Foucault on power, agency, and policing


Foucault's (1977/1995; 1976/1988) insights add significantly to understandings of power and the limited agency of the subject (as conceived in a poststructural sense). In Birth of a Prison, Foucault (1977/1995) talks of how, in eighteenth century England, it was proposed that external forms of prison punishment should be replaced by a multi-sided structure encircling a central watchtower that housed an invisible 'inspector' whose presence or absence was unknown at any moment.


This panoptical apparatus, Foucault argues, fosters an oppressive self-regulatory form of control and constraint among inmates through both isolation and the possibility of constant surveillance. Foucault suggests that far from being just a physical structure, the "panoptic schema" became a "generalizable model of functioning" that can be, and has been, applied in prisons, hospitals, schools, and other institutions.


Elsewhere, Foucault (1976/1988) also argues that a process of codification of language created "new rules of propriety [which] screened out some words" and had significant material effects in framing understandings and possible experiences of sexuality. Thus, "areas were thus established, if not of utter silence, at least of tact and discretion: between parents and children, for instance, or teachers and pupils, or masters and domestic servants" (pp. 17-18).


These disciplining processes have constrained use of words such as love (see Barrett, 2006), spirit, and particular expressions of ecological identity/subjectivity and are illustrated throughout this research.