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Essay: The importance of the “body”

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  • The importance of the “body”
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The importance of the “body” has been transformed along with the formation of a disciplinary society. Throughout history, the society’s disciplines have changed from social “quarantine,” to an indef¬initely generalizable mechanism of “panopticism” (206). According to Foucault, discipline is a unitary technique that increases the economic efficiency of the body and decreases its political obedience. The power from the body is divided into useful “capacities” and strict subjection to power (182). This disciplinary power has become the dominant mode to penetrate and undermine all other power forms, to mediate and link between these forms, so that power can be exerted in the most extensive and minute ways (207). Consequently, the disciplinary schema of the body has transformed from all kinds of external punishments to a generalized form of surveillance; the focus on discipline the physical body has spread to the social body.
Power has been sustained and accepted throughout history not simply because that it exerts a force on or repress people, but that it traverses and creates things; it “induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse” (61). It is a productive system that operates through the entire social body. From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries onward, the productivity of power is practiced and spread through the various forms of techniques. The monarchies of the classical period not only developed great state apparatuses such as the army, the police, and fiscal administration; but also established a new “economy of power”, which was a process that ensured the effects of power to have “continuous, uninterrupted, adapted, and individualized” circulation throughout the entire social body. The techniques in classical periods were based on a combination of “more or less forced tolerances (from recognized privileges to endemic criminality) and costly ostentation (spectacular and discontinuous interven¬tions of power)” (61). Whereas the new techniques are more efficient and less wasteful (less costly economically); produced outcomes that are less susceptible to “loopholes and resistances” (61).

Power is not something abstract that negates or suppresses the body, it is, in fact, concrete and pre¬cise and grasps multiple layers of reality (67). In feudal societies, power was exercised through 1) signs of loyalty to the feudal lords, rituals, cere¬monies, etc.; 2) levies such as taxes, pillage, hunting, war. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new form of power emerged within the social production and social service. In the concrete reality, it becomes “a mat¬ter of obtaining productive service from individuals” (67). On the one hand, it is necessary to have a “real and effective incor¬poration of power” with techniques that can get the access to the bodies of individuals, to their acts, attitudes, and behaviors. Namely, the school disciplines that make children’s bodies “the object of highly complex systems of manipulation and conditioning” (67). On the other hand, these new techniques of power need to touch upon the phenom¬ena of population, that is, to carry out the “administration, control, and direction of the accumulation of men.” From the seventeenth century on, the development economic system that accumulates capital and power has corresponded to the phenom¬ena of population; in other words, the accumulation of men (67).
In Disciplines and Sciences of the Individual, Foucault begins with the analysis of the “body” by comparing the soldiers and the rules of punishment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In particular, how power is exercised through the accumulation of men. In the seventeenth century, the soldier’s body demonstrated not only his strength and courage but also the national honor (179). The soldier’s body was subjected to power relations—the dominators invested, marked, trained, tortured, and forced it to perform tasks and ceremonies and to deliver signs (176). By the late eighteenth century, “the peasant” inside of him has been gotten rid of and he has instead become “the air of a soldier” (179). That is, the soldier’s body has become an object and target of power that can be “manipulated, shaped, trained; which obeys, responds, becomes skillful, and increases its forces” (180). Then, there was a need emerged to replicate smaller units in the mass like the massive military units that worked as cogs in a machine. Before the classical period, many discipli¬nary methods had existed in monasteries, ar¬mies, and workshops; the body had been subjected to the powers in every society, which “imposed on its constraints, prohi¬bitions, or obligations” (181). However, the idea of arranging and controlling the body was novel. This idea cannot be achieved by the remains of feudal power, the monarchical structures, the local supervising mechanisms, or the unstable forces they formed, because of their “irregular and inadequate extension of their network”, the “often conflicting functioning”, and more importantly, “the “costly” nature of the power” exercised (208). Constructing disciplined unites was costly for feudal powers due to its financial burden to the treasury, corrupting in the administrative system, heavy taxes and levies on the population, the subsequent resistance from bottom up that perpetuated a cycle of reinforcement (208).
For the fact that the old economy of power, which was governed by the fundamental of “levying-violence,” was not equipped to address the problems above, it was replaced by the disciplinary system’s principle of “mildness-production-profit”(208). This principle began to develop within a different form of economy, in which the costly elements existed in feudal systems were reduced. The “penitentiary, forced labor, and the prison factory” were created later with “the de¬velopment of the mercantile economy” (172). But by the nineteenth century, as the industrial system requires a free labor-market, forced labor was replaced by “corrective” detention (172). The rise of a capitalist economy brought about a specific mode of disciplinary power, which was composed of “techniques of submitting forces and bodies”, that is, the “political anatomy” that can be practiced in the “most diverse political regimes, apparatuses, or institutions” (211). It reduced any disadvantages of the number and made possible to manage the size and scale of people and the apparatuses of production. Its submission is not only made by violence or ideology but also subtle ways that maintain societal order without the use of physical deterrence (173). Foucault discusses the concept of ‘body politic’, which is “a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communication routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations” that invest and dictate human bodies by objectifying them through knowledge (175).
The body can only be a useful force if it is both productive and submissive. Discipline becomes the means to fulfill this need—it transformed the individual bodies to useful forces that function as a machine; it controls the operations and positions of the body. The central implication aroused from the previous periods was that the body has become “docile,” which may be “subjected, used, transformed and improved;” it has shifted from “the analyzable body to the manipulable body” (180). A policy of coercion that acts on the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behavior was then formed. In the modern system, the body is explored, broken down, and rearranged by the machinery of power. This machinery of power, or the “political anatomy,” was born; it shows that one can take control of others’ bodies. Not only they can do whatever they want but also operate as they want with “the techniques, the speed, and the efficiency” (182). This is how discipline produces “docile” bodies.
Thus, mechanisms of power, instead of being limited, were incorporated into the productive efficiency of institutions to generate useful forces. The notion of production has also become more extensive, which includes “the production of knowledge and skills in the school… health in the hospitals…destruc¬tive force in the army” (208). The power of absolute monarchies that was made visible to ordinary people is shifted to the visibility among the subjected people and ensures its power permeate into its lowest expression (200). As Foucault states, “We are entering the age of the infinite examination and of compulsory objectification” (200). From then on, the system of disciplines “fixes, arrests or regulates movements, clears up confusion… dissipates compact groupings of individuals…establishes calculated distributions” (208).
It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the disciplines became common practices of domination (181). The new projects of docility developed in the eighteenth century contain several new techniques: 1) the scale of the control: treat the body not as an indissociable unity but as individuals to exercise a subtle coercion, manage its movements, gestures, attitudes, and rapidity, which was “an infinitesimal power over the active body” (181). 2) The object of the control: the behaviors or the body languages were no longer the focus; it is the “economy, the efficiency of movements, their internal organization; constraint bears on the forces rather than on the signs”. 3) The modality: represented “an uninterrupted, constant coercion, supervising the processes of the activity rather than its result, and it is exercised according to a codification that partitions as closely as possible time, space, movement” (181). These techniques enabled the exhaustive control of the operations of the body, which allowed disciplines – the continuous “subjection of its forces and imposed on them a relation of docility-utility” (181).
In addition to the techniques for managing the phenom¬ena of population, Foucault also addresses techniques for getting access to the bodies of individuals. He focuses on the rules of punishment and starts by comparing the public execution from 1757 to prison rules from 1837. During the feudal period when money and production were still at the embryo stage, a great emphasis was put on corporal punish¬ments, as the body was the most accessible property (172). There were two ways of organizing the power to punish in the old periods. One way was punishment based on the old monarchical law. Torture in the seventeenth century focused on the corporal effect of the body— the severity of pain, as punishment equaled the gravity of the crime. Committing crime was seen as an offense against the king, thus the body of the condemned man became the king’s property that would receive public torture. The punishments were directed overwhelmingly to the physical and external body, as they were the ritual marks of the vengeance applied to the condemned, the ceremonies of submission, and the symbolic reflection of the king’s power (176).
The other way was preventive, corrective, normalizing powers of punishment exercised by society. From the mid-eighteenth century and onwards, committing a crime was seen as an offense against society. Torture was disappeared and substituted by a set of legal codes that no longer gave punishment to the body equally but depended on specific rules. The condemned body has since disappeared from the public view. Publicity was changed from the punishment as spectacle, the exhibition of prisoners and the public execution, to the trial and the sentence. People are deterred from committing crimes no longer because of the nature of punishment but the certainty of punishment (222). Discipline ensures that the operation of a relational power has a self-sustainable mechanism in which the spectacle of public events is replaced by the constant and calculated gazes. Through the techniques of surveillance, the “physics of power, the hold over the body, operate… according to a whole play of spaces, lines, screens, beams, degrees and without recourse, in principle at least, to excess, force or violence. It is a power that seems all the less ‘corporal in that it is more subtly ‘physical’”(193). Hence, the punishment no longer directed to the body, it is the soul of the individual that becomes a target for the appa¬ratus to apply its power and an object of the penitentiary science (222).
At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though the penalty of detention was a new thing, the more important was the introduction of “penalty to mechanisms of coercion” (216). The prison is a landmark in the history of penal justice because of its concern of humanity (216). There has been no alternative form of discipline in the development of history, because “It is not chance, it is not the whim of the legislator that has made imprisonment the base and almost the entire edifice of our present penal scale: it is the progress of ideas and the improvement in morals” (216). However, the prison as a new form of disciplinary mechanisms appeared not merely for humanity; it appeared for colonizing the legal institution and reaching closer and universally to the social body. A supposedly “equal” justice and “autonomous” legal machinery that contain “all the asymmetries of disciplinary subjection” gave birth to the modern prison—”the penalty of civilized societies” (215). As Foucault states, the disappearance of “the branded, dismembered, burnt, anni-hilated body of the tortured criminal” was followed by “the appearance of the body of the prisoner, duplicated by the individuality of the “delin¬quent” (222). Therefore, at the turn of the century, disciplinary mechanisms that once controlled the delinquents now have control over the citizens. They became a general function of society that exercised its power over all its members, in which all members were equally represented. As a result, the emergence of prison turned punishment to be a technique to coerce and train the body to requalify for society and established the authority of the administration of the penalty (222).
The end of public execution and the development of legal codes of punishment signified the shift from body to soul. The systems of punishment are constructed upon the “political economy” of the body, even with the absence of violent or bloody punishment or the use of “lenient” methods such as confinement or correction. There are a variety of subtle ways of punishment “from light physical punishment to minor deprivations and petty humiliations”, such as micro-penalties constructed within the workshop, the school, and the army (194). In particular, Foucault gave five types of micro-penalties:1) the micro-penalty of “time (latenesses, absences, in¬terruptions of tasks); 2) activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), 3) behavior (impoliteness, disobedience); 3) speech (idle chatter, insolence); 4) the body (“incorrect” attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness); 5) sexuality (impurity, indecency)” (194). The subtle punishments are somewhat conflicting because they deviate from punishments as to correct behaviors while assigning punitive functions to indifferent apparatuses. In this sense, everything can carry out the function of petty punishment; as Foucault wrote, “each subject find himself caught in a punishable, punish¬ing universality” (194). He concedes that it is “always the body that is at issue— the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission” (172). But it is the soul of the body that becomes the objective of the systems of punishment (172). There are limits to how one’s body can be punished, but there is no such limit to the soul.

While the body was publicly tortured, the soul has a private nature. Different from the feudal periods, the body is no longer the major target of punishment in the modern era. Neither the offense nor the offender is being judged; it is the delinquent that the penitentiary apparatus substitutes for the convicted person—a different object that is not considered in the sentence as it is only relevant for its corrective function (219). The delinquent is different from the offender because what actually characterizes him is not his act but his life. In order to reeducate the individual, the penitentiary operation should be based on “the sum total existence of the delinquent, making of the prison a sort of artificial and coer¬cive theater in which his life will be examined from top to bottom” (219). A series of concepts are constructed around the soul, including “psyche, sub¬jectivity, personality, consciousness,” as well as “scientific techniques and discourses, and the moral claims of humanism” (177). It is important to note that these concepts, “A real man, the object of knowledge, philosophical reflection or technical intervention,” have not been substituted for the soul but are developed based on the idea of the soul (177). Therefore, the technology of the “soul” that educationalists, psychologists, and psychi¬atrists generated failed to “conceal or to compensate” the technology of power over the body, for the former is, in fact, the tool of the latter (178).
Time and space are the most basic elements of human life. Institutions such as schools and hospitals act like machines for transforming and managing people by fixing them in time and space and regulating the way people act and think. The ‘soul’ “inhabits the body and brings into existence”—the man that is to be freed, is already “the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself” (177). Therefore, it is wrong to see the soul as an illusion, or an ideo¬logical effect, it is rather an expression of a certain type of power or knowledge over the body. This historical reality of this soul is not born in sin and subject to punishment, it exists within the body by the mechanism of a power that is exercised on methods of supervision, correction, and constraints. As Foucault indicates, this real, noncorporal soul is not a substance, “The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body” (177).
The body that was once the property of feudal societies, is now exercised by the power with a strategic position; its manifestations of domination are not achieved through “appropriation,” but through “dispositions, maneuvers, tactics, tech¬niques, functionings” (174). The body in relation with power should be interpreted in “a network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity” other than a privilege acquired by the dominant class; it is a perpetual battle instead of a contract regulating a transaction or territorial conquest. Power exercised on the body is not simply an obligation or a prohibition on the have-nots, but an investment that permeates through them and suppresses them in the same way as they themselves fighting against the force it has on them (174).

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