Foucault on the art of distributions

I’ve been trying to make connections between Luhmann and Foucault. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault writes,

In the first instance, discipline proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space. To achieve this end, it employs several techniques. [. . .]

But the principle of ‘enclosure’ is neither constant, nor indispensable, nor sufficient in disciplinary machinery. This machinery works space in a much more flexible and detailed way. It does this first of all on the principle of elementary location or partitioning. Each individual has his own place; and each place its individual. Avoid distributions in groups; break up collective dispositions; analyse confused, massive or transient pluralities. Disciplinary space tends to be divided into as many sections as there are bodies or elements to be distributed. One must eliminate the effects of imprecise distributions, the uncontrolled disappearance of individuals, their diffuse circulation, their unusable and dangerous coagulation; it was a tactic of anti-desertion, anti-vagabondage, anti-concentration. Its aim was to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, to set up useful communications, to interrupt others, to be able at any moment to supervise the conduct of each individual, to assess it, to judge it, to calculate its qualities or merits. It was a procedure, therefore, aimed at knowing, mastering and using. Discipline organizes an analytical space. In the first instance, discipline proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space. To achieve this end, it employs several techniques. [. . .] (p.143)

One thing I find interesting here is the presence/absence distinction. “Its aim was to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, . . .” The purpose of the system was not to always watch over or know the location every individual– principle of ‘enclosure’ is neither constant, nor indispensable . . . –but rather to be able to easily find them; it’s about knowing where and how to locate individuals. This is a two-sided form, and as such the boundary between positive and negative values must be crossable. This means the principle of enclosure–which applies to schools, hospitals, the military posts, and prisons–allows individuals to be present and absent; however, when they are absent, they can be easily located.

In a school (K-12, not college), students are not always watched. Aside from passing between classes, students may leave the classroom to use the restroom, get a drink or water, etc. But when they leave the classroom, they are given a hall pass–kind of like a slave who carries a pass from his master. The same applies to prison inmates, hospital patients, and members of the military; they are not always watched but they can be quickly located. The same applies to children: They may roam around their neighborhood or town or whatever, but they should be easily locatable. We can add employees to the list as well; they should be easily findable during working hours. One difference between the workers and the boss is that the boss might choose to leave the workplace for a while and not tell anyone where s/he is going.

If children, students, prisoners, workers, etc., were watched constantly, the mechanism of the two-sided form wouldn’t work. Each side has a horizon, and one can approach a horizon but never cross it. This means there cannot be total supervision or total freedom of movement within enclosed environments. Total supervision would be too demanding, and it would produce unintended consequences. It would place all of the burden on the surveillance system and paradoxically free the person being watched from any participation in his own discipline.

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