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November 9, 2008 / C H Thompson

Theories of the state (post-structural)

Foucault’s message was illustrate how the state uses discourses as mechanisms of normalisation. In effect the state tells is what is and isn’t normal to do and if you transgress from this normality than you’re in big trouble.

On example Foucault gave of this technique of normalisation was in the area of sexuality. He argued 18th century doctors created a variety of ‘sexual deviant’ categories which defined what was and wasn’t normal. From this masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution and other sexualgay-couple fetishes were made abnormal and people who participated in such ‘deviant’ and ‘perverted’ acts were in need of treatment by because the dominant discourse of medical professionals said so.

However as mentioned earlier all forms of domination are open to resistance and the creation of a homosexual subculture resisted the dominant discourse to the extent a new discourse of ‘normality’ now exists.

The idea of the state defining what is or isn’t normal gives us an insight into what Foucault termed the ‘art of government’ as opposed to Weber’s understanding as of the state as simply about exercising power over citizens through for example in the use of ‘legitimate violence’ such as laws.

The art of government links with the idea of normalisation previously discussed, because the state for Foucault is no longer the act of government itself but is more about managing the population, institutions and social processes. One example of the state managing the population is through surveillance.

By examining the way the state used to punish people Foucault noticed there was a move way from punishing subjects to disciplining them. In the past Kings or Queens would torture or execute the body in order to reinforce the sovereign’s right to rule.benthampanopticon9-22-02

However Foucault examined Jeremy Bentham’s design of panopticon prisons which utilised the concept of surveillance in order to instil discipline rather than punishment by keeping a watchful eye on what inmates did during their time inside. Foucault noticed how surveillance has become a normal part of everyday life. He termed this the ‘carceral archipelago’ (an archipelago is a chain or cluster of islands)

It’s worth considering the numerous ways in which individuals are monitored by the carceral archipelago and the relationship between discourse and the carceral archipelago.

Return to power and politics overview

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