El Stevo (wrongwaylouie) wrote in michelfoucault,
El Stevo

New guy looking for feedback.

Hey everyone.  I'm new her, and was curious what everyone thought about this document I submitted a few  months ago. It's slighty askew from his analysis of power, but I tried my best with the given direction of mind/body dualism. What do you think?

Type your cut contents here.Stephen K******

Professor E. McGushin

Independent Study: Michel Foucault

4 May 2007

The human body, as it is seen today, is very much comparable to a machine, with many parts designed to work together and function as one unit. Ashley and O’Rourke describe the body using the term integrity, in which each part of the whole is fully differentiated and developed. Also it is fitted and harmonized into the whole by making correct interrelations and interactions with its parts (51). French philosopher Michel Foucault would not disagree with this statement. Foucault created the term, “The Medical Gaze” in regards to the relationship between physicians and their patients in his book The Birth of the Clinic. The idea of “the gaze” is described with a negative connotation, because it objectifies patients, focusing on certain parts in stead of the patient as a whole (Foucault, xviii). His ideas on gazing and observation are further developed in Discipline and Punish. This application of the gaze is not isolated within the walls of a hospital setting, for it can be depicted through history in a government’s treatment towards the people it serves during medical crises; the pandemic events such as the plague in the 16th century and the AIDS outbreak in the 1980’s. This all stems from an idea of power and control over the body. It is through discipline and knowledge that the ideas of what is normal, what is necessary, and what we believe is in our best interest is in the hands of a surgeon wielding a scalpel or a government official who distributes pamphlets titled “How you can tell if someone is infected.” This objective view of people and their physical appearance raises a few questions: Am I a body, or do I have a body? Is the body a part of us as thinking, rational beings, that defines us? Is there a better way to treat and analyze people? Foucauldian literature and criticism delivers some conclusions, leading one to understand the human body as pliable matter that, while being a part of us, is within our possession. The human body is ever changing, and it is a significant part of the human person; however power, in areas and times where one must account for people in their entirety, often focuses and limits people to their physical, corporal aspects thus resulting in the compromise of one’s humanity.

Foucault’s understanding of the body in relation to people can be grasped within his work Discipline and Punish, where in the intro he details two accounts of punishment from different time areas: one of a man being quartered and burned as a public spectacle, and the other being a log of the agenda for a typical inmate of a standard prison. The first example places a great emphasis on the pain that was inflicted on the condemned man, the separation of his arms and legs from his body, and then the placing of his torso in the fire (Foucault 4). This man had suffered a great deal through what had been done to his body, crying out, begging for mercy. Foucault makes note that in less than a century later the penal systems had been introduced, and with this the phasing out of public executions: “ . . . the fact remains that a few decades saw the disappearance of the tortured, dismembered, amputated body, symbolically branded on the face or shoulder, exposed alive or dead to public view. The body as a major target of penal repression disappeared” (8).

With the body not being the primary focus, what would be a more formidable punishment? What is observed is that punishment is shifting over from being an infliction of pain to a limiting of human liberties that result in physical changes and discomforts. Imprisonment never functioned without punishment that concerns the body, Foucault states. “Rationing of food, sexual deprivation, corporal punishment, solitary confinement . . . in its most explicit practices, imprisonment has always involved a certain degree of physical pain” (8). Through this shift in punishment, the focus on the internal being, or the non-corporal soul, becomes the focal point for punishment, not the body. Further into the reading, Foucault discusses how in time the nature of the crime is no longer the concern, but the nature of the man is. “The soul inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body” (30).

David Dudrick, in addition to supporting the “soul as a prison”, provides a solid analysis of this Foucauldian dualism by displaying the body as a combination of a physical body and an intentional body (that which is directly involved in a political field):

Here the physiological body is overlaid by another, which, because it is ‘non-corporal’, may be called ‘soul’. Foucault insists that the soul is not, contrary to appearances, ‘an illusion, or an ideological effect;’ he claims that it ‘is produced permanently around, on, within the body’ by the power of ‘punishment, supervision, and constraint’, that is by discipline. The soul, then, is ‘not a substance’, but ‘the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power’. Man is composed of body and soul, which the soul is the body in so far as it is ‘directly involved in a political field’ (Dudrick 237).

The connection between a person and his or her body is apparent in how these certain “tortures” of the mind can be expressed through physical pain and discomfort. These examples demonstrate how affecting the body can affect the mind, and how the mind demonstrates a power over the body bolstering this symbiotic relationship.

Having illustrated this system of body-soul interrelatedness, one can understand another view of the body: an object of power. There is evidence to show that this lack of control over one’s body is a result of someone else dominating it. “The classical age discovered the body as object and target of power. It is easy enough to find signs of the attention then paid to the body – to the body that is manipulated, shaped, trained, which obeys, responds, becomes skillful and increases it forces” (Foucault136). Ladelle McWhorter comments “From these passages, it would seem that Foucault is calling on us to free the body, to release it from the matrices of machine-like forces that hold it in their grasp” (609). However her analysis of his literature claims that there are also readings that go against this claim. She interprets the reading as if Foucault sees the body, the natural body as well as the mechanized and docile bodies, as a product of discipline (609). She essentially claims that the body cannot be a product of discipline and power. Is there really a conflict with these ideas, such as there is a conflict with the idea of “to have a body” or “to be a body?” No, it is not improbable to imagine that a body can be the object of power through discipline, ergo the result being a disciplined body. Dudrick’s statement above even alludes to this idea. Consider the work done onto prisoners or even soldiers, these objects, these docile bodies, within the possession of those in higher position:

The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it. A ‘political anatomy’, which was also a ‘mechanics of power’, was being born; it defined how one may have a hold over others’ bodies, not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that they operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines. Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, ‘docile’ bodies. Discipline increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience). (Foucault, Discipline . . . 138)

The body thus far is this: it is part of the person in addition to being something that is possessed. The body, as illustrated through Foucault, has also been an object of power and control. Where does the problem lie at this point, with this given information? In the hospital setting, this power is evidenced through the method of observation. The Birth of the Clinic is an account of a dramatic shift that occurs in the relationship between a doctor and his patient (Roth 32). Foucault describes a shift in medical analysis "This new structure is indicated—but not, of course, exhausted—by the minute change, whereby the question: 'What is the matter with you?’, with the eighteenth century dialogue between doctor and patient was replaced by that other question: 'Where does it hurt?'. . . "(Foucault xviii). This shift is associated with a change in the times (the enlightenment), where knowledge was acquired through observation and experience. This form of knowledge allows one to set aside a subjective view to obtain objective knowledge of the world as it is (Bevir 69). Foucault writes on this shift in the late eighteenth century, where the values of empiricism “ . . . is not based on the rediscovery of the absolute values of the visible . . . but on a reorganization of that manifest and secret space that opened up when a millennial gaze paused perception over men’s sufferings. Nonetheless the rejuvenation of the medical gaze paused perception, the way colours and things came to life under the illuminating gaze of the first clinicians is no mere myth (xii). In talking about the human eye and the gaze, “It has a power to bring to truth to light that it receives only to the extent that it has brought to light; as it opens, the eye first opens the truth: a flexion that marks the transition from the world of classical clarity—from the ‘enlightenment’—to the nineteenth century” (xiii). What physicians see are symptoms, conditions, different colors, and so on, all of which are the objective qualities of the physical person.

Following the acquisition of information through perception, this information is passed on as a standard of medical diagnosis. This allows physicians to be trained to determine what is normal and abnormal based on the experience of others. In Power it is expressed in the formation of the medical police during the time of the European plague:

· A system of observation of sickness, based on information gathered from the hospitals and doctors of different towns and regions, and, at the state level, recording of the different epidemic and endemic phenomena that were observed

· Another very important aspect that should be noted: the standardization of medical practice and medical knowledge. Up to that point, authority in the matter of medical education and the awarding of diplomas had been left in the hands of the university and, more particularly, the medical guild. Then there emerged the idea of a standardization of medical instruction and, more specifically, of a public supervision of training programs and the granting of degrees. Medicine and doctors were thus the first object of standardization. (140)

Through this observation of the physical, knowledge is obtained that is then distributed among others. Illnesses could be labeled and catalogued, by which physicians could then see a combination of symptoms and deduce a particular illness. In designing a standard, or rule of measure, for diagnosis and treatment, all physicians are almost equally equipped to engage in varying cases based on their knowledge and reaffirmation through other doctors.

This technique of observation has served the medical community a great deal, and is an effective means of diagnosis and treatment. In assessing newborns, the gaze has improved the quality of life in premature infants. According to Lawrence T. Weaver, “By poling experiments and analyzing them systematically, the medical gaze is made all the more effective” (1060). However, this method has a very narrow perspective on the human condition; the focus is what is physical, what is apparent through the eyes and senses of physicality. It is a perspective limited to the person’s body, which allows someone such as a physician to have power of that body. The examination is a normalizing gaze, “a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify, and to punish. It establishes over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates them and judges them” (Foucault 184). In an assessment of quality assurance techniques, one process describes the view of the patient as “a collection of indicators: bowels, hair, skin, colour, sleep patterns, diets and familiarity with hospital routine, etc. Significantly, there are no open questions which allow patients to express how they feel about their illness” (Lees 725). The patient not only is treated as an object but becomes an object through this lens. Cosmetic surgery is a topic that is appropriate to a Foucauldian analysis of power. Though this is through what Patricia Gagne calls the “male” gaze, it is an idea where women create or modify their bodies on the basis of their perceptions of men’s desires (815-816). Though the choice in having the surgery is freely elected through a sense of autonomy or self-power, the choice to undergo the procedure is argued to be influenced by the power of others. “Understanding self-formation for a disciplinary perspective of power requires examining how people are pressured to become ‘normal’ . . . Society constructs a norm and then encourages people literally to embody that standard” (819).

Joanne Rendell offers a Foucauldian interpretation of AIDS writings by Herve Guibert, which she argues that the gaze objectifies and dehumanizes the bodies of gay men (33). Guibert makes hint of the gaze as a subordinating, silencing, non-reciprocal gaze in his work “The Compassion Protocol.” As a doctor gives orders to a student nurse from a distance, a thick tube is forced down the narrator’s throat at which point he has spasms, hiccups, contractions, and wants to reject it as he encounters this feeling of suffocation (36). Through surveillance, ritualized testing or examining, these AIDS patients surrender to modern medicine, which is described as an “invasion,” “internment,” and “rape” of medicine (38). Deborah Wilson describes the gaze as “a standard, normal, and universalized way of looking at the world” in which “power is exercised rather than possessed” (226). In writing about the outbreak of AIDS in the 80’s, the gaze becomes complicated, for instead of one overseer, the community is taught to internalize and police themselves. The AIDS response became a cultural movement, and through a systemized network of power, the public was educated on the importance of treatment and the monitoring and surveillance of those diagnosed as HIV positive (226-227). The public learned to be careful, to be aware, and to be distant from the afflicted at the same time. Those infected embodied disease which meant certain demise.

This practice is similar to that described in alleviating the European plague. “The Gaze is alert everywhere: ‘A considerable body of militia, commanded by good officers and men of substance’, guards at the gates, at the town hall and in every quarter to ensure the prompt obedience of the people . . .” (Discipline . . . 195-196). In his chapter on Panopticism, segmentation of the population occurs, separating the afflicted from the healthy, yet the sick (or allegedly sick) are monitored, and required to obey the orders of officers to record possible necessary information. “Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked—it is the great review of the living and the dead” (196). There is a significant use of power over these individuals through surveillance, and the descriptions often make the afflicted appear as cattle, instead of people.

Though there is a strong indication of the gaze’s objective standpoint, there is critique as far as its true relevance in a clinical setting. Though the objective findings in people have been theorized to overrule the subjective findings of people, findings from clinical examinations and tests do the work of determining a diagnostic conclusion in less than one-third of consultations, and often the patient’s story is a significant source of diagnostic knowledge (Malterud 9). An agent that could theoretically topple to ideal of the limiting gaze is holistic medicine. Practiced mainly by nurses, it “involves an element of ‘de-medicalization’, where the locus of causality for the illness is widened to include other non-medical psycho-social factors, the assumption being that the nurses could be empowered by assuming new responsibilities under the banner of holistic care” (Hua 2). Caring holistically envisages more progressive nurse-patient relationship or doctor-patient relationships resulting in more individualized care (3). In the process of de-medicalization, “Patients come to the hospital as experts of their own existence. Patients are to speak in terms of themselves as resourced, that is, care is provided in terms of family and others, and especially the self as a health care provider . . . patients’ social and psychological backgrounds are increasingly viewed as resources by nurses to expedite the discharge from hospital and the recovery process” (8). Here, the patient’s story and his or her internal well-being is considered in order to treat the physical body. Both subjective and objective information is of equal value in this ideal setting.

Much has been established concerning the current state of people and their bodies. It is evidenced that human beings are more than the sum of physical parts visible to the naked eye. However the gaze and similar descriptions of surveillance and observation limit the object under the lens to being nothing more than flesh. There is much power to be found through the knowledge obtained, but often at the expense of the human dignity. Though there is medical practice that encompasses the physical and non-corporal aspect of the human being, it might be hard to say how the practice of medicine may progress.

“In the last years of the eighteenth century, European culture outlined a structure that has not yet been unraveled; we are only just beginning to disentangle a few threads, which are still so unknown to us that we immediately assume them to be either marvelously new or absolutely archaic, whereas two hundred years . . . they have constituted the dark, but firm web of our experience” (Foucault, Birth, 199)

Works Cited

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Georgetown University Press, 2002

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(2005): 226-246. Academic Search Premier. 31 March 2007


Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Trans. Richard Sheridan. New York: Vintage

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Weaver, Lawrence T. “Focusing the Medical Gaze on the Newborn Baby.” Lancet

368.9541 (2006): 1059-1060. Academic Search Premier. 16 February 2007.

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