Social Control


Social Control Essay, Research Paper

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.

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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