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Reading Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, I could not ignore how so much of Foucault’s theoretical concepts had to do with African-American history. As the book is specifically on prisons, I was surprised at how little American content there was in Foucault’s genealogy of prisons, seeing how the United States is the undisputed “mecca” of prison populations. However, considering Foucault wrote this in 1975, before Reagan and his administration came into power and started to privatize prisons, you could hardly blame Foucault. The fact is, Foucault’s text is quite an extensive and compelling piece of work.

Yet there was something in me that had to somehow restore this disconnect between the European world, where Foucault drew most of his examples from, and the North American world. Considering the United States comprises only 5 percent of the world’s total population, yet is home to 25 percent of the world’s total prison population, this phenomenon had to be explored through the theoretical lens of Foucault. Had Foucault lived to see the rise of the prison industrial complex, I’m sure this would have been a phenomenon that he would of liked to have discussed. At the same time, however, much of what could have been said after Foucault’s death in 1984 was in a sense already in the text; it just needed some cross-cultural referencing. Nevertheless, Foucault’s recognition that the rise and expansion of prisons and disciplinary methods had much to do with the political economy, makes Foucault’s text endless and that much more valuable.

In creating a UBC blog, I wanted to establish a French-American connection by using Foucault’s concepts to explain parts of African-American history that I found to be extremely relevant. Also, I felt that these same parts of African-American history could be used to further explain what Foucault was trying to illustrate, which makes the text more accessible with examples that are closer to home. While I’m certainly not the first to link the experiences of African-Americans to Foucault’s work, doing this project still felt like I was restoring Foucault’s theory, while at the same time exploring a passion I have with African-American history.

My intended goal of this project was not so much to make an argument than it was to illustrate the similarities between Foucault’s work and African-American history. Perhaps this was the only basis to the argument I constructed. I wanted to use provocative pictures, as pictures are an essential component in telling history that is quite distinct from traditional forms of telling history with written and oral traditions. That being said, I rummaged through sites online looking for pictures that I felt were necessary for my overall goal. Every time I committed to a specific picture I thought would be useful, I would immediately look to Foucault for a short quote that would help explain the picture.

As a way to engage my audience, I initially felt compelled to write a brief synopsis on how the picture relates to the quote directly below it, however, I then decided that it would be best to leave it to the reader, so that person could make their own connection. Whether the connection the reader constructs has anything to do with what I intended to illustrate with the picture and quote is beyond me. The point is, I wanted to engage my audience with a simple picture and a quote, which when looked at together, brings forth an argument that may speak to the reader more so than what I “argue” throughout the rest of the project. I also include three music videos that capture the political and social climate of particular moments in African-American history.

The reason why I chose the non-traditional artifact was simple. Seeing how this is a fourth year seminar course, a class structure that is much different from classes that are simply a lecture, the amount of discussion that has been generated with our course material has been quite refreshing. Because of this, I felt the need to continue on this path of discussion and create a project that could be shared with my classmates. The traditional philosophy paper would not be able to accommodate this inclusiveness, as only the class professor would read the essay. Also, as a third year student, I have not been given too many options with choosing an assignment let alone my own topic. Lastly, I was attracted to the idea that I didn’t have to structure my thoughts in essay form, for much of what I truly want to discuss can get lost in the process of academic writing. I’m sure many students can relate.

For my method of planning I guess you can say it was both spontaneous and planned. I have always been interested in social justice and African-American history, so when I started to read Foucault’s text, I began to make notes on how I can use Foucault’s material to create a message that reflects my interests. This portion was certainly planned. However, as far as segmenting the project into specific categories or key moments in history, I knew from the start which examples of African-American history I would use to compare to Foucault’s text, yet wasn’t sure how I would frame it. For this portion it was definitely spontaneous, but it was grounded in a firm understanding of what I wanted to convey.

Before I started the project I thought it would take quite a lot of time to create. I tried to assess how much work I had to do and came to the realization that it would be a little bit more work than the traditional essay. However, with the non-traditional artifact having an extended due date, it seemed like it was a fair trade-off. Seeing how I had never created a webpage before, once I got my feet wet with the first initial stages, I quickly realized how much work would be involved–a lot more than I initially thought. I had a difficult time in trying to understand the Creative Commons copyright laws, as well as making simple changes on the webpage, which at times made me feel completely hopeless. However, I soon got the hang of how the webpage works and how changes are made. In the end, this was a exciting experience. I hope you all enjoy it…



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