Re: foucault on slavery and politics --Psych/physical tools?

From: Andrew Babson (
Date: Tue Mar 22 2005 - 14:37:27 PST

When I think of breaking away, I think of adolescence. I suppose two questions are when does this process begin, and what constitutes a clean break?

A couple of things come to mind. First, the phrase "must be enculturated" conjures an image of kids being fed culture by some discrete and knowable agent. I know it doesn't sound useful to say "culture's in the air"- but I think avoiding a reference to specific culturizing agents is important. Sperber et al.'s research on how our brains are wired to do certain things with the cultural information we're exposed to is meant to specify how universal and relative cultural similarities and differences happen. The analogue to this is lanaguge development, in that kids learn languages- acquire lexicons, grammars phonologies, etc.- and correct their own mistakes without  much help from those around them. So, enculturation happens. But though it will happen, like language acquisition, whether we like it or not, the extent of the exact roles of species-wide traits, personal genetic makeup and environmental factors are still unknown.

The second thing that comes to mind is the usefulness of rituals. Van Gennep's model of the rite of passage- separation, liminality and reintegration- was explored by Victor Turner, who discussed the feelings of otherness and togetherness of initiation groups. There is a connection to Levi-Strauss's bricolage here, too, in that rituals might bea kind of "tidying up" of the loose ends of experiences. Rituals put a boundary to things, make the inchoate whole, give meaning to meaningless experiences- irnoically through acts which in themselves have no social meaning outside the ritual context (e.g. dance around in a circle, clap three times, etc.).

So, the breaking away is facilitated in some way by the initiation ritual. Perhaps this is why people look the other way when college teenagers do "power hours" or the Skull and Bones rituals are guarded so secretly- rituals are gleanings of meaning that solidify life transitions and breaking away. But I'd like to know what other people think- what about breaks that are less clean, that take place less drastically and/or less systematically?


Mike Cole wrote:

Your thoughts connect up with mine on this, Iraj. Glad it was relevant
to a third
party, so to speak.

This is also related to Yrjo's idea of development as "breakikng away." There is
a real dialectical dilema that Kris and I have started to discuss. One
the one hand,
a newborn is helpless and must be "enculturated" (using both
strategies) in order
for it to survive, but in order for there to be
adaptive/transformative change to deal with an always changing
environment, there must be creation of the new,
a "going beyond" that destroys at least part of what nurtured it.

Perhaps we need to add Freud and Luke Skywalker to the discussion? (A thought
brought about by another of my kin, the 6 year old variety).

On Tue, 22 Mar 2005 09:56:24 -0800, IRAJ IMAM <> wrote:
"a stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true
politician binds them even more strongly by the chain of thier own
ideas....this link is all the stronger in that we do not know of what
it is made and we believe it to be our own work."

Thanks Mike for sharing.

This is a good example of utilizing [your] categories of 'physical' and
'psychological' tools, and evaluating their effectiveness from the stand
point of ruling over people. Two social technologies of control: Capture
their body by physical force and assuming that the mind is captured too (eg,
use of torture). Or, capturing their minds and assuming that their bodies
will follow (eg, advertisements/propaganda of all sorts). In fact, all
social spaces use both technologies.

Looking at it spatially, the question becomes 'where' to start--from the
physical/real space or the virtual/imagined space of people. Since both
spaces are interconnected in our activities, the question then becomes about
learning (and performing). Perhaps similar 'learning' targets and social
technologies are involved in empowering and in enslaving.

One tends to destroy the old learning and produce a new one in an empowering
social space. The other also tends to destroy the existing and substituting
it with a new learning. the difference is the former is open and
reflective--thus empowering and self-determined. The other has to remain
seductive, hidden, and must produce a deceptive space in order to work. But
it needs to  produce two spaces: one that appears self-determined to the
'user' while the other is producing a captured (but hidden) social space
(eg, The Matrix).

This just seemed related to the prior discussion about
'empowering/enslaving' learning spaces in classrooms.

iraj imam

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