Thursday, December 31, 2020

Foucault’s Heterotopia explained simply

Heterotopia (hetero - different, topus - place), is a concept Michel Foucault conceived in his book "The Words and Things" (Of other Spaces) to describe how defined spaces surround the subject (the person within society, for example) lead to harm to the power of the individual , And the negation of his power and sometimes also his identity. Heterotopia is the way in which culture and society, which have power on the one hand and a defined interest in realizing it on the other, define the subject, the individual, through his distinction from general society. Initially, the term was used to describe an unreal verbal space, and later Foucault expanded on spatial reference (both physical and non-physical).           

The excluded from public space can be defined as subjects, that is, members of the social structure, who are free-willed by their very definition as human beings, but at the same time are subjects of the culture that explores them as objects, and builds them as culturally adapted social entities. Heterotopia then dismantles the subject as the object of study, allowing its redefinition through its “correcting” and “correct” meaning. Foucault argued that prisons, institutions for the mentally ill, the disabled and even the schools constitute such spaces, the Heterotopias. This is because these are sites separated from their surroundings, which completely control the movements to, from and within them. Social exclusion, which does not involve restricting the individual's freedom of movement (for example: non-representation of minorities in the media), also creates a Heterotopic space in this context.

Similar to the concept of "Hegemony" coined by Antonio Gramsci, here too it is an almost imperceptible and "natural" social means for the members within the group, to supervise, control, isolate and exclude the exceptions and the different. For most of the group members, who accept them by consent and some argue that even in humility its laws, the actual and unreal Heterotopia structures are perceived as natural, harmless and even necessary. To challenge such structures, it is necessary to deconstruct the values ​​that constitute them. At times, a stranger to culture and society may easily notice and criticize these structures, while group members will not notice them or attribute any negative meaning to them. Like the mechanisms of hegemony, this feature of the heterotopic space is one of its many strengths.

According to Foucault, Heterotopia is a critical process in culture and is a condition for the existence of a social life. It enables the formation of the crowd and its design into a company with defined characteristics, which takes place in a given space and time. Heterotopy can be linked to the way in which society replicates, formulates and creates norms of behavior and judges the individual according to them, on the assumption that society is defined, among other things, by the strangers and exceptions within it. This process of social construction, which separates the obedient public from the unwritten rules of society, and those that deviate from the norms officially and unofficially defined in it, is a process that constitutes and defines a group identity, from which the personal and private identity of each group member is derived. In his essays, Foucault addresses, among other things, the genealogy of punishment and the way in which it is used for the existence of Heterotopias.


see also Foucault's panopticism explained with examples