FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
We will continue with Foucault, power, subjectivity, discourse. Then I will talk about the
tests. I read a sampling from each TA, I will tell you what I saw. Then I will hand out the
assignment guidelines for Project 2 due on April 17 . I will try to be as concise as I can.
Theory is a way of imagining something that we don’t understand. The first thing we do
every day when we encounter the world and move through the world. In our day to day
lives we encounter all kind of things and when we think about them and experience them
we try to understand what they are. We’re doing this very fast.
Theory is also something that academics, scientists do, people interested in social and
cultural realities. To understand the complexity of what is around us in bigger ways. A
specialized area, something that scientists use to test hypotheses that they have about a
reality that they don’t yet understand. Theory is something that we use as a way of
thinking about what is around us and the complexity of what is going on, a tool that we
can use to think about the nature of reality.
It is a way of beginning to think about all kinds of problems, creative problems, questions
about what is going on. What kind of impact is Facebook having on social life? Is it
positive? Is it negative? A negative impact on learning? At this point sociologically I
can’t tell you if Facebook is having a positive or negative impact on society. I have an
idea but I don’t know.
In the process of getting to a new way of thinking about reality, I say I have an idea that
Facebook is having an impact on how people relate to each other. I want to explore that.
First I theorize what I think might be happening. A big part of what I am trying to instill
in you in this course is this very idea of theory. I am not trying to tell you a set of facts
and truths about the world. I have some ideas about how I think things work. The more I
do this the less I think I actually understand the world. We do inquiry to open up
questions about the world. We engage with the world in new ways. We need to be
humble enough to say, perhaps I don’t understand the world as well as I thought.
When we set out to understand the reality around us in a new way, to develop new
theories about this reality, the first thing that we do, we have to rely on what we already
know. We go through a process of adapting what we already know. We adapt those old
ideas to the development of new ideas and questions. We have to draw analogies between
what we know, what is happening, what we think might be happening down the road.
1 Inquiry has a sense of temporality, it happens in time. That time is the time of where we
came from, where we are and where we are going.
When I read the tests I saw a lot of people making a lot of statements about truth and
reality and less about the process of rethinking that reality around them. You think we
want from you truth, facts. What we are more interested in is a set of ideas and tools for
how to think about particular problems in your reality. Theory becomes a way of
rethinking where we are and what we are experiencing.
Last time I began with an image, the Panopticon. In your head I want you to connect
what I just said to what I am about to say. Last time I had this image of an architectural
space on the screen, I told you a bit about it. Michel Foucault was a very interesting guy,
hard to pin down in terms of what he does. Historian, philosopher, cultural theorist. He
was so smart that he had a historical imagination and a philosophical imagination, he
could multitask. When you read what he does it’s hard to say what it is, his work is
Foucault was a very fine thinker about how spaces shape who we are. Spaces are
important in the way they shape who we think we are. Who we think we are and who we
are, these are two different questions. There is a gap between what is happening to us in
the world and what we think is happening to us. Foucault was interested in this space
called the Panopticon, a useful image, a theory, an analogy. By looking at this space and
how it works, he believed he could deduce something about a larger reality.
He uses this image as an analogy for how he thinks society works. Yes, he did look at
prisons. He did make some claims about some real things happening. But largely the
importance of this image is that it operates for us as a kind of analogy for a theory of how
modern societies work. Foucault talks about the relationships between the people who
occupy this building.
He has a theory that prisoners learn to see themselves as prisoners because they
internalized the gaze of power, at a certain point in their imprisonment they figured out
that they’re being watched. They take that upon themselves and they learn that they are
being watched. Eventually they learn to watch over themselves. This structure is a
metaphor or a symptom of a particular society emerging in the 19 century, which values
reason and rationality and industry very highly. This building is also a machine, a
symptom of a society that believes that it can run itself in rational, reasonable ways.
Remember how even esthetics is seen as an orderly way of understating beauty according
to Enlightenment thinkers.
In this machine prisoners come in as people and through the process of occupying this
space they learn to take on the subjectivity of imprisonment. The building for Foucault
subjectifies the occupants. The building turns the prisoners into prisoners. It is the space
in which people learn to become and to see themselves as a prisoners. That’s not a natural
thing. An analogy that we can draw between that space and this space in our classroom.
A machine set up for very rational reasons, training as many people as possible with as
2 much economy as possible, they hire one person to teach 300 people. You were trained in
another institution prior to coming here, you learned how to be a student. It’s not natural,
it’s not normal, not inherent in any human being to be a student.
When I come in here despite the fact that you may wish to do other things something in
you has disciplined you that you can be this way in this room. It goes against your better
judgment to be here listening to me. But you’re doing it. For Foucault the reason you’re
doing it is that you adapted yourself, you turned yourselves into a particular kind of
subject through a process of learning and living in a particular institution called a school.
Foucault would say that this process is about turning your body into a part of a discourse
of education that requires a certain kind of body. Not the body that is running around the
field or hanging out with friends. It’s an attentive, focused body and that body for
Foucault was produced by something, it is not natural. It could be called the body
produced inside the discourse of education. Why does Foucault say that we should not
use the word language but discourse and what is the difference between the two?
The transition from language to discourse is very important. Let’s extend this analogy of
prison first. Foucault says that we can understand modern societies through this principle
of subjectification. Society is a place where people learn to become subjects of that
society. It is very pervasive. If I wanted to watch videotapes of all my lectures I could do
that because there is a surveillance camera built in this room. Everywhere you go, a
Starbucks, a bank, a drive-in, dry cleaning store, these things are everywhere.
There is some reason to believe that Foucault’s metaphor of surveillance, of the gaze of
power might be something we can still think about as a relevant theoretical tool to think
about our experience in modern society. For Foucault power is something that is never
simply being imposed by the Wizard of Oz. There isn’t some big evil genius running the
world. Power is being exchanged by people in our society, power always moves around,
it never stabilizes. It is always being transformed.
That’s not to say that power does no inhere in particular places. It does. Power is also
organized institutionally. Museums are places that organize the discourse of esthetics,
creativity, value. You become something when you go into a museum, a visitor, a
spectator, a student. Power may be moving around but it is also organized in particular
places. Throughout society there are various nodes of power, where power collects and
All children are expected in our society to attend a school, that has not always been the
cases. All children must be normalized or subjectified in the case of education as an
institution. There aren’t really a lot of other options. There is a rich history about why
that is the case. At a certain point the state realized education would be a good way to
control populations of people. Education was perceived to be a good thing that not only
wealthy people should have but all classes of people should have. Poor children would
not be on the streets but in schools learning how to conduct themselves.
3 Foucault in his work looks at the idea that these nodes of power tend to produce certain
kinds of experience and of bodies. If you visit the design studios in the Tel building, all
the design that takes place at York happens in pristine, white, super minimal classrooms.
There is no mess. This is an example of institutions producing certain kinds of bodies, the
body in that space is not messy, expressing ideas with big gestures. It’s a body confined
behind a computer screen, involved in a certain kind of creative activity that is not down
on the floor, getting dirty and making a mess. Design was shifted outside of the fine arts
building, being perceived to be a clean rational activity vs. painters who are crazy and
want to cut their ears off!
Foucault is interested in this idea of rationality that ends up imposing a certain kind of
limit on what people can and do experience, what they think they might experience.
Foucault is very concerned about this idea in regards to how we think about our own
bodies. How did we do it in the past, how we are doing it now, what might we do in the
future. He wants to challenge this and liberate people to experience things in a different
Foucault is very interested in the idea that power is sometimes exerted in ways that are
forced on people but people are constantly resisting it no matter what. There is always
pressure exerted in the other direction. Every day that you live your life in some ways
you push back at what is being pushed in your direction. There is always an interplay
between yourself and what is around you. The notion of resistance.
Foucault wants to value resistance, there is something valuable in that response. My body
in the room has to communicate with 300 bodies, it’s not possible. When I teach 600
people a year I constantly walk