Social Control Essay

Both Michel Foucault and Truffaut’s depiction of a disciplinary society are nearly identical. But Truffaut’s
interpretation sees more room for freedom within the disciplinary
society. The difference stems from Foucault’s belief that the social
control in disciplinary pervades all elements of life and there is no
escape from this type of control. Foucault’s work deals mostly with
“power” and his conception of it. Like Nietzsche, Foucault sees power
not as a fixed quantity of physical force, but instead as a stream of
energy flowing through all aspects of society, its power harnesses
itself in regulating the behavior of individuals, the systems of
knowledge, a societies institutions, and every interaction between

Foucault in “Discipline and Punish”, applies this notion of
power in tracing the rise of the prison system in France and the
rise of other coercive institutions such as monasteries, the army,
mental asylums, and other technologies. In his work Foucault exposes
how seemingly benign or even reformist institutions such as the modern
prison system (versus the stocks, and scaffolds) are technologies that
are typical of the modern, painless, friendly, and impersonal coercive
tools of the modern world. In fact the success of these technologies
stems from their ability to appear unobtrusive and humane. These
prisons Foucault goes on to explain like many institutions in post
1700th century society isolate those that society deems abnormal.

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This isolation seeks to attack the souls of people in order to
dominate them similar to how the torture and brutality of pre-1700th
century society sought to dominate the physical bodies of prisoners.
In Foucault’s interpretation freedom from the pervasive influence of
“power” is impossible. Because his conception of “power” exists not
just in individual institutions of society like prisons but instead
exists in the structure of society and more importantly in peoples
thought systems, escape from social control is impossible. Foucault in
the last chapter talks about how even the reforms in the system have
been co-opted to further the goals of the state. Instead of a
lessening of social control Foucault sees that the technologies change
from the wheels and gallows of the 17th century to the disciplinary
society of the 19th century to the emerging carceral city of the
future. In this carceral city the dispersion of power will be
complete. The technologies of control will emanate from all parts of
society, “walls, space, institution, rules, and discourse.”
Truffaut’s interpretation of society and its future is much
more upbeat. Although like Foucault he sees the technologies of the
disciplinary society as insidious social control mechanisms. Truffault
depicts the schooling, prison, and family systems as technologies that
seeks to inculcate children, criminals, and subversives in the proper
behavior of society. Trauffaut’s film exposes how these mechanisms
work. The school seeks to isolate punish and ostracize children into
forming a pliant populace. The family seeks to enforce the discipline
of societies larger moral codes on children. Notice how in the movie
the mother in a seemingly kindly attempt to bond with her child is in
fact teaching him the moral codes of society: running away from home
is wrong, school is good, respect your elders, follow rules, and don’t
lie. The prison system in the movie seeks to isolate the deviant
members of society classifying them as perverts, neurotic, madmen and
in need of reprogramming and evaluation. These technologies in
Truffaut’s film are the seat of power in a society.
Unlike Foucault Truffaut sees power as emanating from these
fixed points; Foucault sees “power” and “control” and flowing through
all the vessels of the body of society. In Truffaut’s disciplinary
society their is escape from such a world on the streets of Paris, in
interacts with friends, and by running away to the sea or the movie
theater. Truffaut sees escape from power as possible in anarchist like
state free of adults and laws. Truffaut’s ideas are similar in this
aspect to Sartre who sees the society can be freed from the grip of
cruel power in a socialist utopia. This is in stark contrast to
Foucault who sees escape as impossible. And more importantly Foucault
sees escape as growing more and more difficult as society moves from a
disciplinary society to a society of control.


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