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Foucault, the body, power,

January 30, 2012


“It has been stated that such groups [as, for example, the working class, women, ethnic minorities] cannot possess the power to make free choices in leisure because of their identities (Clarke and Critcher, 1985). For Foucault, however, power is not exercised in a wholly negative fashion (power over), but can used in a positive way (power to), in as much as power is seen as residing not only in institutions in society, but also in the individual. It can be said, therefore, that ‘In emphasising the enabling and prescriptive attributes of power, Foucault demonstrates that leisure should be conceptualised as simultaneously freedom and control’ (Rojek, 1985: 152). With regard to the government of the body, Foucault sees the production of ‘docile bodies’ as necessary for the state to control populations. In the beginning (i.e. after industrialization):

The investment of the body by power had to be heavy, ponderous, meticulous, and constant. Hence those formidable disciplinary regimes in the schools, hospitals, barracks, factories, cities, lodgings, families. And then, starting in the 1960s, it began to be recognised that such a cumbersome form of power was no longer as indispensable as had been thought and that industrial societies could content themselves with a much looser form of power over the body . . . one needs to study what kind of body the current society needs. (Gordon, 1980: 58)” (p.483)

“Foucault’s argument is that policing is not necessary, once discourses of normalization are constructed: ‘He [sic] who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power . . . he becomes the principle of his own subjection’ (Foucault, 1977: 202–3). Rojek (1985) thus posits some questions which may be asked in order to examine leisure practices using a Foucauldian perspective:

• What images of healthy and unhealthy leisure exist in society?
• How does the discourse on leisure relate to practice?
• How does leisure conceal and reveal the operation of power in society?” (p.483)

“Foucault (1977) has said little on space, but one of his ideas may be useful in this context. He discusses the notion of ‘utopia’ and ‘heterotopia’ (Foucault, 1986: 24). A utopia is a site with no real place, it is an analogy – an inversion, or a direct representation of, a real space in society. A heterotopia is, he argues, a real place which is like a counter-site – ‘a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted’. The study of heterotopias could provide ‘a sort of mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live’ (Foucault, 1986: 24) he states.” (p.483)

“I suggest,” writes Sara McNamee, “that the playing of video games by children can be seen as a strategy for contesting spatial boundaries, arguing that a video game is a kind of heterotopy – it can be seen as a place without a place, where on a 2D screen (or monitor) a (sometimes) 3D unreal, inverted and mythical space is there for the player to control and contest. This article shows that while heterotopias exist for girls and boys, they exist in different spaces and through different leisure activities.” (p.484)

Ref: Sara McNamee (2000?) FOUCAULT’S HETEROTOPIA AND CHILDREN’S EVERYDAY LIVES Childhood Vol. 7(4): 479–492


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