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Foucault's Concepts of Knowledge and Culture

To illustrate this pervasive social power grid which entraps individuals, Foucault uses a number of concrete examples. In delineating these examples, Foucault draws daring connections and parallels which set his critique off from other more traditional, and usually left-oriented, critiques.

In Discipline and Punish, for example, Foucault writes that the difference between the "spectacle of the scaffold" (used in medieval times to terrify the populace into submission) and the "discipline" of such apparently harmless activities such as writing an exam, is that the taking a test does not require physical torture or the threat of execution in order to control the individual's behavior. Administering an exam is an exercise of the power of the teacher, the state, the culture, and the "truth" which the teacher represents, over the student. In this sense, says Foucault, the exam is a subtle but effective extension of the scaffold and the power of torturer over tortured. The student's life is not in literal danger, but he is nevertheless mightily concerned with pleasing the person in power, and dire results can occur if he fails. In the effect the test has on the student, Foucault argues, it reflects the kind of relationship between power and powerlessness which has its roots in the scaffold. The student who fails to please the teacher, who fails to give the right answer (as a confessor in prison might word his confession in a way the inquisitor does not like), may fail that test, which may lead to failing the class, which may lead to failing out of school, which may lead to a life with no education but much misery, poverty, etc. As Foucault writes with respect to the elimination of the scaffold:

Punishment, then, will tend to become the most hidden part of the penal process [and] . . . leaves the domain of . . . everyday perception and enters that of abstract consciousness; its effectiveness is seen as resulting from its inevitability, ...

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Foucault's Concepts of Knowledge and Culture. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:26, July 20, 2017, from
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