Carol A. Hand
Once again I begin with gratitude to Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.
The rules of the challenge are:
1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One and Two. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers. No one volunteered on Days One or Two, so I hope that Day Three will garner more interest.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)
On Day One of the three quotes challenge, I focused on Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) work.
“Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.”
Day Two quotes were drawn from Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) important theories about the challenges involved in shifting paradigms.
“Paradigms, those taken-for-granted ways we analyze problems and identify solutions, provide blueprints for action that we have been dressaged to perform without thinking…. According to Kuhn, change comes from those who have not yet been completely socialized into the paradigms of a discipline, sometimes leading to a long struggle he refers to as a scientific revolution. He uses a comparison with political revolutions to illustrate the process of change.”
Today, Day Three of the Three Quote Challenge, focuses on Michel Foucault’s work. His ideas address a central question that has routinely surfaced during my life as someone who has never really fit into socially constructed categories. Some by choice, like refusing to learn how to cook or type or avoid studying science because that’s what was expected of women. Others emerged by virtue of birth as a person of mixed ancestry exposed to different cultural paradigms from an early age, who was later exposed to experiences and education that provided opportunities to think critically about those differences.
I encountered Michel Foucault’s work in a rather round-about way. It wasn’t in a classroom. It was after I agreed to be part of a University Medical School team evaluating a rural health education project. In the process of negotiating how to focus the evaluation with the educational partnership institutions overseeing the project, the principal investigator of the evaluation team asked agency staff what they wanted us to explore. He encouraged them to think carefully about their goals and identify which ones they wanted us to highlight. We would tailor our evaluation to their unique approach to explore information that would be the most helpful to them. Then, he shared a slide included in Foucault’s (1979) work.
The drawing above is my attempt to capture the symbol that sparked an epiphany for me that day. Suddenly I had an image that helped me understand my experiences as someone on the margins. Up to that point, I had almost always felt judged by “straight” standards of normality that didn’t fit with someone who was quite different.
It’s an image that resembles my life experiences. Although ongoing attempts to constrain me by trying to force me to accept universal standards of artificial “normalcy” were ultimately unsuccessful, they were often painful and scarring experiences. Oddly, Foucault’s message brought me a sense of peace – it defined being different as an admirable quality and inspired me to undertake the long challenging process to learn more about his ideas.
Unlike the other two essays in this challenge, I decided to describe Foucault’s message about power in a poem. If you’re interested, you can find a more scholarly approach in an older post: Differential Power and Indian Child Welfare – Part Two.
The Problem with Paradigms
What is it?
Where does it come from?
That is, who has the power to define it?
How is it conferred?
Power in capitalist societies is economical
Because it is like a capillary system
Interwoven throughout all of a society’s institutions, values, assumptions
It’s programmed into all citizens
generation after generation, though ever-finer capillary-like vessels
It’s what Bronfenbrenner’s (1970) ecosystem is comprised of
What every professional discipline dressages its candidates to unquestioningly adopt
It’s the legitimate “scientific” paradigms Kuhn highlights –
standards for identifying, labeling and solving problems
We never need to experience a questioning moment or try innovative approaches
It’s not the theory or intervention that fails when our science goes awry –
it’s the people or phenomena we were trying to control that failed to perform as expected
Thanks to Foucault (and many others)
I always think about creeping charlie when I’m dealing with bureaucracies
Like the fine root systems that spread everywhere
lockstep groupthink is finely woven throughout every policy and procedure and staff member
Each new member who joins is already dressaged to follow procedures without question
Have you ever tried to keep creeping charlie from choking out everything else in a garden?
I suspect it’s impossible
even if you resort to poison and kill everything else
even the smallest segment of adventitious root can survive and grow a new plant on its own –
it’s internally programmed with the ability to replicate for species survival
Now I finally understand why titles and degrees got me in the door of bureaucracies
Allowing me the momentary illusion that socially constructed credentials mattered
And then failed to be legitimate enough to awaken others to question, take initiative, and resist
Because the mechanisms of preserving the existing order are programed within us all
Foucault’s view of power is not easy to describe
and it’s not possible for me to do so in three quotes
But I do think his work remains relevant and important.
I leave you with some quotes and hope they encourage you to read his work.
The economy of this new power technique could not be matched by older technologies.
“There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising [sic] to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over and against himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be a minimal cost.” Foucault, 1980b, p. 155)
By means of surveillance techniques, disciplinary power pervaded all aspects of the capitalistic society.
“The workshop, the school, the army were subject to a whole micro-penality of time (lateness, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behaviour (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of the body (‘incorrect’ attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency). At the same time, by way of punishment, a whole series of subtle pressures was used, from light punishment to minor deprivations and petty humiliations” (Foucault, 1979, p. 178).
The application of these disciplinary measures was referred to by Foucault as “dressage,” translated from French as “taming” or “breaking in” (Atkins et al., 1987, p. 232), or in English usage, “the art or method of training a horse in obedience and precision of movement” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1989, p. 435).
“What developed, then, was a whole technique of human dressage by location, confinement, surveillance, the perpetual supervision of behavior and tasks, in short, a whole technique of ‘management’ of which the prison was merely one manifestation or its transposition into the penal domain.” (Foucault, 1988, p. 105)
Disciplinary techniques and differential power are interwoven throughout the institutions and organizations of politics, law, production, education, and social welfare.
“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. This carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observations, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of normalizing power.” (Foucault, 1979, p. 304)
Note – A little background about Creeping Charlie.
Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, is a perennial creeper of the mint family commonly known by many other names – ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away-robin. It is native to Europe and southwestern Asia and was carried around the world by European settlers. It is now common in most regions of North America other than the Rocky Mountains. (Wikipedia)
“Creeping charlie plant is most easily identified by its growth habit. It is a vine that grows close to the ground and will form a mat-like ground cover if allowed to. The vines have nodes at each of the places where leaves grow and these nodes will form roots if they come in contact with the soil. This is part of the reason that creeping charlie weed is so frustrating, as you cannot simply pull it up. Every rooted node can turn into a new plant if left behind.” (Gardening Know How)
The above-ground runners are stems, known as stolons in botany. Creeping charlie stolons have many nodes, each of which can form new plants when they come into contract with moist ground. A stolon is a plant propagation strategy. The complex of individuals formed by a mother plant and all its clones produced from stolons form a single genetic individual, a genet, or a colonal colony that originates from a single ancestor. (Wikipedia – Stolons and Genet)
Atkins, B.T., Duval, A., Milne, R.C., Lewis, H.M.A., Sinclair, L., & Birks, R. (Eds.) (1990). Harper Collins Robert French Dictionary (2nd ed.). Glasgow, GB: HarperCollins Publishers.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.
Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)
Foucault, M. (1980). The politics of health in the eighteenth century. In C. Gordon (ed.) Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writing 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault (C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham, & K. Soper, Trans.), pp. 166-182. New York: Pantheon Books. (Original work published 1976)
Foucault, M. (1988). On power. In L.D. Kritzman (ed.), Michel Foucault: Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings 1977-1984 (A. Sheridan & Others, Trans.), pp. 96-109. New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1984)
Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Webster’s encyclopedic unabridged dictionary of the English language (1989). New York: Gramercy Books.
I am truly grateful to Rosaliene for her thoughtfulness. But I am also grateful that my part of this challenge is now complete.
I do encourage volunteers to carry on the challenge, each a node in the propagation of knowledge, beauty, peace, solidarity, and joy. Please consider volunteering and exploring Rosaliene’s important work.