The gruesome public torture and execution of Robert-Francois

The body is pivotal in Foucault’s critique. His exploration
of the history of power and knowledge is ‘an examination of the transformation
of the self, subjectivity and human agency in the emergence of modern western
social and political institutions’ (Caldwell, 2007:6). Foucault identifies a
manifestation of power which is a contrast to ‘existing models that
conceptualized power as “domination”, that is, as a centralized and
repressive force exerted by one group over another — a “possession”
which could be acquired and imposed on others through physical coercion’ (Pylypa,1998).
In Discipline & Punish (1977), Foucault examines the penal system of
Europe, and he begins with an extremely detailed recounting of the gruesome
public torture and execution of Robert-Francois Damiens in the mid-18th
century. The body of the criminal Damiens, tortured upon the scaffold in public,
displays the power and might of the sovereign. Foucault proceeds to argue that since
then control
through coercive methods such as military power declined, whilst social control
through discipline of oneself and one’s body increased (Pylypa,1998:21).

According to Foucault, this transfer from ‘sovereign
power’ to the ‘disciplinary power’ of modern regimes such as prisons, schools,
hospital and so on, has been momentous and new forms of power and tools of
discipline ‘reach into subjects through a web of regimes of power and knowledge
that regulate the body and mind, including our most intimate behaviour and
inner thoughts’ (Caldwell, 2007:6). The advent of the prison system saw ‘the disappearance of
the tortured, dismembered, amputated body, symbolically branded on face or
shoulder, exposed alive or dead to public view’ (Foucault, 1977:8). The public
display of power and punishment of an individual as the major target of penal
repression disappeared’ (Foucault, 1994:8). Foucault outlines three
historically evident modes of punishment: penal torture, humanitarian reform
and penal incarceration. The Guillotine, observes Foucault, was a form of
publicised punishment making the body the focus of direct penal torture. In
contrast, penal incarceration deprived people of their liberty for periods of
time and provided a framework for the transformation of individuals to make
them ‘docile’, meaning ‘passive, subjugated, and productive individuals’ (Pylypa,
2014:22). This reminder to conform subsequently
results in the transformation of subjugated bodies as objects of knowledge
(Monami, 2017). Furthermore, for Foucault, power operates through the production
of desire and knowledge. Knowledge produced by scientific discourses such as
social sciences, criminal justice and psychiatry is not ‘neutral or objective’
(Pylypa, 1998:23); it produces particular perspectives, conventions and
motivations. Subsequently, for Foucault, the type of knowledge produced in this
way influences our behaviour and has a controlling effect on people’s bodies,
meaning consequently knowledge is inseparable from power. Foucault says there
is no inconsequential or disinterested form of knowledge; he saw knowledge and
power as inseparably interdependent: ‘there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of
knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the
same time, power relations’ (Foucault, 1977:27). Thus, the prison
becomes a place where knowledge is derived and employed in order to attempt a
transformation of the offender. Foucault states that from the mid-18th
century, there was a shift from the tortured body, subject to sovereign power,
to the juridical subject. The spectacles of torture ceded to labyrinthine
prisons (Koopman, 2017). Foucault’s examination of modern European penal
systems ‘provided a renewed conception of power that captures an
individualizing form of discipline that acts first and foremost on the body’ (Lee
et al., 2014: 620).  Power thus operates
through both the production of knowledge and the ‘creation of a desire to
conform to the norms that this knowledge establishes’ (Pylypa,1998: 24).

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highlights how power is implemented beyond the institution and how the body is a
principal site of struggle and discursive conflict (Mills, 2003). Rather than
constructing a top-down model of power relations to observe how people are
oppressed by the State or institutions, Foucault’s critique develops ‘a
bottom-up model, where the body is one of the sites where power is enacted and
resisted’ (Mills, 2003: 81). Individuals voluntarily adhere to social norms and
are controlled by their own ‘self-surveillance’ and ‘self-disciplinary’
practices (Pylypa, 1998:22). For Foucault power is
not imposed from above by a dominant group, but rather comes “from below”. We
are all vehicles of power because it is ’embedded in discourses and norms that
are part of the minute practices, habits, and interactions of our everyday
lives’ (Pylypa, 1998:23). The body, either as the
single body (or the societal body) is, therefore, a highly significant aspect
of Foucault’s critique. His work is traditionally assigned according to three
different periods: archaeology, where the body is an object of knowledge in the discursive practices; genealogy, where
the body is the target of power in
the non-discursive practices; and ethics, where the body is a matter of concern for techniques of the
self of Greek and Roman ethical subjects (Protevi, 2011).

Foucault introduces a manifestation of power that is no
longer the conventional power symbolised in the opening chapter of Discipline and
Punish. Instead, it is derived from ‘modes of power that serve to control
individuals and their knowledge’, the mechanism through which power ‘reaches
into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself
into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and
everyday lives’ (Foucault 1980:30). Power is sustained, and society produces
the kinds of bodies it needs, via the production of these
‘docile bodies’.

describes the impact of institutional and discursive forces on the body, in The
History of Sexuality. He asserts that the body should be seen as the “focus of
a number of discursive pressures: the body is the site on which discourses are
enacted and where they are contested” (Mills, 2003: 81). Furthermore, in The
Order of Things (1970) and in Discipline and Punish (1977), Foucault examines the
changes that affect the academic and governmental analysis of the population as
a whole and presents the term ‘bio-power’, which he defines as the ‘increasing
organisation of population and welfare for the sake of increased force and
productivity’ (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1986: 8).

is a significant focus on the body as opposed to the individual in Foucault’s
work. In Foucault’s framework the individual is considered to be an effect
rather than an essence, indeed: ‘the notion of bodies as the target of power is
part of Foucault’s attempt to avoid the liberal conception of individuals as
unconstrained creative essences’ (Wickham 1986: 155). Foucault argues that ‘the
individual is not to be conceived of as a sort of elementary nucleus . . . on
which power comes to fasten . . . In fact, it is already one of the prime
effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses,
certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals’
(Foucault 1980a: 98). Therefore, instead of seeing bodies as those of
stable individuals, Foucault analyses the ‘discursive practices through which
bodies are constituted’ (Mills, 2003: 82).

Foucault, the body is a valuable tool which can be used to analyse important
political decisions and events that leave observable effects upon the body.
Thus, the body is ‘inscribed’ with these effects, (Mills, 2003). Foucault also regarded
the body as ‘the illusion of a substantial unity’ and ‘a volume in perpetual disintegration’,
thus emphasising that what appears to be a solid entity is, in fact, ‘constructed
through discursive mediation’ (Mills, 2003: 83).  The task of Foucault’s genealogical analysis
‘is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the processes of
history’s destruction of the body’ (Foucault 1986b: 83). In addition to questioning
the apparent solidity of the body, Foucault also focuses on the body as ‘an
historically and culturally specific entity’; the body is viewed, experienced
and treated differently in different contexts and in different periods of time
(Mills, 2003). Thus, bodies are always subject to change and can never be
regarded as natural, but rather are always experienced as mediated through ‘different
social constructions of the body’ (Mills, 2003: 83).

showed how the sovereign power of Leviathan over the past 200 years was superseded
by two new forms of power: disciplinary power (which he also called
anatomo-politics because of its detailed attention to training the human body)
and bio-politics. Biopower was Foucault’s subject in The History of Sexuality,
Volume One. Meanwhile the power of discipline, the anatomo-politics of the
body, was Foucault’s focus in Discipline and Punish – it is power in the form
of correct training. Discipline does not strike down the subject to whom it is
directed, in the way that sovereignty does. Discipline works more subtly, with
an exquisite care even, in order to produce obedient people. Foucault famously
called the obedient and normal products of discipline ‘docile subjects’ and the
concept is represented by the soldier in Discipline and Punish (1977).

developed the term ‘biopower’ to refer to the ways in which power is
constituted in the form of daily practices and routines ‘through which
individuals engage in self-surveillance and self-discipline’ (Pylypa, 1998: 21)
and thus subjugate themselves. Foucault deemed “biopower” to be the dominant
system of social control and manipulation in modern western society (Pylypa,
1998). Furthermore, Foucault argues that a phenomenon has occurred in which
Europe has witnessed a reduction in coercive mechanisms of control such as
military force and an increase in social control through individual
self-discipline. Biopower’s force derives from its ability to function through
“knowledge and desire” – the production of scientific knowledge which ‘results
in a discourse of norms and normality, to which individuals desire to conform”
(Pylypa, 1998: 21). Furthermore, Foucault believed political control and order
is ‘maintained through the production of “docile bodies” passive, subjugated
and productive individuals’ (Pylypa, 1998: 22). Moreover, according to
Foucault, the types of body that society requires were produced via practices
of disciplining, surveillance and punishment which creates bodies ‘habituated
to external regulation’ (Pylypa, 1998: 22). This habitual regulation works ‘to
discipline the body, optimize its capabilities, extort its forces, increase its
usefulness and docility, integrate it into systems of efficient and economic
controls’ (Foucault, 1980a?: 139).

 Additionally, as a consequence individuals
control themselves by imposing conformity to cultural norms on themselves;
through practices of self-discipline and self-surveillance ‘especially those of
the body such as the self regulation of hygiene, health and sexuality’ (Pylypa,
1998:22). Historically, biopower emerged with the transformation of power
formations in Western societies starting in the seventeenth century. Foucault
claimed that biopower evolved in two forms, which he called anatomo-politics of
the human body, or discipline, and biopolitics of the population. The former is
concerned with making the human body useful and docile, the latter with
managing human populations. Both require a great amount of scientific
knowledge. (Arnason Biopower (Foucault) December 2012.

social body is a central aspect of Foucault’s work on ‘bio-power’. He argues
that it is at the level of the body that much regulation and intervention by
the authorities from the nineteenth century onwards is enacted; ‘knowledge is
accumulated, populations are observed and surveyed, procedures for
investigation and research about the population as a whole and of the body in
particular are refined’ (Mills, 2003, 83). This view of the population as a
whole as a resource was innovative. As the critics Hubert Dreyfus and Paul
Rabinow state: ‘The individual was of interest exactly insofar as s/he could
contribute to the strength of the state. The lives, deaths, activities, work
and joys of individuals were important to the extent that these everyday
concerns became politically useful’ (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1986: 139). Unlike
disciplinary power aimed at the training of individual bodies, the management
of populations relied on biopower, understood as the policies and procedures
that manage births, deaths, reproduction, and health and illness within the
larger social body. And so, while surveys of the population undertaken by the
government had a veneer to improve the wellness and wellbeing of the whole population,
for example, through eradicating venereal disease and incest among the working
classes, they in fact had a more tyrannical purpose.

To conclude,
the body is central to Foucault’s critique. In his genealogical exploration, he
unveils the body as an object of knowledge and a target for the exercise of
power. His genealogy of power examines economic thought and other human
sciences to understand how individuals became subjects in the modernity. Foucault
shows how power is not only repressive, but also productive: it produces
subjects, conducts and patterns. His analyses shifted from disciplinary power
to biopolitics and the impact and role of the body in power structures and interactions.
Foucault defined biopolitics as a specific technology of power that emerged in
the end of the 18th century and aimed to deal with biological elements of human
beings, such as: birth, mode of living, prosperity, health, reproduction and
death. His dissection of power relations via disciplinary power and his focus
on biopower and self-regulation also show how his work on the body are highly
significant critique.


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