Pick of the Comments

Following on from this morning’s post on the Nonopticon at Tocorón, a couple of Foucault readers note something that was very much on my mind as I wrote the piece: prisons are really just a very small – though very striking – aspect of Venezuela’s comprehensive failure to “get” Power-Knowledge.

Causetoujours goes first:

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish is not only about prison, but about all other 19th century social control institutions, giving power to the State to control every single movement of people, a micro control over bodies far effective than Ancien regime’s one . The main institution for this control is not the prison but the school. These disciplinary institutions were a basic element for industrial revolution, allowing a large mass of people to be able to follow precise instructions in factories or armies. In some way, development came after a massive and successful domestication of peoples. This process wasn’t painless and was imposed by violence.

Venezuela, as other Latin American countries, tried to copy all the disciplinary institutions, without real success. In this sense, prison’s situation is a strong caricature of the failed social control implementation; we are an incompletely ‘domesticated’ people, i.e. unable to massively follow precise instructions. Of course, you can find some cases of strong and well organized social behavior (for instance, ‘smoke free zones’ law, or Caracas’ metro), but my intuition is that it shows some deep social consensus that precede the law and State.

Our relative inability, as society, to act in a disciplined and well organized way implies, of course, several big problems (violence, corruption, low productivity, etc.) but in the same way a (unfounded?) feeling of unrestricted personal freedom could explain why Venezuela is usually well ranked in several ‘happiness index’…

Next comes ElJefe:

This post really highlights the contradictions in modern Venezuela: The country never really went through an Enlightenment a-la Europe and while certain ideologues and leftist intellectuals who support Chavismo espouse radical, deconstructionist theories, the nation and its institutions are stuck very much in a pre-modern, Hobbesian state of nature.

I think Francisco’s critique of Foucault is actually fairly apt, at least in the Venezuelan context simply because Foucault was fighting within a very different set of parameters. France had passed through the Enlightenment, through a series of iron-fisted dictators and endured overwhelming state power in citizens’ daily lives. Venezuela on the other hand put the cart before the horse. The radical laws which PSF’s tout as making Venezuela a progressive nation have no teeth considering the State can’t enforce any of its laws even within its own prisons. A back-to-basics approach is needed whereby the State asserts its dominance and obligates individuals to give up some of their own rights and form part of the social contract. If this all sounds like basic eighteenth century stuff it’s because it is.

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