Discipline and Control
Michel Foucault lectures entitled Security, Territory, Population from his time at the College de France from 1977–78 discuss the problems surrounding disciplinary mechanisms and the extent to which these devices create new models of security apparatuses that enforce “control societies”. This is seen through the relationship between the viewpoints of discipline and control, as discipline is exclusion and inclusion of individualization while control is the tweaking of this very own individualization that we attain. We can see this connect directly to Puar’s work, as intersectional frameworks can be directly limited by political institutions through the usage of discipline in control, and in understanding the relation through the two we can better learn how to erase these limitations.
In Foucault’s 1978 lectures, he discusses the emergence of a new form of government, one that was more liberal and followed progressive stages of capitalism in order to enforce models of power through control and discipline. This new form of governing would enforce juridical and disciplinary power, in order to maintain order through a predetermined idea of how a society should function. We see this in the creation of American Neoliberalism within the late 1970s. The issue with this is it raises the question of how we can create a balance between crime and punishment, how we are able to distinguish what is too much punishment or what actions should even be punishable. This is a direct example of discipline and control, as in distinguishing crime versus punishment we are acting out a component of discipline and control. Capitalism relates directly to this, as it is a model that directly exercises the powers and controls our nation's disciplinary apparatuses, deciding what disciplinary frameworks should exist around the pre-conceived actions of individuals within our society.
We can relate this directly to our current society, as 2020 has essentially been a battle to re-center gender and sexual differences in order to create nationwide equality, in direct opposition to the political institutions that enforce control over us. The protests over the last month in coordination with the Black Lives Matter Movement show what happens when individuals within a society attempt to break the structures that these political institutions enforce in an attempt to continue their model of a power apparatus intact. When we attempt to break free of these constraints put in place by the government system that controls us, the system begins to crack and shows the issues surrounding the political institutions that are enforcing inherent discipline over us on a daily basis. The protests directly reflect the problem with this, and the issues that can result as overly enforced power through political institutions, however, this is not the only example of the ways our political institutions fail us. We saw this earlier within the year in relation to COVID-19 to where the U.S. would fail to give universal testing to its citizens, as well as fail to give accurate statistics in order to update us of the austerity of the situation. This is just another way our political institutions delude information they give us, in order to maintain their role as a power model to enforce control over us. It does not just stop there, however, as there are a dozen more examples even on a basic fundamental level that we encounter within our daily lives. We see this through the days of medical treatment through BigPharm waiting for patents and distinguished drug prices before realizing medications to civilians, millionaires avoiding ever having to pay taxes while middle-class citizens struggle to even just make monthly rent, an absolutely atrocious sex education system in the U.S. that fails to inform students of even the most basic principles of sexuality, being pulled over by a police officer solely based off of the color of your skin instead of through having any reasonable motive, etc. These are just a few instances where our political institutions control the frameworks around us on a daily basis in order to cause us to know no better, directly causing citizens to be owned through this system of discipline and control.
These are essentially the main points Foucault discusses that can be wrong with a Neoliberalism society enforcing control and discipline, but the bigger question being how this relates to Puar’s discussion of intersexuality and assemblage. This relates to how intersectional frameworks can be used by societies of control to use people and bodies as mere statistical probabilities in order to push forward their agenda. Government systems use this as a form of identity politics in order to prevent the inclusion of ‘bodies’ which prevents the ability for all people to be properly portrayed within our system, which is how the government is able to create a power apparatus around the very citizens that make up the country. If we incorporate assemblage into this, it can give us the ability to reinforce proper politics into the system, in order to change how these political institutions work. This allows the very individuals that make up the system to establish the system in such a way that is more equal for all members partaking in it. We are also able to create roadmaps that display these relationships, which help us to better understand the relationship between discipline and control and the ways we can begin to change it for the better of people within society.
The overall ideology of this I believe is the way in which we are constricted through our government, but not even something as fundamental as that but more so in the way that our government prohibits us from itching a universal sense of equality through our restriction of individuality. Indirectly enforcing discipline and control through government methods, intersexuality is inherently restricted therefore prohibiting people to have any form of self-expression through their very own individuality. For us to better understand how to incorporate intersexuality and assemblage into modern-day policies, I think first we must take a step back and look at the ways our very own political institutions constrict us through enforcing discipline and control. If we are able to alter the effects of discipline and control in our daily lives, or even just find a way that is more centered around universal equality for all members of society, we can better incorporate intersexuality and assemblage into the very frameworks that help our society function.
Norma Alacron’s work “The Theoretical Subject(s) of “This Bridge Called My Back’ and Anglo-American Feminism” is situated within Jasbir Puar’s framework on concepts of discipline and control, though Alacron’s referential subject position transcends meaning in Puar’s work alone. Alacron’s contributions to Puar’s framework speak to the current moment of this rather tumultuous year. Yet in order to accurately ascertain this moment, consider where Puar locates the concept of intersectionality, as negotiated between dimensions of discipline and control, offering an interrogation on the very nature of subjecthood itself.
Specifically, Puar offers an intersectional critique, positing an inherent contradiction within the framework. The intersectional feminist framework, in facilitating demand for a fixivity of rights to those who are voiceless within the societal machine, has given rise to a litany of work on women of color and centralized concepts regarding gender and sexuality. Yet conversely, Purar contends a fatigue or saturation exists within the notion of subjecthood as a result of intersectional framework. This is where Alacron’s work is situated within Puar’s messaging, as Puar echoes a question in the exact words of Alacron, “are we to make a subject out of everything?”
In doing so, Puar is making a rather poignant point - as intersectionality grapples with the innate multiplicity of one’s identitarian scripts across all perceptible spheres, as intersectionality attempts to squelch oppression within capitalist and governmental structures by assigning inclusion to those unassigned, does there exist a capacity, a tipping point? Within the scope of social structures of discipline and control, when does this intersectional process become so exhausted that it no longer serves its desired purpose with efficacy? Though Puar does maintain the relevance of intersectional scripts, claiming that unfair and inequitable discipline and punishment persist as a power mechanism without them. Yet this is where Puar offers a lens of assemblage as fortifying the supposed shortcomings of intersectionality. Puar claims the two work in unison given an ambiguous understanding of society’s mechanisms of discipline and control. Now, having situated Alacron within the greater structure of Puar's section on discipline and control, it is essential to denote the ways in which this author’s contributions speak to the current moment.
This way in which Alacron is woven into the fabric of Puar’s dissertation is relevant to the current times, as this rather confounding question “are we to make a subject out of everything?” may be articulated and answered in a multiplicity of ways, especially in an intersectional consideration of the juxtaposition between the COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests over the horrific murder of George Floyd. This historical moment is to be considered an immense ebb and flow, an immense fluctuation between dimensions of discipline and control. Mere months ago, the national and local government entities ordered a shelter-in-place stay-at-home order in light of the rampant spread of coronavirus. This massive order is to be considered, in essence, a mechanism of control, as it mitigated personal freedoms endowed upon the citizenry of the United States by constricting open spaces. Simultaneously, this governmental ordinance offers a lens of discipline, as those who were in an economically fragile state, living paycheck to paycheck in service-related industries were faced with immense economic and social stress. It just so happens that the individuals in these positions are underrepresented groups and minorities, such as people of color and individuals outside of the heteronormative sphere. Then, George Floyd was murdered. A law enforcement official suffocated this innocent black man on the basis of his race, as three of his colleagues observed passively. Consequently, the frustration, unrest, and insecurity of so many Americans came to a boiling point, and mass protests, riots, and looting began mere days ago. To impose a mechanism of control, law enforcement has been brutalizing the protesters, lumping together those who are peacefully demonstrating and those who are causing chaos. As this effort to control the exploded populace grew tiresome and ineffective, President Donald J. Trump deployed the National Guard. As a mechanism of discipline, the military has continued the chaotic and violent spread, firing rubber bullets and tear-gassing the citizenry of the United States, all in an effort to squelch the flames of social unrest.
This fluctuant cacophony of societal mechanisms of discipline and control disproportionately affects those of immense intersectional vulnerability, like women, individuals of color, and those outside of the heteronormative sexual spectrum. Consider the brutalization of Asian Americans as a result of racial biases that followed the coronavirus, as the President and others blamed the “Chinese virus”. Consider the brute force deployed upon the American populace, as recent videos on social media outlets evince a police state that has been brutalizing and abusing black protestors. Consider the situation that launched this chaos, the needless slaughter of George Floyd founded on the basis of race. This circus that plagues our society is exhaustive. Thus, I find the work of Puar, especially the way in which she wove Alacron into the piece, to be rather insufficient given the current moment. This does not necessarily negate Puar’s introduction of assemblage, however. Per Puar, it is evident assemblage is useful in addressing issues outside the establishment, outside of the scope of intersectionality. This complementary nature is not borne out of a lack however, not in light of the recent moment. In that, the recent catastrophe has better delineated the relations between societal mechanisms of discipline and control. There exist a plethora of illustrative examples far beyond the aforementioned accounts. So, to the question, “are we to create a subject out of everything?” I respond, absolutely. Right now, it is off-center to suggest there is a fatigue in the framework of intersectionality, in the nature of subjecthood itself. For what we have seen in the recent days evinces a fluctuant state between clearer dimensions of control and discipline, aimed at those whose intersectional scripts make them the most vulnerable. At this moment, there was never a greater time to consider and value the identitarian scripts of the human being. This is especially so in the case of our Black counterparts, those who face systematic oppression. This is especially so in the case of our Asian American counterparts, those who have been brutalized on the basis of a virus and their “otherness.” To suggest the nature of subjecthood has reached a point of exhaustion, I point to these haunting days. These days have precipitated a renewal of the subjecthood, where the needs and consideration of the individual, the human being, are paramount, given a greater collective understanding of the ebb and flow of discipline and control.
Alarcon, Norma: "The Theoretical Subject(s) of 'This Bridge Called My Back’ and Anglo-American
Feminism“, in: Anzaldua, Gloria (ed.): Making Face, Making Soul/Hacienda Caras: Creative and
Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color, San Francisco 1990, pp. 356–369, here pg. 361.
Jasbir Puar comments on the limitations between the relationship of intersectionality and assemblage in her work, “I Would Rather Be a Cyborg than a Goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics.” Despite the limitations and opposition created by the categorization and de-privileging of the human body among other contradictions mentioned, in her conversation on discipline and control, Puar comments on the possibility of intersectionality and assemblage coinciding to which she compares the creation of the cyborgian-goddess, despite their contradicting image. But before she gets to this point, Puar calls upon the work of Rey Chow, “The Age of the World Target” as her motive for looking into the topic of the limitations that arise within intersectionality. In her book, Rey Chow addresses the issues that arise from the poststructuralist theory in “the aporia between the mode of address (well informed and often self-conscious academic language) and the harsh downtrodden worlds it purports to be concerned… (11). Puar approaches this through her doubt of intersectionality. “the concerns about the nature/culture divide and questions of language and materiality that the science and technology feminists have outlined, the attention to power and affect that assemblage theorists centralize...” Puar and Chow question the role of power and its effect on the spheres and world in which it is used.
We are halfway into 2020 which has already been an overwhelming year. For the majority, COVID-19 has been our biggest concern. We are all for the most part entering an unknown area, battling a new virus, making drastic changes to our life, and heading into the uncertain future as we watch statistics change daily. Ongoing police brutality and George Floyd’s death have also sparked worldwide protests. As a topic of interest, I decided to look into the role of media as a power in our current world and situations as it is affecting the reactions and development of these issues.
With all that is occurring, it is important to stay informed with new and upcoming developments. Some of our most accessible resources as we stay at home are broadcasted news and social media. But, as we follow the media and update ourselves online, we see the rates of infection and death rise, learn of the symptoms, and lack of medical knowledge to approach the virus. As we see videos and images of protestors and organized marches alongside footage of people looting, vandalizing communities, videos online of police using tear gas and rubber bullets, and the National Guard entering the streets we know, it is in our nature as humans to panic. In this age where media is our outlet of information, it has shown its power to shake-up people and cause mass hysteria, but as Puar also concludes with her argument that intersectionality and assemblage have the power to coincide, intersectional feminists have taken this approach in the spheres of health, politics, and technology.
At this point in the pandemic, we are all most likely familiar with the lack of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the mass response as a way to cope with the news of the panic, and seeking some sort of protection. Many women faced and are possibly still facing a hard time finding menstrual products as a result of this panic. Due to physical distancing protocols and the lack of accessibility of medical attention women are also having difficulty accessing birth control. Because of these issues, many women have turned to pricy and unsanitary methods of obtaining their resources whether it is buying priced gouged or unknown eBay sold items. The images of looting and police and national guard force also created a feeling of panic through the questioning of the role of police and their use of power over the public, their intimidating image as they held their firearms aimed at protestors. Panic arose from the fact that our communities were being vandalized by people who were taking advantage of the protests. As a resident of Downtown Los Angeles, I certainly felt this panic as I heard police and ambulances drive past my home on the first days of the protests. Seeing the live footage of the proximity of the looting, the streets, and businesses I would walk through looted and burned, seeing the following day that this would continue and that my dad’s workplace was broken into and vandalized created a sense of uncertainty to me. On top of this news, we were then informed that the national guard would be stationed ten minutes from my home. I thought about the way in which innocent protestors would be approached due to the actions of looters, the lack of attention their cause was receiving in the initial days of protest. Right in between our battle with COVID-19 an event like this added on to the overwhelming feeling and stress that the year has already begun with.
Nevertheless, as people feel this panic, intersectional feminists have created and expanded resources for the public to use. In relation to COVID-19 and the issue of lack of products for women, organizations like I Support the Girls have partnered with menstrual production company LOLA to donate menstrual products to shelters, students, and other organizations and cities to distribute. Other groups like The Pill Club and Birth Control Pharmacist are actively working on online consultations, to send women birth control either to their home or a nearby pharmacy. The protests driven by the instances of police brutality are united by the message of Black Lives Matter, a long-standing project by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in order to address the violence toward black communities. Black Lives Matter is a project made to organize and share information through its use as a hashtag in social media. Along with this hashtag has been links shared in order to help black communities through the trauma of COVID-19 and police brutality. Groups like Assata’s Daughters are working to empower black women and gender non-conforming people and addressing issues of police, immigration, and anti-blackness, and checking in with their communities and providing supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this time where the media’s communication of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests has gained some control over the reaction of the public, it has also highlighted the disadvantages which many face and the concerns of the public. But just as Puar concluded her argument with the possibility of intersectionality and assemblage, intersectional feminists have shown this to be possible. During a time where assemblage is not advised, groups have formed to address the public concern and fear, the power of media has created.
Chow, Rey: The Age of the World Target, Durham 2006, pg. 11.
Goldberg, Emma. “Periods Don't Stop for Pandemics, So She Brings Pads to Women in Need.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2020.
Herstory.” Black Lives Matter, 7 Sept. 2019.
Sabino, Pascal. “20 Black-Led Chicago Groups You Can Donate To Now To Make A Difference In Black Lives.” Block Club Chicago, Block Club Chicago, 5 June 2020.
“Women Look to Telemedicine to Access Birth Control during COVID-19.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 8 May 2020.