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MICHEL FOUCAULT: KNOWLEDGE, POWER, AND IDENTITY Institutions and the Legitimisation of Knowledge

Foucaults analysis of history relies on historical monuments or goals of

Michel Foucault (1926-1984)
institutions that produces discontinuous effects. These effects, despite
Paul-Michel Foucault is a French philosopher historian who was
their intended goal or outcome, often comes out differently because of
concerned with the development of ideas of power through the
variations in how people appropriate them.
history of institutions and their effect on how we understand
For example, the idea of punishment as a mode of deterrence for
identities through knowledge.
would-be-criminals, became more of a spectacle as opposed to a
Foucault pioneered an approach towards understanding historical
fearsome event.
texts in which history is a production of truth, rather than the
Thus, public executions, instead of deterring would be criminals,
conveyance of truth from past events.
became a form of entertainment for the common folk. For some, it
Foucault was raised by a family of wealthy surgeons, who opted him
allowed other practices to take place.
to become a physician.
Moreover, public executions, also allowed individuals to air their
Foucault was a closeted homosexual in his younger years, often
support towards the accused. In some instances, violent protests occur
causing him anxiety and depression.
after public executions.
Foucault was highly critical of the oppressive role of institution in
The prison system is a product of suppressing the populace from
shaping our conception of identity.
creating a spectacle out of public executions.
Foucault was a well-known intellectual throughout Europe and
As a response to deterrence, the form of punishment has evolved into a
rehabilitation of the subject (prisoner) to later integrate them back to
Foucault was an advocate of exploring ones identity by
understanding how institutions shape our daily practices.
Thus, the prison system has become instrumental in spawning various
Moreover, by understanding history, we can understand the success
industries and technological implements to create different identities.
and folly of certain institutions and their respective agendas.
The Panotpicon
Foucault succumbed to complications from AIDS in 1984
The Panotpicon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the
Genealogy of History
diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form
Foucault argued that the study of history is ought to be
The panopticon does not simply represent an omni-present form of
disinterested and detached.
observation of prisoners, rather, it represents how the prison system
Rather than offer a grand narrative of explaining monumental
works in and out of the prison.
points in history that influenced present developments, Foucault
The idealised manifestation of the panopticon is the power of
wanted to look at small details such as the practices of insignificant
surveillance that shapes the behavior of individuals with the gaze of the
people to understand the effects of institutions to human activities.
Foucault for example, observed practices involving executions,
From the use of corporeal punishment, rehabilitation, and finally
punishment, diagnosis of mental illness, medicine, and sexuality as a
surveillance, the idea of the human person in history for Foucault is a
basis for his study.
technology of transforming humanity into docile bodies.
By studying these discontinuous details (i.e. documents involving
everyday practices), Foucault can point out that history is not just a
Surveillance is a form of management wherein subjects learn how
series of events triggered by one successful event in the past.
to manage themselves, by conditioning people to think that they are
being watched, they will behave as if they are watched.
Foucault was very adamant to discourses on history that points Rather than learn from the mad the root cause and effective means
towards a perceived end or goal. of integrating them back to society, institutions have merely
The telos or direction of history is always subject to the constant excluded the insane from the sane.
swaying of forces that veers away from projected trajectories Technology, thus, became a system of managing the insane.
offered by technologies. In Foucaults historical analysis of sexuality, he notes that sexuality
While knowledge can give power for those who can control finds means despite repression from society and institutions.
discourses, the technology that is derived from knowledge can be He notes, that despite the suppressed treatment of sexuality in the
used in unpredictable ways. Victorian times, sexuality flourished.
For example, the internet, despite its focus on disseminating While institutions can somewhat dictate certain sexual practices,
information can also be used to disseminate false information. individuals will find ways to express their own technology of
Technologies that save lives were actually realized in events that sexuality.
were meant to take away lives. This is evinced, for example, in ancient Greece through
Freedom, when too much is introduced, can also be made as a tool homosexuality.
for oppression. Despite being segregated by roles, men and women found ways to
Homosexuality, for example, in the earlier part of the 20th century, explore sexual identities. Homosexuality was a common practice,
was treated as a mental disorder. since both sexes were detached from each because of the roles that
Foucault argues that in the ancient Greek times, the mad or the they played.
insane lived with the normal people. In fact, their status was Repression, as history would show, only furthers the technologies of
different in as much as they can see what the others could not caring for ones self.
see. Foucault advocated the exploration of the self (not only in sexual
In the course of time, the diagnosis of mental illness has become terms) as opposed to allowing technologies, knowledge, and power
different. to dictate our identities.
Medieval psychology, for example, diagnosed mental illness as Foucault wanted to turn these technologies as a way of allowing us
demonic possession. some sense of autonomy in caring for ourselves.
Today, mental illness, varies in treatment and diagnosis. Thus, rather than be merely helpless subjects compelled to follow
In the UK and Europe, the treatment of mental illness leans more on the forces that influence us, we have the option to become
using behavioural conditioning. selective in becoming who we want ourselves to be.
In the US, on the other hand, mental illness is treated heavily with Thus, Foucault proposes a technology of understanding ourselves. A
medication. technology of caring for oneself. We are to become our own
While ADHD is a common phenomenon in the US; in France, ADHD project rather than become the projects of institutions.
is treated as a behavioral problem as opposed to it being a
physiological problem. FREEDOM AND PORNOGRAPHY (A case for self-actualization and self-
In the Philippines, very few people opt-in for treatments and expression)
diagnosis because of the shame involved in being declared I defend pornography as an important aspect of freedom of expression,
insane. which is essential for autonomy, self-development, the growth of
Foucaults emphasized the fact that over the course of time, people knowledge and human flourishing. I rebut the allegations that pornography
have begun to isolate the mad from the sane. depraves and corrupts, degrades women, is harmful
to children, exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, and violates However, should we take the allegations against pornography to be true, we
womens civil rights and liberties. I contend that suppressing pornography should take this as an opportunity to respond and explain the ideology
would have a range of unintended evil consequences, including loss of behind pornography.
beneficial technology, creeping censorship, black markets, corruption and Despite this, the degradation of women can still be expressed in non-
extensive social costs.. Danny Frederick pornographic means. This means that despite the validity of the argument,
FREDERICK RESPONDS TO FIVE MAJOR CRITICISMS AGAINST the focus should not only be centered on pornography.
PORNOGRAPHY: (3) While it is true that pornography is dangerous to children, it is also true
(1) Pornography tends to deprave and corrupt those who produce or that there are a lot of things that are harmful for children that falls on the
consume it. adults to be responsible when it comes to these matters.
Consumers of pornography will tend to have a perverted vision of sexuality, Alcohol, tobacco, medicines, sharp things, anti-vaccination pamphlets, are
more so, it exposes those that are involved in its production to health, all present in the environment. The responsibility to keep children from
crime, and character risks. these possible harm lies with adult supervision.
(2) It degrades women In the case of pornography, parents should find means of preventing their
Women who are participating in the consumption and production of children from accessing these forms of media. The responsibility lies with
pornography are degraded because it portrays them as an object and a the parents, not with the existence of pornography.
lower kind of person subject to humiliating circumstances. (4) If pornography exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, then
(3) It is harmful to children if they consume it or are used in its production even if this did justify controls over the production or consumption of
(4) It exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault pornography; it would do so only where less intrusive ways of dealing with
By objectifying the participants in the production of pornography, one the problems are not available.
exposes third parties or other people as an object of sexual offence or (5) If pornography is a danger to all, and to women, this could be an
assault. argument for restricting the freedom of expression.
(5) It violates womens civil rights and freedom of expression DANNY FREDERICK ARGUES SOME POINTS FOR PORNOGRAPHY
HERE ARE FREDERICKS INITIAL RESPONSES TO THE FIVE POINTS AGAINST A free society is a society that safeguards the freedom of expression
PORNOGRAPHY: Since pornography is a form of expression of human sexuality it should be
(1) Risks exists in all aspects of life, as an adult, the decision to participate in allowed to a degree where its benefits can outweigh its possible risks.
the production and consumption of pornography is a free decision which Freedom of expression is a prerequisite of personal development
has had its consequences weighed down by individuals. Adults are self-conscious beings who are entitled to manage their own lives
Just like participating in a sport is a risk to injury, or participating in and pursue their own conception of the good life in their own way. This is
charitable activities can cause harm and even the loss of life, there would be made possible by experimentation.
downsides to any activity. Sex is, for more people, a very important part of life
Yet the reason why people still participate in these activities is that its end For many people, sexual relationships, and their integral sexual activities,
seems worthwhile for its participants. are central to lifes meaning.
(2) Following the first response, if pornography has the capacity to degrade Despite the benefits of pornography, there are still some considerations
women, then women, as consenting adults should decide for themselves that we need to take.
whether the degradation is worthwhile. Criticisms of pornography is well accepted because it is an expression and
are likewise important for its own development.
Criticism can allow changes in the practice, production, and consumption of Despite this allegation towards pornography as a media that degrades
pornography. women, a broad array of other forms of media exist that are also degrading,
There are certain circumstances wherein the issue of public safety takes not only for women, but also for different individuals.
precedence over the freedom of expression, and that is also applicable to There are films and shows that degrade the perspective of women and men.
pornography. Opinions such as the claims that the world is flat, or ideas of racism and
SEXUAL EXPLICITNESS AND SEXUAL AROUSAL bigotry exist. Even the idea of replacing women with men who think that
Why it matters? they can be a better woman exist. These discourses and media exist, mainly
If pornography can arouse sexuality and lead to violence, why do we allow because they have their own right to free expression.
sexually explicit and sexually arousing materials? Why then does the depiction of women having sex be a degrading depiction
There are materials that are sexually arousing and sexually explicit, that may of women when in fact it is something that both men and women engage
not necessarily be referred to as pornography. in? Moreover, pornography is not limited to simply portraying women in
A medical manual or text can have sexually explicit content. A movie can be sexuality.
sexually arousing without being sexually explicit. Does pornography degrade women?
Despite this, since sex is a common activity, regardless of whether it is done While pornography has many varieties, it can be said that there are certain
in front of the camera or not, then would it be also right to say that the act types of pornography that does degrade women.
of sex degrades women? The point of the matter itself is that pornography is a neutral medium, it
CAN A DISCOURSE ABOUT SEX DEGRADE US? doesnt generally depict women alone. Hence, it would be right to say that
While it is possible that certain discourse about sex can be degrading, it specific types of pornography are degrading to women as opposed to saying
does, however, need to be specific about which discourses can be that pornography itself is degrading to women.
degrading. Allegations against pornography would say that it leads to sexual offences is
The question of degradation is often addressed by the privacy of sex itself. If for Frederick, unsubstantiated and does not have a causal connection
it is made present to those that do not want to see it, then it can be between consumption and anti-social behavior. While some sex offenders
degrading. Since sex as an act and discourse is both private and personal, use pornography in the commission of crimes, it doesnt necessarily mean a
pornography, likewise, should also be private. causal connection exist.
Despite this, no reason has been given for thinking that sex is properly Likewise, certain criminals quote passages from the bible or any other
private and should not be open for discourse. In fact, no one questions the paraphernalia, it doesnt necessarily mean that the bible itself causes crime.
necessity of pornography becoming a public spectacle, meaning to say that Banning paraphernalia such as knives, because it can be used in the
there is a wide agreement that those who do not want to consume or commission of crime, is a post-hoc fallacy.
produce it should not be forced to do so. Who can consume it?
Despite this, the freedom of expression is invoked as an issue when it comes Pornography, like sex, is not something that children should participate in.
to pornography. There is also a myriad of media that can depict degrading Given that sex is an everyday pleasurable activity, most children will
views on certain individuals, yet they continue to exist because of the eventually and pleasurably engage in it as they mature and become adults.
freedom of certain subjects to choose to consume it or produce it. Children and sex should be separated in terms of the production and
The fundamental allegation against pornography is that it degrades consumption of pornography.
womens right and freedom and that it communicates a negative image of Pornography is for mature and consenting adults. Children should not be
women. forced, coerced, or allowed to participate in its production and
For adults, the consumption of pornography can be liberating since it Also, the issue of public health can be invoked as a problem arising from
provides multiple avenues in exploring human sexuality. Pornography can suppression, exposing women, men, and even children to the hazards of
also provide avenues for general psychological, anthropological, and unregulated sex trade and the production of pornographic materials.
academic research. Pornography is also used in fiction and literary works.
And, of course it can be used as an aid for self-understanding. Frederick MARXISM
notes that pornography can give rise to our own understanding of sexual Karl Marx is a German-Jewish philosopher born on May 5, 1818.
preferences, without the issue of repressing sexuality, which for him is He was born to a well-off family that owned vineyards. His father was a
unhealthy. well-known and established lawyer.
Why pornography is an expression of freedom? Marx, for the rest of his life, did not work as a manual laborer.
Freedom of expression is to be prized as a condition of a free society and of Coincidentally, Marx was also poor.
individual autonomous development. Marxism as an ideology
The suppression of freedom of expression is bad not only because it denies Marxism is an off-shoot of Karl Marxs critique of economics.
this good, but also because it inevitably has a range of unintended evil Initially it was a reaction to the proliferation of Capitalism in the early
consequences. phases of industrialization of nations. The inspiration came from his
There are some odd benefits to the production and consumption of experience of English and German capitalism.
pornography, for one it stimulated the growth of consumer media and Marxs critique developed into systems of governance and economics
electronics, as well as the infrastructures of the internet. which we find in the idea of Communism.
The suppression of pornography can lead to other consequences such as the Marxs method was to propose a dialectical materialism, wherein the
curtailment of the freedom of expression. If these were denied at an earlier realization of ones place in capitalistic societies is agonistic.
point in time, there wouldnt be any acceptance of practices such as Capitalism for Marx and his followers is always in the process of
homosexuality and transsexuality. To add to this, the prohibition of contradicting itself, hence the possibility of a revolution within the
pornography does not necessarily stop its production and consumption, it working class is inevitable.
only leads to the underground distribution of goods that can be violent and Labour and the Total Man
detrimental to society. For Marx, the idea of a human person lies on how humans can realize
Can suppression stop pornography? itself socially through labor.
Suppressing pornography would involve a substantial reduction of social Work for man is the expression of his being. Not only should work fulfill
wealth. There would be a significant increase in the criminal justice cost of the basic needs of man, it should also allow man to achieve a sense of
detection, apprehension, prosecution, and maintenance of the offenders in self-realisation.
prison. Humanity achieves self-realisation through the social nature of labour.
Suppressing pornography can have serious consequences, its consumption By producing products that are valued within society, man is affirmed by
and production might not be monitored and regulated by the state resulting his community, which in part, gives meaning to mans existence.
into abuses and mistreatment towards women and other participants in its The Rise of Capitalism
industry. With the introduction of Capitalism, as a theory of economics that opts
In some countries, pornography is regulated by the government to give freedom from government intervention, man has gradually alienated
opportunities for employment for both men and women. By suppressing from the fruits of his own labour.
this, these regulations can no longer protect the participants from crime and The alienation from labour is a consequence of the growing need to
abuse. produce and to consume goods.
With the introduction of machines that minimise labour, the social The elimination of progress and recognition in mans work has
aspect of labour was eliminated, the products of machines devaluated destroyed the social nature of work.
the products made by man. The Total Man
Labourers experienced a competition from these machines, which in Man for Marx is ought to be a subject that pursues his own intention
turn made them lose their business. without any control from ideals or social structures.
Capitalism In other words, man should be able to enjoy his life sensuously while at
The alienation of worker lead to the consolidation of work to a bigger the same time, must pursue things that satisfies his need for meaning.
and powerful enterprise owned by the bourgeoisie. Through labour, man should be able to satisfy his nature as a desiring
Like powerful landlords, these elite controlled the economy by entity. Not just through ideas, but also through physical and material
dominating it with the means of production. things.
For example, a weaver or a textile manufacturer in the traditional sense It is through this that humanity achieves harmony in social relations,
of artisanship and craftsmanship, would have to compete against without coming into conflict with his desires through repression.
machinised production which would sell textiles and fabrics for a much Marx further asserts that Capitalism contains within it such
more cheaper and bigger volume. contradictions that would later on disrupt its own function and give rise
Labourers and craftsmen in this sense, had to abandon their work, and to Communism.
be under the capitalist mode of production.
Consequences of Capitalism
Labour has become an alienating activity under the principles of
capitalism. With the emphasis on producing cheap goods in large
volumes, artisans and craftsmen who worked traditionally lost in the
competition because of the monopoly of the means and raw materials
for production.
On the plus side, Capitalism has made more products affordable for the
average consumer.
However, the affordability of the product, meant that one had to be a
part of the system to enjoy its benefits.
The Ford Model T, for example, is a case wherein a consumer product
produced efficiently and cheaply in huge quantities.
The invention of the assembly line system, has mechanized the process
of production in factories.
A labourer, thus, need not know how to build a car, but only perform
the task assigned to him that leads to the production of the car.
In his critique of Capitalism, Marx opts that work has been transformed
as an alienating process in which man no longer realizes himself as a
social being.
Marxs proposal was to eliminate the domination of production by
transforming production utilities as a state-owned utilities.
Thus, factories, lands, and machineries are no longer owned and
monopolized by private entities. Thus, eliminating unfair practices and
control over economic production.
Communism does not exactly eliminate the idea of private property,
rather, it seeks to dissuade monopolies of production by transforming
the utilities of production into publicly owned properties.
Despite this, communism insists on the possibility of a revolution (be it
armed or peaceful) as a way of overcoming the inequities of capitalism.
The Legacy of Marxism
Communism has been experimented upon by countries such as Russia
and China.
Their reading of Marxs work however, focused on the idea of revolution
and the maintenance of control over the people.
The problem with this however, is that this vulgar form of Marxism is
against the intrinsic freedom of any person to exercise their will.
Capitalism vs. Marxism (Socialism)
Despite the potent critique of Marxism, capitalism is of course prevalent
and pervasive. But can they exist together?
It would be problematic to purely conceive of an entirely socialist or
Marxist perspective of society, moreover, without the balance that
socialism offers, capitalism itself will not progress and adapt.
Both Capitalism and Marxism looks at the interest of freedom for
humans. While Capitalism looks at the freedom of individuals from
government control; Marxism looks at the freedom from economic
Both are complimentary in a sense that they look at both aspects of
enlarging individual freedom.