Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Foucault's concept of heterotopia

Heterotopia is a concept introduced by Michel Foucault in his 1966 book "Les mots et les choses" to describe the manner in which defined spaces which surround the subject in social existence can reduce his autonomy and even his sense of identity. According to Foucault a heterotopia is the manner in which society and culture, having power on the one hand and the interest of realizing this power on the other, define the subject through his differentiation from general society. Initially heterotopia was uses by Foucault to describe a non-real verbal space and he later expanded to term to refer to a physical as well as non-physical space.

People differed from the public sphere can be seen as subject, members of the social structure and as having free will, but at the same time they are subjects of a culture which examines, labels and constructs them as socially adapted entities. The heterotopia breaks apart the subject through his reconstitution, his "amendment" and "proper" disciplining.

Foucault argues the prisons, mental institutions and even schools are such types of heterotopias. This is because such sites are separated from their surroundings, control movement in and out of them and inside of them and thus these heterotopias are able to control them.

According to Foucault, heterotopias are almost invisible and perceived as natural by members of a society, but they are nevertheless measures of disciplining, controlling and punishing of the different and deviant. In other words, heterotopias are seen as natural, necessary and harmless when in fact they are a way for society to regulate out behavior.

Foucault believes that the formation of heterotopias is a critical process in the formation of social life. A heterotopia allows for the consolidation of a mass into a distinguished society which exists at a given time and space. The concept of heterotopia can be linked to the manner in which ideology is reproducing, creating and imposing its norm on its members. This process of social construction, Foucault says, has the capacity of differentiation the normal from the abnormal and through this to constitute a groups identity as well as the private identity of each of its members.       

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