In order to best approach my topic in the context of the readings, I have chosen to focus on the Foucault article mainly because his views are relevant to the types of systems and interactions I will be examining in my paper. Had he lived to see the explosion of information technology, he no doubt would be fascinated by the fact that so many of the power structures he spoke about can now be reproduced in virtual worlds.
Nietzsche, Kant, and Sartre have influenced Foucault[i] and he is known as a champion for the disenfranchised and marginalized members of society such as prisoners and homosexuals. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault emerged as an intellectual who despised the bourgeois and embraced the quirky.
Discipline and Punish is an allegorical history of the penal system in which the influence of structuralism, a philosophical movement that gained prominence in France in the 50s and 60s, seeps through. The foundations of structuralism can be found in various schools of linguistics in Europe but its influence can also be seen across multiple disciplines. As was mentioned before, the ideas of Sartre such as existentialism influenced Foucault as well as other 20th century philosophers who broke with the traditionally accepted notion that man has free will to a model in which man operated within structures. Free will is no longer valid in a system in which power and control is exercised externally. The allegory of a prison provides an excellent example of a rigid system in which every aspect of a prisoner’s life was controlled by an outside authority. Discipline is a system by which every movement and activity of the inmate is meticulously ordered. Observation is an essential component of power and the image of guard towers in which the daily activities of prisoners are carefully monitored can be seen in the prison model. This principle of power being maintained through surveillance can be expanded to other institutions such as schools and hospitals. In fact, one could argue that the power to control the movement and regulate the body is even more profound in the hospital than it is in a prison because a person’s respiration, heart rate, temperature, intake of food and fluids are all precisely monitored and recorded. Nursing stations these days look a little bit like mission control with multiple screens being monitored by health care professionals who have access to the most intimate and personal parts of the patient including the insides.
There are two books that come to mind that would be good examples of rigid systems of control and observation. In the 1932 book, “A Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley correctly identifies some things once considered science fiction and are now considered science fact. He describes a future in which the population of the earth is governed by a global authority. Another science fiction classic is 1984 by George Orwell who envisioned a future in which privacy no longer exists. Even a person’s thoughts are monitored and the slightest hint of a dissenting thought is quickly punished. It is interesting that Orwell refers to language as an instrument of control since structuralism developed from a linguistic paradigm.