September 10, 2010

Foucault & Agency: Seek answers not you should

So, after dutifully performing my expected role as a responsible grad student and reading through a whole book about discipline and power (ironies noted), I went to seminar class to talk about Mr Foucault and his ideas in Discipline and Punish. One issue that came up (and which always seems to come up with Foucault) is agency. Does Foucault allow for agency? Is the guy too structural? Is he a determinist? Are we all doomed to live in a world in which the nebulous forces of power completely shape our minds, bodies, and futures through every imaginable means? I mean, they put CAMERAS in stop lights! We're being watched! The question comes up a lot with Foucault. I have read several pieces that tear Foucault to shreds in search of little scraps of resistance. The question also came up in seminar. So where's the resistance?

My answer: I don't really care if Foucault left room for agency, and if he didn't leave room for resistance I'm not going to lose any sleep. I'm not looking to join the Church of Foucault and using this as a chance to evaluate his program and ideas about life. Besides, I think Foucault makes it pretty clear that he's providing an analytical framework rather than a socio-political theory to live by (he pretty much spells this out in the History of Sexuality).

I'm not reading Discipline and Punish to find specific socio-political answers, but instead to look at how Foucault explores issues (and, of course, because certain agents of power have assigned this book). I mean, if there are answers or recipes for change in a book, great. But I don't really see the point in lamenting aspects of a book that don't exist. If it isn't about agency, then look elsewhere--or find ways to force it into the framework. To me, these aren't texts to be memorized and directly applied to daily life (at least not usually). Each text is a piece of a larger process of learning. It's not about being converted to one way of thought or another, but about taking a lot of ideas and information and evaluating them in conjunction--and then applying those ideas/info to specific questions.

But, that's pure opinion. As usual, I reserve the right to change my position on this matter if new evidence capsizes my whole perspective. Anyway, next week the Foucault train continues. Expect more thoughts about power as they relate to grad student life. If, of course, the deterministic and panoptic powers that be do not hinder my freedom and agency to express myself via the wonders of the internet.

You never know.

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