Archive for the ‘Michel Foucault’ Category

Heterotopias: The Homeless Lens

Posted: April 21, 2011 by michelleavila in Michel Foucault

Under the Bridge

The location of someone’s home means somewhere comfortable to end a long day, a job is to have somewhere to make a living off of, a day of relaxation can mean just a day to stay in your pj’s all day and watch movies, but in the Los Angles area there are 82,000 people are homeless on any given night, location, work and relaxation is nothing but an everyday struggle. Through their eyes the streets become heterotopias for them to live in and make the streets a lifestyle to the best extents that they can. According to Michel Foucault in “Of other spaces, Heterotopias” “there are real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” (Foucault) The following goes through the process of comparing six principles that show how unused spaces are converted into useful necessities and how the homeless might take advantage of these heterortopias and make the spaces accommodate for them.

Principle I: In the so-called primitive societies… crisis heterotopias, i.e., there are privileged or sacred or forbidden places, reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis. (Foucault)

“There are privileged or sacred places, reserved for individuals who are in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live in, in a state of crisis.” Almost suggesting there are places in the world meant for people to occupy. When it comes to being homeless, there are now many options for them to have a place to go to and actually have a place to sleep over night. Homeless shelters and homeless campsites offer temporary housing for them to take advantage of. To society that includes the upper class, middle class and even some lower class, the working class, a space such as this would not be for them. But in the eyes of a homeless, it is an opportunity to start all over the next day.

Homeless man getting a check up

Principle II: A society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion… have one function or another. “Everyone has the right to their own little box for their own little personal decay.” (Foucault)

 When a homeless person is sick and needs immediate attention to their illness they are allowed to go to the hospital, just as any other individual would. in some cases there is a group of doctors that have developed a mobile clinic, that acts as a heterotopia, that now drives to homeless areas and parks anywhere to assist these people with free Medicare and assistance on the spot.

 Principle III: The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. (Foucault)

 For a homeless person a place in the street during the day means a space that has to work for the day and change constantly to make time pass fast. A park can be a place for them to past time during the day. It has multi purposes as far as different times of the day for them. For a while they can sit in front of a basketball court, for example, and take this as entertainment. Later they can talk a walk through the park and take it as exercise, maybe they have an instrument they play and they stand at a park entrance and play, which can mean work to them. All this can happen in one location for them. A park is also a place where interactive conversations and experiences can occur for them which can then give this a heterotopia purpose.

Entertaining for money

Principle IV: Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time – which is to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterotopias. (Foucault)

 For a homeless person who does not have a place to call permanent it is hard to create a space of memory. Many of them carry very small amount of belongings because they look at it as never knowing what can happen and so they do not want to have a lot of belongings to loose. Others take this space as an opportunity of travel. Whether it was for fun or for necessity. The time span of a homeless, getting from one place to another, represents the heterotopia space.

Principle V: Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. (Foucault)

The heterotopia that can be a nightmare for the homeless is the spaces that isolate them from society. A space in which is open for certain class and not optional for the homeless. Many times in places that the homeless roam there is a certain limit that they stay or they are simply not welcomed to hang out at. Persian Square in Down town Los Angeles, is a park where throughout the day you’ll see any homeless sleeping and spending time, but at night it’s known to be a place where the homeless go to take baths. It is obvious that they made it approachable and it makes sense that the homeless would be tempted to take baths there but if they get caught doing so they will be arrested.

 Principle VI: The last trait of heterotopias is that they have a function in relation to all the space that remains. This function unfolds between two extreme poles. Either their role is to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory. (Foucault)

The most personal space one can create. A park, a freeway underpass, a bridge, an alley etc… These are all examples of locations that the homeless tend to pick to make a space that would represent their home for a long-term stay. A place in which people notice walking down the street but would never appreciate like the homeless and would never imagine to put up a unit type space to live in.

A Homeless House in Los Angeles

Being homeless is a challenge within itself, but is also as much as a challenge as someone would let it be for them. Though they have harder times being accepted by society and certain places will not let them use their services, they are still human and as humans we strive to survive and make the best of what is put in front of us so that we can create the space around us to what fits right for us as individuals. The spaces mentioned do have a purpose for the homeless who occupy them but for people of higher class, these spaces had never meant anything. You would have to experience them through the lens of the homeless to actually understand the capabilities of these spaces.


The Global Panopticon of Consumerism

Posted: April 20, 2011 by npyork in Michel Foucault

By Nathan York

Panoramic view of the office space by a person in a position of power over the workers, an elevated view of the working floor. By

When walking through retail stores, a mall, or any public space; has the thought, “who is watching me right now” ever crossed your mind? What about if “Big Brother” is an actual functioning program that keeps an eye on people, or how deep the Patriot Act really goes into observing and recording our real lives. Usually, when we think of mass control and mass surveillance, the concepts of large-scale government programs are ones that register because they seem universal. I make the argument that, in addition to these tracking programs, just being an everyday consumer is a key way to enable your surveillance.

We might compare the process of surveillance to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which used architectural form as a controlling unit for prison systems. The system was meant to isolate the prisoner through a designed backlight individual cell that is entirely blocked off from the surrounding prisoners. In order to accentuate the isolation the central tower left the prisoner with an unpleasant sense of constant presence from the observer without the observer necessarily being in place. Michel Foucault wrote a book titled Discipline and Punish in which he discusses the role of the

Scaled model of the proposed panoptic architecture by Jeremy Bentham from

Panopticon and how it is using architecture to create power. Foucault claims that within a panoptic system the observer holds the power simply by maintaining a position of constant observance or appearance of the observation.

The first use of the Panopticon outside of a prison system was in office buildings and factories in order for management to be able to oversee the scheme of the working floor and maintain control without having to interact with the workers. The effect this had on the workers was the fear of knowing that their boss could be watching their every move at any time, which would give incentive to work as efficiently as possible.

Currently, the panoptic system has been introduced to almost every aspect of our daily lives without most people even being aware of it. The most direct location of panoptic power lies within consumption. Examples of the retailer manipulating or controlling the consumers experience can be seen everywhere, even in the grocery store. For example, through speaking with a manager of a local Vons, I was able to find that Safeway Corporation has created an elite

shopper program that tracks all the purchases of each person that shop with a ValuePlus card. Those that shop the most frequently and spend the most money become “elite shoppers” and management will provide them with specials that encourage them to continue to give their business to that individual store. The consumer’s information is encoded onto their ValuePlus card and when the card is swiped the system will input all the purchased information and send a notification to the store manager of the elite customer so that he or she can go notify the consumer of their savings. Through a simple card that most people view as a way to save money while buying food, Safeway has managed to track each person that comes through the store and keep track of what each person purchases.

Another example of this can be seen through the use of panoptic power for management of different retailers. In Rosenblum’s article in the New York Times she discusses how this methodology was used in the outdoor recreational retailer, Cabela’s. In the article, Cabela’s claims that they used the video systems to observe how long it took for a sales clerk to approach the client and found that was actually an issue that needed to be addressed by management. Using the power of observation, the management at Cabela’s was able to assert their power and control over their employees by addressing the issue of service with the sales clerks.

Whether, through security cameras, motion devices, or saving cards almost all companies have a way of observing the consumer. The constant observation and manipulation of the shopping experience raises the question of whether we make consumption decisions on our own or if every decision we make within a store is based on the manipulation of the shopping experience that was brought about the panoptic power of observation.

Works Cited

–       Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.

–       Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “In Bid to Sway Sales, Cameras Track Shoppers.” The New York Times. 19 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2011. <;.