Part 4: Gaze and control

Foucault: ‘Disciplinary power and photography’

Foucault broaches the theme of the use of power via institutions that are scientific and regarding thier influence within society. Later in the paper he turns his specific attention towards photography as part of the power structure in the use of discipline as a part of a set of ‘corrective’ methods. The work covers the subject of discipline in the power mode, punishment, the ‘body politic’ and the place of photography in the use of disciplinary and observational methods.

One of the readings from this text as I see it is the questioning of authority in the realm of scientific statements and the ratification of the those statements in terms of their power. Who controls and who ‘ordains’ the decisions and statements made within the scientific community?

The main thrust of the paper is the use of discipline via power through the observational mechanisms based in his work: ‘discipline and punishment’. The work is said to represent a bigger theme which goes beyond, to look at a new species of power in the form of ‘domination’ which Foucault describes as a new methodology of a ‘disciplinary society’.

The way that this new disciplinary society is tracked is via the punishment system of prison whereby traditionally physical retribution methods were employed (meaning physical violence and bodily suffering) to a more nuanced form of psychological and observational reform.

Foucault argues that one of the most efficacious way that this new form of power controls is through domination via surveillance. This occurs not so much, Green argues, through the physical manipulation of the body or violence, but rather through what Foucault claims is the subjection of the body as the object of knowledge.

Foucault throughout his work seems concerned to establish an understanding of the origins of power structures and how they have influenced society. This takes him beyond the marxist assumptions of the domination by ruling classes through into other areas namely: looking at how mechanisms of power ‘have been able to function’.

One of the arguments presented in the paper for the growth of disciplinary action and making men ‘docile and useful’ this improving disciplined productive labour, was the expansive and growth of urban environments. With the explosions in growth, came problems, and this the need for a discipline of control by authorities.

A key way that this disciplinary power has been applied is through the use of photography. However the notion, argues Green, that photography would provide a factual document of external truths is somewhat false.  As we know, photography employs subjectivity in the  construction of its narratives. And so we see photography as part of a greater series of mechanisms that began to help build a knowledge base of physiological observations and comparisons.

Foucault states that mechanisms of control involve surveillance and with this simplicity the use of control and power arise within society.  Green argues that the ‘force’ of Foucault’s ideas prevails in that we see the mechanisms employed of surveillance strongly in use, ever more so within society. However, an argument levelled at Foucault is that by his description, the use of power is so all pervasive that any resistance would be impossible. The way that this should be done is through specific and localised resistance thus meeting the localised and specific applications of power use via surveillance.








Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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