Marking identity in peaceable total institutions

1. Total institutions for marking life rather than creating death

The focus switches now to less harrowing but no less total institutions. First, we shall consider the case of the Irish Magdalene Laundries, in which young girls were held captive in a kind of forced labor serving as a moral penance. Second, we shall look at the Australian case of the Stolen Generation, where children of Aboriginal descent were forcibly removed from their parents. Third, we shall consider the case of a totalitarian society that sought to be a total institution by building around itself a wall that none could penetrate, as was the case of the GDR. The wall col- lapsed under the creative powers of the citizens it held captive, when democracy overcame bureaucracy and politics overcame economics, at least in part, marking an exchange to a different system of freedoms and repressions. Finally, we shall update the picture with a look at the case of the inmates of the Coalition prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, made infamous through the photographs of humiliated prison- ers taken by a number of US armed forces personnel.

Bureaucracy may be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for organiz-ing total institutions but it is, nonetheless, a pervasive aspect. The sources of fear that lead societies to enclose people in total institutions vary historically and com- paratively. Everywhere, criminals are confined. We are concerned, however, with more specific fears leading to total institutionalization. In theocratic Eire, even up to 1996, fear was inspired by young women’s sexuality, and became institutional- ized in the system of the Magdalene asylums, run by the Sisters of Mercy on behalf of the Catholic Church. It was a highly gendered example of what Foucault referred to as the ‘gaze’.

2. Gendering the gaze

Foucault’s accounts of surveillance and the notion of the gaze are gender blind. While Foucault was analytically acute he did not focus on the different ways in which men and women experience being the object and the subject of a gaze. The total institution needs to be engendered, as the case of the laundries demonstrates. The gaze as experienced by men and by women is different as a consequence of a politics of sexuality in which, conventionally, men gaze and desire, and women are gazed at and desired. There is no sense in Foucault that that which is being gazed upon, or over which surveillance is being exercised, is as an embodied being, with sexuality. It is pathological to feel that one is permanently under gaze in normal life but of course that would be an experience that many women would be familiar with. Think about women walking past construction sites. Not only are the attractive women whistled at, but also others who fail to make the cut are commented upon and graded.21 While Foucault missed the element of gender in relation to surveil- lance it is noteworthy that Goffman did not. One of his later works was a veritable handbook of gendered gazing, titled Gender advertisements (Goffman 1976).

In Gender advertisements, Erving Goffman sought to explore the other aspect of communication that he inherited from Mead (1938), gesture, as Richard Hoggart’s (Goffman 1976: vii) foreword makes abundantly clear. Goffman analyzes how gen- der displays affirm what are taken to be basic social arrangements (keeping women in their place) and at the same time frame and fix gendered identity. Goffman makes it absolutely clear that he is concerned with power in relation to gesture and signification:

[I]n our society whenever a male has dealings with a female or subordinate male (espe- cially a younger one), some mitigation of potential distance, coercion, and hostility is quite likely to be induced by application of the parent–child complex. Which implies that, ritually speaking, females are equivalent to subordinate males and both are equiv- alent to children. Observe that however distasteful and humiliating lessers may find these gentle prerogatives to be, they must give second thought to openly expressing dis- pleasure, for whosoever extends benign concern is free to quickly change his tack and show the other side of his power … The expression of subordination and domination through this swarm of situated means is more than a mere tracing or symbolic of ritu- alistic affirmation of the social hierarchy; these expressions considerably constitute the hierarchy; they are the shadow and the substance. (1976: 5, 6)

The text of Goffman’s Gender advertisements consists of a series of black and white photographs22 (of advertisements, art works, etc.) with laconic comments by Goffman that make his analytic points. Originally the book was a visual presentation: the photographs were shown as colored slides and the comments functioned as a verbal commentary on the visual text, which was a presentational format that worked much better than the eventually published form.23

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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