Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sexy Cyborgs

This week’s topic is the biopolitics of science fiction.

The two poles of Foucault’s biopolitics are summarized below.

Both are described as existing now, although the species body is still emergent

Body as machine – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Species body

Anatomic                                                                    Biological

Optimizing performance                                            Process of life

Systems of efficient control                                       Intervention and regulation of life

US Supreme Court decisions

Diamond  V. Chakrabarty (1980) and Moore V. Regents of the University of California (1990) commodified life, that is, these decisions determined that life can be property. The former established the patenting of genetically modified organisms. The second: a person loses commercial rights to their cells when someone else commercializes their cell line.

Blood donations in the US are unpaid. However, other waste tissues such as infant foreskins and aborted embryo stem cells are sold to companies which make products such as artificial skin and cell lines for research, these are part of what constitutes a tissue economy (Vint, 2011). The unemployed and underpaid are also lured into clinical trials by compensation (Vint, 2011).

Given that parts of humans can now live apart from their donors, how do we ethically separate things from human subjects?

How long do we ethically keep someone alive in a coma to harvest their organs?

If someone had a twin, and that twin were in a coma, what are the ethics of that person paying to keep their twin “alive” as long as possible for the purpose harvesting the organs?

What are the ethics of harvesting parts of the brain?

If we can someday grow human brains outside of bodies, what are the ethics of clinical research?

In The Ship Who Sang, Ann McAffrey wrote of a future where the brains of infants with severe birth defects are transplanted into a succession of robot bodies. The parents consent to the process, believing that a robot life is better than no life at all. The cyborgs develop similar to children, but are always/already the property of the sponsoring company. The cyborgs “grow up” to be the brains of various facilities, the smartest become space ships. This is a case of literal “body as machine”. Let us assume that this may one day be possible, what are the ethics of preserving the life of children, when the consequence is that they become things?

Spider-goats are goats with spider genes which produce spider silk in their milk.

Spider-goats exemplify biopolitical governance of capital (Vint, 2011), they are financial speculation by the University of Utah, for being able to synthesize large quantities of spider silk, a super-strong material, has the potential of being hugely profitable (Vint, 2011). The next step, according to scientists, is to mix alfalfa and spider genes.

If we accept this, then…

…animals that can produce human milk with all the immune-buffering advantages

…plants (or chicken eggs) that contain contraceptives (or sexual inhibitor)

…animals that produce less waste (poop and farts)

…eggs that contain medicine

…plants that contain vaccines

…a virus that makes people happy (or enhances memory)

Which of these would be beneficial overall to society? What do we mean by “overall”?

Yes, some of these things already exist, along with glow-in-the-dark cats.


Radical feminist Shulamith Firestone (1970) proposes a number of ways to ultimately sever women’s biopolitics, and perhaps human biopolitics, from nature. It is important to note that Foucault did not have a theory of nature. Some of her proposals are prescient and some are still pure speculation. Firestone:

The freeing of women from the tyranny of their reproductive biology by every means available, and the diffusion of the childbearing and childrearing role to the society as a whole, men as well as women. There are many degrees of this. Already we have a (hard-won) acceptance of “family planning,” if not contraception for its own sake. Proposals are imminent for day-care centers, perhaps even twenty-four-hour child-care centers staffed by men as well as women. But this, in my opinion, is timid if not entirely worthless as a transition. We’re talking about radical change. And though indeed it cannot come all at once, radical goals must be kept in sight at all times. Day-care centers buy women off. They ease the immediate pressure without asking why that pressure is one women. (p. 233)

In addition to 24-hour child-care centers, Firestone argues that the logical way to “free women from their biology” is to develop artificial wombs and to have a universal basic income for all people, including children. What makes the later more radical than welfare is that it would allow us to live independent of the adult/child cultural family unit. This would mean that mothers and fathers would not be subject to governmentality of responsibility for raising their children, and that many children more children, perhaps most, would grow up in child-care centers and adolescent dorms.

1) children raised in 24-hour child-care centers and adolescent dorms available every day until the child reaches an age considered mature, say 16.

2) artificial wombs

3) it is the responsibility of the state or some group contractual unit to raise children, parents have no responsibility to biology

4) children are able to live independent of their parents if they choose

Which of these would be beneficial to society? If any?

In Kirinyaga, Mike Resnick writes of a future where an African scholar, concerned that  neoliberal hegemony has nearly destroyed the cultural integrity of his race/nation, builds a mini-African savannah inside an orbiting asteroid and then “colonizes” that space with a group of black African volunteers who have only known the lifeworld of urban poverty. The protagonist takes on the role of the wise witch-doctor/mentor and, over two generations, teaches the colony a traditional way of living, a strategy which proves sustainable and nearly self-sufficient. However, the program is not without problems. First, he runs into conflict with the white technicians visiting the colony when he kills an infant who is born feet first. He explains that, according to tradition, a child born feet first is a demon and therefore must be destroyed. He argues that this is the authentic and irreducible way of his people and their culture is an intricate web of customs and values which tie them to each other and to the delicate balance of the landscape (which is also a space station). In another incident, a girl comes to him and asks that she be allowed to learn to read. He tells her that girls do not receive an education by custom because if they did, they might want to leave and that would threaten the delicate balance of tribal life. Reading is not important to her role and responsibilities in the community, and if she does feel discontented she has no where to go, there is no escape from village life and no room or resources for an alternative community.

In Resnick’s book, the patriarch of the village, who has both knowledgeable of his people’s traditions and several degrees from western universities, practices biopolitics at both ends of the spectrum.

How does precariousness of the colony’s situation, both their existence in Africa and their existence on the space station, impact the ethics of his bioethics? If at all.

Foucault did not know about global climate change and saw only the beginnings of neoliberalism. Therefore, we do not know the extent of his loyalty to anarchism. Still, I will assume this is a non-Foucauldian questions: What are we willing to accept/give up in order to stop, or at least survive, the slow motion train wreck of capitalist development and global climate crisis?

Katie and Marika – The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (vol 1) part 1


In the first chapters of The History of Sexuality, Foucault focuses on the discourses of repression, confession, and sexuality as a medicalized, juridical, and scientific issue. Essentially, he describes, or attempts to describe the genealogy of prohibitive discourses of sexuality beginning from the 17th century, leading up to more modern discourses, showing that the discourses surrounding sexuality are multiple and not necessarily based in prohibition. In this Wiki entry, however, we are going to focus on two distinct contemporary issues related to sex and sexuality. In the process, we will point out which of Foucault’s concepts may be related to or can be applied to the current discourses of same-sex marriage and sex and sexuality in university culture. We’ll conclude by providing a few of our criticisms that arose from the readings thus far.



“People often say that modern society has attempted to reduce sexuality to the couple – the heterosexual and, insofar as possible, legitimate couple” (Foucault, 1978: 45).

Same-sex marriage has been a topic of debate in the United States for the past couple of decades. Subsequent to the recent Supreme Court  (SCOTUS) decisions on United States v. Windsor in 2013 and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 same-sex couples are now able to obtain federally recognized marriage licenses in every state. The road to obtaining “equal” rights, however, was long and difficult. While the proponents of same-sex marriage appealed to human rights and individual rights, the opponents cited biological and religious reasons why same-sex marriage laws should not be passed. The opponents points seem closely related to Foucault’s discussion of a medicalized sexuality. Consider the following quote from Hollingsowrth v. Perry:

COOPER: Yes, Your Honor. The concern 
is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution 
will sever its abiding connection to its historic 
traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, 
refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of 
marriage away from the raising of children and to the 
emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples (Hollingsworth v Perry, p. 23). 

Above, Mr. Cooper is saying that marriage (such as Foucault would note some think of sex and sexuality) is directly linked to procreation. Thus, he is making connections between the institution of marriage and sexuality by claiming that sex is a prerequisite of marriage, but that qualifying sex is for procreative purposes. This would exclude same-sex couples from entering the institution (check out work on queer ecologies). On the other hand, Foucault says “One of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth century was the emergence of ‘population’ as an economic and political problem […]” (25). We could, then, also make connections between the opposing side’s claims and population control, at least to an extent.
Furthermore, the simple fact that this is an issue debated in the Supreme Court clearly shows that sexuality a juridical issue, as Foucault also notes. Of course this is, at least from our point of view, a slightly better legal issue to be debating than the criminalization of homosexual acts, such as sodomy (the last state laws banning consensual sodomy were struck down by SCOTUS in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas). “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” (Foucault, 1978, p. 43) seems to be an accurate statement. 

The issue of (same-sex) marriage, however, isn’t simply a legal one, but a semantic one as well. For decades, lesbian and gay couples failed to meet the definitional prerequisites for marriage – a term that was defined as a union between a man and a woman (Mercier, 2008). This definition was also the federal definition of marriage as outlined in Section 3 of DOMA, which was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. This definition, however, was used again and again to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. Other similar institutions, and terms, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions, were created instead. Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the terms husband and wife were also unavailable to same-sex couples, at least in their definition as a man or a woman who is married, or someone is married to. However, despite many same-sex couples rejoicing the newly gained ability to marry, some have experienced conflicting feelings and resistance toward the issue, and have not been keen to adopt the relationship terms either.

“For the effect of sexual liberation has been not, or not only, to free us to express our sexuality but to require us to express – freely, of course – our sexuality. Although we can now choose more easily how to be sexually free, we can no longer choose so easily whether to be sexually free, what to count as sexual freedom, where to draw the distinction between sexual and nonsexual expression – or how to interrelate our sexual behaviors, our personal identities, our public lives, and our political struggles” (Halperin, 1995, p. 20).


“SANDRA:  umm I was attracted to women before I even thought about being attracted to men… umm… but… despite that I always I never really thought of it as something that I would pursue or that was an option because my family was so conservative so all the while being attracted to women I always in my head envisioned I’m gonna grow up I’m gonna get married I’m gonna have a husband I’m gonna have the house and the picket fence” (Criss, 2015b, p. 12).

In light of the recent legal changes, and past restrictions on marriage, people regardless of their sexual orientation, are having to revisit their notions of marriage. No longer is marriage something that is restricted to two members of the opposite sex. In addition, new terms have emerged to describe unions between two individuals of the same sex, much as Foucault described the emergence of discourses to describe acceptable sexualities, sex acts, as well as perversions and classifications of perverts.

An examination of the SCOTUS arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Perry revealed that the justices and lawyers were using two different terms to refer to marriage between two individuals of the same-sex: gay marriage (7) and same-sex marriage (38). Overwhelmingly, thus, “same-sex marriage” was preferred over “gay marriage,” and they seemed to be used interchangeably (Criss, 2015a). Although there is not enough data to generalize any findings, it seems “gay marriage” is used when in opposition of the new legal changes, whereas “same-sex marriage” is viewed as a more neutral term.

To complicate things, an examination of the transcripts from two Finnish parliamentary plenary sessions dealing with same-sex marriage laws in Finland revealed a slightly different set of terms used: equal marriage (tasa-arvoinen avioliitto) (13), gender-neutral marriage (sukupuolineutraali avioliitto) (2), same-sex marriage (samansukupuolisten avioliitto) (1), gay/homo marriage or union (homoliitto/homoavioliitto) (5). As with the SCOTUS cases, no definitive conclusions could be made as to the potential contextual uses of each term, but in this sample “gay/homo marriage” was exclusively used by the opponents of same-sex marriage (Criss, 2015a).


(Do you want to change marriage, thousands of years old, into a sex union between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman?)

So, all the legal and political mumbo jumbo aside, what are gay and lesbian individuals saying about the term “marriage?” Did we accidentally assume that they would, of course, love to just use the same term as heterosexual couples? Oops. We may have. In fact, there are many members of the “gay community” (for a lack of a better term, I do not agree that there, in fact, is a community) who did not want their relationships to be represented in the same manner as heterosexual relationships, nor do they want to use the same terms to describe their relationships (Bernstein & Taylor, 2013, Criss, 2015b, Whitlow & Ould, 2015).
To give an example of the complexities of the situation, we’ve added excerpts from Marika’s data from her focus group interview with 3 lesbian/gay couples:

BILLY BOB:     it’s a heterosexual term I don’t wanna be associated with that because they tried they tried to take it from me and tarnish it in my head it’s so much more than what they have. their marriage leads into divorce most heterosexual  marriages are you know fifty percent sixty percent split up within the first five years and for me it’s like I don’t want what they have I don’t want their pigeonholes and the lifestyle that they have because for me they’ve they’ve tarnished it. it’s like kind of like saying this part of the town was nice and new then somebody goes in and trashes it you don’t wanna live there because they’ve made it look crappy yeah you can go in and build it up make it look better later on and probably better than it was before but I don’t wanna go through the process of building that when I can build this and make it a lot better I want them to want what we have  

SANDRA:  you know in a certain respect I actually think what you said… earlier about you don’t want to have a marriage you want something that is brand new and it applies to only to what we have and tying that to the fact that we addressed there are so many divorces with straight people and I think what that is is you grow up in a culture that says this is what you do you meet somebody you date you get married you have kids


so maybe we should have our own word

(Criss, 2015b)

In the above examples, Billy Bob strongly feels the term “marriage” is a heterosexual term, and does not feel comfortable adopting it to describe his own relationship. Sandra, responding to Billy Bob, suggests another term be coined. The participants did specify that they did not want a separate term, but rather that we get rid of the term marriage, and call everyone’s relationships by a new name, such as “registered partnership.” Here, it seems, the participants are resisting restrictions placed on the discourses of marriage as an institution.

“Hence, power is not intrinsically, nor is it only negative: it is not just the power to deny, to suppress, to constrain – the power to say, no you can’t. Power is also positive and productive. It produces possibilities of action, of choice – and ultimately, it produces the conditions for the exercise of freedom (just as freedom constitutes a condition for the exercise of power) (Halperin, 1995, p. 17).

Placed back into the larger political context, the issue of same-sex marriage was not just about the power of the dominant group to deny rights to same-sex couples. The restrictions along with other legal and societal realities, also determined what types of actions were possible to take to change the system. In this case, one possibility was an attempt to integrate same-sex couples into the same marital institution as heterosexual couples – of course following an unsuccessful attempt at creating what can only be called institutions of separate but equal, such as domestic partnerships. However, it seems now a new set of possibilities has been created, and some of the participants were already embracing these possibilities (i.e. could we start thinking about a new kind of legal relationship that is not related to an institution of exclusion?). In this sense also, the opponents of same-sex marriage who claimed that the inclusion of same-sex couples would eventually lead to the recognition of other types of relationships, may have not been entirely wrong.

To wrap it up, here is a recent commentary capturing what some children think about gay marriage. Perhaps because they are largely excluded from discourses on sex, they have yet to form the “normalized” opinions on the issue and speak more honestly about the issue:

We have to applaud the last boy. He clearly understands the distinction between gay and lesbian, and is highly gender conscious (we also think “gay” and “gay marriage” are inappropriate terms to be used to describe lesbians).


The relationship terms related to marriage are generally the gendered ones of husband and wife, and for dating partners, boyfriend and girlfriend. Some couples also use non-gendered terms such as partner or spouse. For same-sex couples, the decision to use gendered relationship terms to refer to their significant others (SO) in conversation, typically means exposing their sexual orientation. Using the term wife or husband may, on the other hand, mark pride in their newly gained right to marry as well (Whitlow & Ould, 2015, Olsen, 2013). The participants in Marika’s study, varied in terms of which term they chose. Two out of 5 participants chose the genderless variant, partner, while 3 chose the gendered boyfriend/girlfriend. In the future, if and when they decided to get married, all but one out of the four male participants planned on calling their SO husband.

BILLY BOB:     I think spouse is too informal I think partner is the general term that those people with gay orientation fall into… husband and wife I mean I think people do go that route the reason I don’t refer to husband umm in this is because… umm… is mainly because of… the… it was just never obtainable like I never thought to myself marriage would be available for me… growing up and whenever I started having serious relationships with people of the same sex I never thought to myself well marriage is something I can have because marriage is always been told… that… a heterosexual normative lifestyle

AARON:        he and I… I would say joking as we don’t take it seriously but we always say future husband but… to me when that time comes saying actually – – actually saying husband kind of like what he said saying husband sounds weird because I’m so used to the whole… stereotypical on TV like heterosexual stuff of husband and wife and then I’m thinking… I’m a dude I have a husband I’m like…

(Criss, 2015b)

It seems, then, that the participants were not as keen on creating new relationship terms, as they were creating a term for their legal relationship. However, to an extent they did have difficulties in orienting to the existing (heterosexual) terminology.

“What escapes from relations of power…does not escape from the reach of power to a place outside power, but represents the limit of power, its reversal or rebound. The aim of an oppositional politics is therefore not liberation but resistance” (Halperin, 1995, p. 17-18).

Liberation, or freedom for that matter, is not being allowed into an existing system and operating within it, but being able to transform or reject that system. Here we may be witnessing a change in progress.

University culture as a discourse of sex

Within the plethora of discourses of sex, Foucault says little about who gets away with what and why, and who is ultimately punished? What are the consequences of making a “hushed,” private discourse public? In James T. Sears’ thoughtful and powerful ethnography Growing up Gay in the South, he shows how the intersections of race, class, sex, and gender ultimately (dis)allow young people the freedom to be and display homosexuality. Halperin comments that “…the kind of freedom that sexual liberation has produced imposes on us an even more insidious unfreedom….it enslaves us to a specific mode of freedom and thereby makes the exercise of other freedoms almost unthinkable” (p. 20). The more we are forced to show ourselves for who we really are to the public, the more we are scrutinized.

In making their abuses semi-public via a Facebook page in 2015, Penn State fraternity house Kappa Delta Rho was suspended for three years, specific members also individually accused of offenses, for taking nude photos of women, many of whom are unconscious, and posting them to the account. The “proper” discourse on handling this emerged from university heads marking the behavior as “shocking” and “inappropriate,” the kind of language that might assuage the public eye, but that also allows for such behavior to continue at other campuses, as no one is fooled that this behavior is shocking whatsoever for fraternity houses throughout the nation. In the commentary area below some of the online articles on the offense, however, other discourses emerged in attempts to “normalize” the behavior as “boys will be boys,” or connect it to the immoral nature of Penn State, a campus and surrounding community that is still trying to repair its national reputation after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

PSU on CNN: 

Another “private” space gone public takes the form of the “resistance” that Foucault speaks of when countering normalizing actions of power. Emma Sulkowitz graduated from Colombia University in 2015, after spending her final year protesting the campus’ handling of her alleged rape by a male student by carrying her mattress around everywhere she went, including to class and her graduation ceremony. What had begun as a consensual endeavor, according to Sulkowitz became non-consensual during intercourse when the male student Paul Nungesser began unwanted actions on her. The university ultimately decided that the young man was not responsible for the allegations.

Colombia rape victim carries mattress:


Sulkowitz’s actions perhaps are reminiscent of the anti-quietism of the ACT UP movement that Halperin discusses. Blocking traffic on the Golden Gate, stopping the New York stock exchange, and managing to disrupt a CBS News broadcast, ACT UP was politically engaged about the problem of AIDS, just as Sulkowitz was so publicly engaged in her political message. And just like Foucault’s critics who amounted his activism to “self-indulgent radical chic” (p. 24) and to getting involved in “fashionable causes” (p. 24), Sulkowitz’s critics found her to be an attention-seeking whore.

But the young man accused of rape also has a story. To his credit, only two people know what really happened that night, and he is one of many young men in the news as of late that may unduly suffer for a potentially perceived wrongdoing. Part of the article reads:

Nungesser has since sued the university, saying it failed to protect him from harassment when Sulkowicz went public with her claims, which were dismissed by law enforcement. According to the suit filed April 23, Nungesser’s “day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day.”

Nungesser “…called Sulkowicz’s accusation ‘untrue and unfounded’ and Mattress Performance an act of bullying. These competing narratives swirling around the discourse of consent in sexual encounters, especially in the context of university life, are battling for “truth”, while the public is left judging the actions of Nungesser and Sulkowitz. The online magazine The Federalist called her performance “sophomoric” and irresponsible: “Here is a man who was found innocent of all charges but whose primary accuser has actually been given course credit for continuing to call him a rapist—and making national news in the process.”

Ultimately we have an incitement of discourses, and although “…the discourse on sex has multiplied rather than rarified…[and] has carried with it taboos and prohibitions” (Foucault, 1978, p. 53), those discourses blend, contradict, fight for legitimacy, and can even both be true at once: In Sulkowitz’s alleged case, that single sexual action came to include both consensual and nonconsensual sub-acts. How, then, do legal discourses disentangle this? And since it is a private act, meaning no one else was around to see it, what evidence do legal discourses have in order to rule on it?


Halperin (1995) is the first piece we have read (we think) that begins to look at critiques of Foucault. However, Halperin’s aim is to show how critics have ultimately misunderstood Foucault’s notions of power. We critique Foucault from a feminist standpoint and ask why he is overwhelmingly male-centric in whom he analyzes (both from a heterosexual and homosexual context). We see little discussed from the point of girls, women, and lesbians, and the politics of female sexuality. For someone who spent his academic career creating genealogies and archaeologies, he sure did a shitty ass job of representing the “subaltern” knowledges that he says he is dedicated to unearthing. What about the history of girls and women in his genealogy of sex? What about non-Western societies’ discourses on marriage, homosexuality, etc? It seems Foucault was very preoccupied with his own penis.

King (2004) writes in “The prisoner of gender: Foucault and the disciplining of the female body that “…despite his preoccupation with power and its effects on the body, Foucault’s own analysis was curiously gender-neutral. Remarkably, there is no exploration or even acknowledgement of the extent to which gender determines the techniques and degrees of discipline exerted on the body” (abstract, p. 29). Based on the first couple of chapters of the History of Sexuality, it seems Foucault is more interested in male sexuality. In part, the impression may be related to issues of translation, and the highly gendered nature of the French language. However, it seems he is not working hard to question the dominance of male sexualities over female sexualities. It seems, in fact, that female sexuality is an afterthought, if a thought at all. Not that this is surprising or new. If people have been preoccupied with discourses of repression, we would argue, they have specifically been preoccupied with discourses of repression of female sexualities without acknowledging that they are preoccupied with female bodies.

To provide contemporary examples of practices related to female/male sexualities, consider the differences in the perceived appropriateness of advertizing male sexual enhancements (e.g. Viagra). How often have you seen similar advertisements for women? In fact, it seems that women are supposed to just be happy their male sexual partners can get it up, with no regard to how pleasurable the act is to the female counterpart.

While they have no qualms about the abnormal and unnatural practice of elderly or unhealthy males being able to have sex, it seems politicians are very keen on regulating the procreative rights of women (e.g. abortion, “the pill”). Furthermore, to manage our monthly expressions of fertility, it seems to be acceptable to have women pay a hefty fee men are exempt from (sanitary towels, tampons, and often, ibuprofen).


Unfortunately, male sexualities are valued more in minorized communities as well. If there were such a space as a  “gay community,” that would certainly be the appropriate term. While the imagined members of the community may have similar goals in terms of politics, more exposure is given to gay men. Lesbians and bisexual women are constantly being brushed to the side (it should be noted here that the “lesbian community” is not always inclusive of bisexual women).

As an aside, today’s news brought this to our attention: the policing of community members in all its glory, “Waitress stiffed for not looking ‘normal’”:

“What we ultimately have to liberate ourselves from may be nothing less than “freedom” itself–that is, from the liberal concept of freedom as a regulative or normative ideal of responsible and self-respecting human conduct” (Halperin, p. 20-21).

Media discourse: representation of marriage:



Bernstein, M. and Taylor, V. (2013). The Long Journey to Marriage: Same-Sex Marriage, Assimilation, and Resistance in the Heartland in Bernstein, M. & Taylor. V. (eds.), The Marrying Kind? Debating Same-Sex Marriage within the Lesbian and Gay Movement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Criss, M. 2015a. Gender-neutral marriage, Equal marriage, Same-sex marriage, or Gay marriage? An examination of the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S. and Finland. (Unpublished).

Criss, M. 2015b. (Same-Sex) Marriage: To conform or not to conform? (Unpublished).

Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Vol 1.

Halperin, D. (1995). Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hollingsworth et. al. v. Perry et al., 9th Cir (2015). No. 12–144.

King, A. The prisoner of gender” Foucault and the disciplining of the female body. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 5(2), 29-39.

Mercier, A. (2008). On the Nature of Marriage: Somerville on Same-Sex Marriage. The Monist, 91(3/4), 407–421.

Obergefell v. Hodges, 6th Cir (2015) (No. 14-556).

Sears, J. T. (1991). Growing up gay in the south: Race, gender, and journeys of the spirit. New York: Haworth Press.

United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013) (No. 12-307), available at

Whitlow, J. and Ould, P. (2015). Same-sex Marriage, Context, and Lesbian Identity: Wedded but not always a Wife. Lexington Books.  


Tasha & Alex, “Foucault, Power, and Education” ch. 2-3 and Boldt, Failing Bodies

1. Pedagogy: Failing Bodies and Foucault’s Lectures In “Failing Bodies”, Gail makes a very brief comment that prompted us to think about pedagogical power relations. Referring to a teacher’s strict expectations and technique, Gail writes –

“This teacher may have been harsher than many but she was not doing anything that other teachers (including myself) don’t do in friendlier, perhaps less obvious (and perhaps therefore more manipulative or insidious) ways” (Boldt, 95).

There was an evident shift from teacher-centered to child-centered (learner-centered) curriculum approaches in the twentieth century. Students are seen as passive and considered the sole learner within the relationship and education/knowledge is conveyed from teacher to student in a traditional didactic manner in the former teacher-centered curriculum in contrast to the child-centered curriculum where students are more active and agentic in the learning process, instead of knowledge primarily transmitted from teacher to student students are encouraged to use communication, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. to construct knowledge. The child-centered approach is seen as a co-learning experience between the teacher and students. But has this shift in curriculum really dissolved or suppressed the power relations? Or just reorganized them?

Foucault gives an interesting perspective on a similar topic. By substituting ‘teacher-centered’ with ‘lecture’ and ‘child-centered’ with ‘seminar’ (or, even still interesting, leave the lecture/seminar concept) this Foucauldian view could be used to inform the idea of a reformulation of power relations.

  • “.. (Foucault) argues that the lecture, that apparently non-reciprocal and unequal power relationship, is more honest and less devious than the seminar about the relationships of power which inevitably invest each of them. A lecture which is tentative about its truth-claims and which exposes itself to criticism might neutralize power relations by rendering them more visible; whereas the ostensible freedom and reciprocity of the seminar may disguise power relations to the extent that students uncritically absorb what is only the informed opinion of the teacher. On this basis Foucault felt that seminars, whilst necessary, might be better suited for training in methods than for the development of free and critical thinking. It follows that one-on-one tutorials, group research programmes and group work are at least as likely to manipulate students as a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ method. Tutorial politics depend inordinately heavily on personal qualities, amicable interaction, and firm commitments, and are not well-suited for the average learner; group work, though less elitist, may enhance inter-peer politics at the risk of promoting unequal participation and domination by a few ….. In the lecture, he says, in spite of appearances, there is less of a relation of power between the teacher and the students than in a seminar. The auditors of a lecture can freely adopt a take it or leave it approach to the content and could admire the lecture (or not) as one would admire a well-crafted shoe” (Deacon, 2006).


  • ‘I see myself more as an artisan crafting an object and offering it for consumption rather than a master making his slaves work’. On the other hand, seminars with discussion meant that by the end of the series, students could no longer be sure whether their ideas were their own or had been subtly and insidiously moulded by the seminar leader during the course of discussion.’  (Foucault, ‘Conversation avec Michel Foucault’, Dits et Ecrits, vol II, p190-191.)

We have a few seemingly unrelated discussions here  (failing bodies & lecture/seminar, social hereditarianism in ECE, eugenicist thought in social welfare & nonprofits) but we hope to discuss each in terms of some of these big concepts in Foucault & Ball’s work.

  • Critique: Foucault’s critique reveals “unconsidered modes of thought [on which] the practices that we accept rest…” (Foucault in Ball 82)- “not to uncover the development of rationality, but the ways new forms of control and power are legitimated by complex discourses that stake a claim to rationality and that are embedded in diverse institutional sites” (Olssen in Ball 81). The purpose of critique is “not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are,” but rather “a matter of pointing out… assumptions” (Foucault in Ball 85). We don’t seek to criticize pedagogical strategies or private non-profits (today, anyway), but rather to come to new understandings of the discourses and power relations involved. We’re left thinking, again, that ‘everything is dangerous’, in some ways, but we’ll ask – how do these educational and welfare services sit with you, now?
  • Problematization: Dan Goodley (2010) explains Foucault’s problematisation in a particularly succinct and accessible way: “…methodology of problematisation poses two questions: How did something become constructed (e.g. the self)? How did something become a problem (e.g. the disabled self)?” We trace instances of social hereditarianism in ECE and eugenicist thought in a private non-profit to understand how particular individuals, behaviors, and physical, mental, social, and environmental conditions become constructed as problematic. Foucault was also concerned with why something becomes a particular kind of problem and why a certain way of problematizing appears at a given point in time, within his broader concern, pursuing a ‘history of truth’. For each of our applications, we may also consider how these problems come to matter differently for each involved party, and how problematization might be used to justify present practices instead of critical attitudes toward them.
  • Our practices as always Implicated (as members of this society, but especially as academics, as teachers, as non-profit workers): to return to our discussion from two weeks ago, we may revisit the way that certain knowledges take hold over others: how things came to be the truth or better truths than others. Ball writes that “our own knowledges and practices as sociologists, pedagogues, policy analysts, are historically implicated, and continue to be implicated, in the practices of the management of the population, and the construction and maintenance of social and racial divisions” (88).
  • The question of Intent and Intentionality: again, there is a difference between an individual’s intention and what affects the actions that are the result of those intentions. Sources of intention are diverse and result in unintended consequences.
    • Eugenicists vs. Sociologists: what are the problematics? what did the work of each produce? “Both positions sit firmly within the problematics of the population as a resource to be managed” (Ball 90, more through 91).
      • While the decision to exercise power is always intentional, the mechanisms of power that individuals use to exercise power are inherently non-subjective, because they do not depend on the existence of those individuals for their own existence.  Power mechanisms, because they are structured and reproduced by a multiplicity of power-relations that are not reducible to the individuals who exercise them, are necessarily incapable of being controlled by any particular individual
      • “individual’s use of power can be non-subjective” as well due to the “inevitable disjunction between an action’s intention and its actual effect
      • “While constantly being injected with aims, purposes and calculation, power is not reducible to the ambitions and decisions of any individual subjects. Nowhere can one find an all-powerful individual, a master under whose control the working of power might be.”
  • Eugenicist Thought/ Eugenicist Strands: Ball points out that the “interventionist/welfarist/disciplinary approach” and education policy today are rife with eugenicist influence: “alongside the residues of genetic accounts of normality and difference, forms of culture, lifestyle and relationships within the family, were identified by sociologists as a new grid of intelligibility within which educational success and failure could be located” (91).
  1. Social Hereditarianism in ECE (primarily elementary education): Burt, Ball (92), describes “cycles of disadvantage” whereby “the failures of the family are ‘passed on’ as a form of social heredity”. Certain homes are perceived as fostering “an educative climate”, with “attitudes and orientations” that  “are congruent with the demands and the aims of the school”. In contrast, we see some working-class or poor families:
  • In “Failing Bodies”, Gail (2001) highlights an experience involving a minority family whose practices and views conflicted with that of the child’s school. A student teacher complained of a student who only attended school a few days out of the week while going to the beach and watching t.v./playing video games at home the other days. The few days the child did make it to school she could be found sitting off to the side unable to participate in the current lesson with the rest of her peers because of the make-up work she was assigned to complete. Because of this, the opinions of the father were less than favorable among the teachers with the student teacher going as far as saying, “Her father is wrecking her life by not making her come to school” (102).
  • Expectations of working class family support outside of school… not helping with homework, lack of tutoring resources related to SES, and associated values
  1. Nonprofit Social Services: using critique, problematization, implication, intent, eugenicist thought and social hereditarianism to newly consider a range of programs. In addition, we want to pay particular attention to the ways in which families and individuals are managed, and the use of language for different programs and social groups served. What “entanglements and blindness” are at play? (Ball 82). Also important here is Graham and Slee’s (2008) idea that “to include is not necessarily to be inclusive”, or “the inclusion paradox” (Ball 84). Using Foucault to examine social work is not a new idea… there is work about managing welfare and particularly social hereditarianism and controlling women’s reproductive rights.
  • “… biopolitics have given birth to technologies, experts and apparatuses for the care and administration of life for each and all, from town planning to health services to schools… there is, he argues, little clear distinction between preventative medicine and eugenics, between the pursuit of health and the elimination of illness, between consent and compulsion” (Rose, of Foucault, in Goodley 107).
  • “… the regulation, control and management of ‘welfare clients’ has been managed through neoliberal paternalism, which shifts the locus of social responsibility – responsibility for collective welfare or well-being – onto the individual, family and community. It also aids understanding of how service professionals, such as childcare workers and social workers, become complicit in disciplining and managing service users” (Webb & Grey 177).
  • “… under the neoliberal social investment regime, social workers are increasingly enlisted to discipline, blame, and target disadvantaged social groups, especially single mothers, through welfare-to-work and child protection programmes” (Webb & Grey 177).

Family Service Association of Bucks County: a private, 501 (c)3 nonprofit celebrating 60 years in the Bucks County (started in 1953 – we might consider the trajectory of these programs alongside other timelines of social policy and exclusion.) and surrounding communities with the following programs:

    • AACES (Aspergers Awareness Education and Support Program), where I spent most of my time as an FSABC employee
      • Clients “must have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS or High Functioning Autism)”, “be able to attend programs independently and navigate adjoining mall without support” and “have an IQ score of 70 or above”.
      • “Techniques of post/modern biopower – statistics, demographics, assessment, education, measurement, and surveillance – expand as knowledge from the human and social sciences grow and institutions of society become more pronounced. These techniques generate discourses of the self that people have come to know and constrain themselves by” (Goodley 106).
      • “Testing used to identify different ‘ability levels’ matched to ‘appropriate’ learning experiences” (Ball 96). In classifying learners or people based on definitive objectives, asking what children/people are capable of obtaining a particular result
      • “one might argue that disability is a product of modernist bio-power (Foucault 1981), that is, an effect of the medical management of people with impairments. One could conclude, in other words, that impairment itself is a product of medico-welfare discourse” (Tremain, 82)
      • Coffeehouse, workshops, job counseling and placements: “interventions that are designed to ‘fix and repair’ divergence from the norms of pacing knowledge” (Ball 100).
  • Teen Center: “The Bucks County Health Improvement Project identified ‘adolescent problems’ as a major area of concern during a 1993-1994 health assessment. This prompted the opening of a Teen Center at the Oxford Valley Mall. We are the Management Agent and coordinator of this initiative”.
    • AIDS Program (started in the 1980’s in response to the AIDS epidemic) and Bucks Villa


  • “Bucks Villa is an independent living facility for people who are HIV positive or living with AIDS… Residents are single men and women eighteen years of age and older, all of whom are living with a disability documented by the Social Security Association. All residents are capable of self-care and join in the spirit of communal living. The Villa is an environment free of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

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  • “…overlapping genealogies of classifications and of blood, or what Foucault calls ‘the model of exclusion’ and its concomitants ‘disqualification, exile, rejection, deprivation, refusal and incomprehension… an entire arsenal of negative concepts’… arise despite and in part because of their articulation with ‘positive’ techniques of ‘intervention and transformation” (Foucault in Ball 84).
  • The exile and the leper
  • Emergency Homeless Shelter: taken over from the Red Cross in 2012, when I served as Volunteer Coordinator: “as a result, shelter residents now receive intensive case management services… a new Electronic Medical Records platform that will expand opportunities for communication with our clients and other health care providers”.


Sources Cited

Ball, S. J. (2012). Foucault, power, and education. Routledge.

Boldt, G. M. (1999). Failing bodies: Power and identity in the elementary classroom.

Deacon, R. (2006). Michel Foucault on education: a preliminary theoretical overview. South African Journal of Education26(2), 177-187.

Foucault, M. (1994). Conversation avec Michel Foucault. Dits et écrits, 2, 182-193.

Goodley, D. (2010). Disability studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. Sage.

Gray, M., & Webb, S. A. (Eds.). (2013). The new politics of social work (pp. 209-225). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Foucault, Biopower, and Politics

Flint water crisis

What do we know

  • Share what we as a class have read, watched, heard, or discussed about the unfolding situation


  • Who was privileged and who was sacrificed?
    • From a State/Gov’t what is the crisis achieving consciously or subconsciously

Children’s lives/health were impacted


“When I say ‘killing,’ I obviously do not mean simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on.” –pg. 256


Who lives and who dies? And, do we determine this? If so, who gets to determine this and how?

Can we make any tentative connections between Foucault’s “letting die,” indirect murder, and exposure to potentially deadly substances with lasting mental developmental and health issues that the government may have a hand in?


“It is the power to ‘make’ live and ‘let’ die” –pg. 241

“Making live and letting die.”–pg. 247

“What must live and what must die.”–pg. 254

How can the power of death, the function of death, be exercised in a political system centered upon biopower? –pg. 254


New revelations uncovered in Flint


EPA faces fallout