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Contemplating Shame ~ consumentality ~ foucault primer

gallows-858572_1280This is my second essay in my series about Consumentality….I didn’t feel like we could discuss this new concept one second longer without a bit of background as to my theoretical leanings and a bit of a discussion of the discourse that spawned such a deep, dark, and scary endeavor.

Last night at my church group we had a discussion about modern power and how it works in our society. A very funny topic considering I had been planning on continuing my series about the co-opting of our shame. There is no way you can discuss power, in any significant way without mentioning Foucault. I had to give them the down and dirty

Here is the Foucault down and dirty in regards to power:

In his essay/lecture called Governmentality Michel Foucault outlined the modern way in which governments wield power and get us to behave like the good little citizens we are. He posited that long, long ago, in a land far, far away, governments used a different power than today. If a person was punished it was done as public spectacle. Rules were enforced with an iron fist where the power of the state was made known through this public sphere.

Today, things are different. We don’t hang people in the public square. We have new ways of controlling our populace.  In this new arena, power and knowledge are united. Our governments have power over us because they know us. We are watched and we are known. The image Foucault uses as an example of this new power is a panopticon.

What is a panopticon, you ask?

This is a panopticon

panopticon-imagePlus, this image has a little quote of explanation from our lovely theorist Foucault. A panopticon is a  round room, with a tower in the middle. The cells surround the tower. They have a glass front and are back lit. One person in the center of the tower can see hundreds of people, in exact detail with a sweep of the eyes.

This is governmentality. This is the way it works. We are seen. We are known. We behave. We discipline ourselves. There is no need for a public hanging to get us to behave. We are normalized and we don’t even fully understand that we are the means towards our own normalization. The state has used us as the scaffolding for our own gallows.

Looking for places where normalization is loud and proud you can see how these place of power-knowledge operate and how power is not held in the hand of the state any longer, it is everywhere. It is diffuse and ubiquitous, like the fog.

So, last night we began to discuss topics surrounding power-knowledge-freedom-etc. and nobody mentioned Foucault. The discussion was religious in nature and came back around to moral/cultural relativism. “You can’t be morally relative in the face of child sex trafficking or female genital mutilation” people barked. Of course, nobody is going to see me cheer leading female circumcision. The problem is that without this larger theoretical discourse on modern power we miss that what is taken as “truth” in society is a “general politics of truth”. We accept it and internalize it, discipline ourselves to the truth normality and so it is…we are disciplined people we are nimble bodies, pliable and able to be molded.

Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true’ “(Foucault, in Rabinow 1991).

Another very interesting thing Foucault looks for in his “histories” are places of resistance. These are instructive and give us insight into the entire system. For an intriguing perspective on resistance, a good read is Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline by Aihwa Wong. I am sure the idea of resistance is fodder for an entire post. Suffice it to say that places of resistance are meridian points to peer at the way power works, how it is used, and where it breaks down.

This is such an overview of Foucault as to be embarrassing….can I say “shameful”….I suppose I can, but in the old sense of the world. Foucault deserves 100 page essays and thoughtful ponderings. For you reading this, never having met Foucault, this will have to do, for now.

How does all this apply to shame? Well, my friends…you will just have to wait and see.

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