature of the panopticom is the capacity to automatize and disindividualize power. It is the most efficient mechanism in which one group cannot see and is only being seen, and another group cannot be seen and is only seeing. This “marvelous machine” as Foucault calls it does not need coercion because the subject within him or herself is doing the work. This “laboratory of power” is a privileged place for the experiments of men. And for Foucault the more important corrolary of Bentham’s panopticom is that it multiplied and extended to the whole society. He says in page 207 “The panopticom schema, without disappearing as such or losing any of its properties, was destined to spread throughout the social body; its vocation was to become a generalized function.” Two types of discipline are doing this work, the discipline-blockade, the enclosed institution directed indoors towards negative functions; and the discipline-mechanism, which produce power-effects in the most effective and imperceptible ways. Foucault defines discipline in page 215 in this way, “Discipline may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus,; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or an ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology”.

So thinking in the anatomy of power as a technology, and going back to the dyad see/being seen does not sound it familiar to you this subtle power game of see and being seen? Have you checked your facebook today? What subtles techniques of power do you think now are being applied and working within ourselves?

Sociogeographical perceptions, expectations and material conditions of the public spaces
For Harvey, the public sphere is the place where “ambiguities of proprietorship, of aesthetics, of social relations (class and gender in particular), and the political economy of everyday life collide.” And he clearly points out to the political economy of space with an aim: to show the struggles over space, how public space is appropriated and ripped off, how is militarized and strategically constructed for excluding and controlling certain groups. For Harvey, the Boulevards in Paris were specifically built to “facilitate the state’s protection of bourgeois private property.” Reminiscent of Foucaultian ideas, the Second Empire public space for Harvey was also a spectacular space of seeing and being seen (and, of course, of not seeing and not being seen) in the wide Boulevards, departmental store and café shops. Wealth, power, commodity, fashion and consumption were produced at public spaces and at “interior states of mind.” Policing public space was as important as policing interior state of mind. The multitude was always there to jump and destroy the progress brought by the bourgeoisie, they needed to be under constant check to overcome bourgeoisie’s feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. These were disciplinary mechanisms used to resist using Foucault words “the fear of the plague.” But the public space can only be understood when considering the relational connectivity among public space, quasi-public space and private spaces.

Question: Why Harvey does not pay more attention to a political economy of public space from the perspective of the poor?

No hay comentarios.: