Foucault and Truffaut: Power and Social Control in French Society


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 people.
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.

Category: English