lefebvre

The Commuter Train as a Disciplinary Apparatus: Bodies and Order

Abstract Shot of the AMT train cabins

Abstract Shot of the AMT train cabins Photo: Ana Patricia Bourgeois

In “Discipline and Punish” (1975), Foucault focuses on the regulation of bodies and the question of power within particular institutions, using Bentham’s idea of the panopticon. Drawing upon Foucault’s interpretation of technologies of power, as well as Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological understanding of the environment, and Lefebvre’s idea from which politics and ideologies are embedded within spaces, this research project will focus on the commuter train as a disciplinary device, therefore adding an additional layer to Foucault’s argument. We believe that commuter trains tend to reinforce existing discourses around the orientation of our bodies within this particular space, therefore acting as a disciplinary device similar to the panopticon. We hope to arrive at a better understanding of this space by unpacking the different ways it forces us to behave, as well as the ways discipline is displayed. We believe that this research paper will fit within the greater discourse of this class about how our bodies relate to particular spaces and also about what kind of ideologies are at stake within such spaces. The commuter train doesn’t only help us to go from point A to point B; it is tightly related with old ideologies and follows important paradigmatic assumptions that have been perpetuated throughout the years about acceptable ways to behave within a public space.

*Want to learn more about our topic? Ask us the full copy! 

By Sarah Bibeau and Ana-Patricia Bourgeois

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Bibliography (sample)

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Pp.195-228. Print.

Harris, Richard. “Chapter 1-2.” Creeping Conformity: How Canada Became Suburban, 1900-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. 3-45. Print.

Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty. “The Experience of the Body and Classical Psychology.” In Mariam Fraser and Monica Greco (Eds.) The Body: A Reader. Pp. 52-54. London: Routledge.

Monahan, Torin. “SURVEILLANCE AS CULTURAL PRACTICE.” The Sociological Quarterly 52.4 (2011): 495-508. JSTOR. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.

Obermeyer, Nancy J. “Moving Violations: Data Privacy in Public Transit.” Geographical Review 97.3, Geosurveillance (2007): 351-64. JSTOR. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.

 

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Blog Post 3: Authenticity & Virtual vs. Physical Bodies and Spaces

Virtual spaces are created and re-created by physical bodies in virtual form, and virtual bodies are created through virtual space, which is socially produced. (Lefebvre) What is fascinating to me about virtual spaces is that the boundaries of communication in physical interactions do not exist: bodies often communicate what they think with less guard than in physical life. Of course the opposite can be argued that bodies create a specific tailored self-image online censoring the communication they share, and this is the case when it comes to self-branding as a micro-celebrity. However, in the physical world bodies rarely interact with other strange bodies, but online this social taboo is broken unlocking vast spaces of connection and “free” communication.

98f76919Virtual spaces serve as sanctuaries for like-minded bodies. They provide a connection to other similar bodies that would otherwise have no support through traditional physical space. I personally rely on a virtual community for support regarding my lifestyle choice, as there is no physical space in my geographic location that provides connection to other like-minded bodies and support in this realm. My embodiment of these virtual communities on YouTube and Instagram have become habitual routes of travel forming my unconscious perception through my perceived space. When I am in these virtual community spaces I feel connection, support, ease, happiness, and belonging, creating a sense of home that can be felt through my embodiment online and in the physical space I inhabit at the time: sensory inscribed body. (Farman) Whether the online bodies are authentic is subjective. Some online bodies are more authentic than their physical counter-parts. For example, many introverts become extroverts when expressing themselves and connecting with others in online space, whilst in the comfort of their own personal physical space in solitude. Western  culture is built on the belief that authenticity exists, and is of great importance. People are obsessed with knowing the real truth. There is a heightened fear of “fake” people, or becoming fake yourself that drives this obsession, feeding consumerism as a solution for authenticity. Authenticity of online and physical bodies is an erroneous myth. Other bodies cannot decide the authenticity of someone’s embodiment due to intersubjectivity. (Farman)

onlinepersonaThe downfall to this lack of a social border that the physical world is tainted with is that it opens the doors to shaming, hatred, prejudice and violence through surveillance and sousveillance. In this refuge, where spaces are co-created by like-minded bodies, there also exist bodies with opposing cultural beliefs and perceptions. Because of the encouragement for “freer” communication with other virtual bodies, opposing bodies often say more exaggerated claims than they would ever consider doing in the physical world.

The regulations to keep online communities in-check is as un-just as the laws to enforce “peace” in physical space. They are corrupted by double standards, bias, whiteness, sexism, and heterosexual normality.

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Virtual space has many of the same dimensions and characteristics of physical space and should be thought of with equal importance. Virtual bodies are authentic embodiments of physical bodies and online lives should not be dismissed as less important.

 

Questions:

Is it possible to construct a fair system of conduct online without taking away bodies’ right to express themselves, or any forms of oppression?

Why is it that bodies are so concerned with the authenticity of other bodies and representations of themselves? When online bodies are created through virtual embodiment, even if their online body is completely different from their physical counter-part, isn’t there still authenticity to the online embodiment if they are creating it with?

Sources:

Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.

Farman, Jason. (2012). Mobile Interface Theory Ch. 1 “Embodiment and the Mobile Interface” (16-34) London: Routledge.

Greenwald, Richard. “Why Is ‘Authenticity’ So Central To Urban Culture?” City Lab. 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 March. 2015.

Read more about the obsession of authenticity.

 

BLOG POST #2 – RE-ORIENTATION EXERCISE

I first wrote about the floatation baths at Ovarium. People come to this place of business to attend a treatment session or to work there, so in this sense, the Ovarium environment has been constructed as a public/private space for its users, yet it is not an openly public space like a public swimming pool or a beach. It does not constitute an entirely public space because it has been produced and shaped as an experience “product” for a certain demographic of bodies, which is then reproduced by its staff and reproduced again by its users. A spa environment is, by nature of its capitalist business model, a space that entices a mostly middle- to upper-class clientele with disposable income to purchase its therapeutic treatments, products and services (and is usually the kind of place where I feel very uncomfortable, as if I don’t belong there). If you happen upon this space and have the economic means to enter as a client, then you are welcomed in.

It’s interesting to consider that the floatation bath at Ovarium is all about embodying an inward experience of gaining access to your own representational space while floating in a private, liquid, womb-like enclosure, but it now makes me think about how this state of “doing” intersects with the concept of phenomenology to turn such an experience into a commercial product. Given the steady commodification of health and wellness as a luxury service instead of a state of “doing” to achieve or aspire to, perhaps it is telling that Ovarium is located in a building that used to be a bank.

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Ovarium is a place designed to be a healing and quiet sanctuary from the hectic pace of daily life, yet there is a noticeable behavioral practice in place. The staff gently enforce the behavioral dynamic code between producers and users of what Henri Lefebvre would term this representation of space by speaking in hushed tones and maintaining the smile of therapeutic calm at all times, thereby imposing and shaping the owner’s ideology of tranquility and sensorial wellness in its spatial practice as to how a body is to behave in this space, as well as the desired experiences and/or outcomes of spending time here. Anyone who is loud or boisterous or arrives intoxicated would certainly be directed to tame their behavior and actions or would not be permitted to engage in this environment, thus reinforcing to which bodies and characters this space caters. Two people using one floatation tank at the same time is not at all allowed.

This environment hosts a very mixed clientele; no bodies that I have seen in this space are discriminated against on the basis of skin color, age, gender, or sexual orientation, yet the massage therapy is reserved by law for bodies aged 11 years or older. Although the entrance and many of the services at Ovarium are located at street level and assumedly accessible by most bodies, its spatial arrangement now makes me question how a person with physical mobility limitations, i.e.: a body in a wheelchair, could assert their independent agency to access these services as they are intended to be experienced in this space. In research, I discovered that the floatation baths are in fact not accessible to bodies in wheelchairs, although massage therapy and pulsar light treatments are accessible with advance notice to accommodate. I originally thought about how floating weightlessly in a tank of water for an hour would be a pleasing sensorial experience for any type of body, but just as Sarah Ahmed asserts in her essay A Phenomenology of Whiteness, I’ve now realized that “spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others” (157). If certain bodies are restricted from being able to indulge in a space like the floatation pods based on physical ability and economic stature, I have now begun to think critically and liken these simple floats to an exclusive amusement-like ride for a few privileged bodies among us.

Works cited:

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.

Blog Post 2: Re-orientation Exercise

My initial description of my favorite space is entirely psychogeographic, as I consider my own individual emotions and behavior in the space. In this reflection I will try to expand on other bodies’ experiences in the space.

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Erie Beach is a small residential neighborhood in Chatham Kent, Ontario. It is near the town of Erieau, which was historically a fishing and port village receiving shipments of coal from the United States. The beach is a private space and can only be accessed by property owners. Each property owner owns a piece of the beach making it a very restricted space. Since I have been visiting this space all my life as a privileged guest, the space that is restricted to most has always felt like a safe haven of freedom and lively connections to my surroundings. Although in reflection with Gill Valentine’s idea of public/private space, the private space is not truly private as it is managed and controlled by neighbors and for this reason, many bodies may not truly be themselves in the space.

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Even though the space is technically private, residents share the beach with one and other. There is a certain unspoken set of rules in which bodies must conduct themselves within this private space adhering with Henri Lefebvre’s first triad: special practice. I did not realize this special practice and performance in my initial description of the space as it has been engrained in me as “normal”. At the beach, one cannot stop and rest on someone else’s property while strolling down the shoreline, or play music, dance, or skinny dip without getting negative attention from neighbors. This reinforces the social practice that is constantly reproduced by the majority bodies within it.

In my original portrayal of Erie Beach, the space was a warm, sunny, summer day where I felt connected with the vibrancy of the bodies around me, and at peace from the serenity of my surroundings. When I revisited the space last week it was winter. The lake was covered in snow and ice, haunted by its previous entity. The skeleton of the space was still there, but its soul and flesh had changed drastically. As a socially produced space, the bodies within it were no longer vibrant, connected and loose, but stiff, lethargic and preoccupied. In one sense, the change in bodies’ orientations made the space feel dramatically different, however it was the change in the space’s physical make up that induced the change in bodies’ orientations. Thus a perfect example of Jason Farman’s theory that space is “constructed simultaneously with our bodies” (18) co-constructing one another.

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Through my memories of being in the actual space, as I gaze at the virtual computer image of Erie Beach at summer time, my body goes through the same physical sensations as it would if I was actually there. I feel my shoulders loosen, my breath become deeper, and my ears fill with the sound of the waves. This is an extension of Jason Farman’s idea of the “sensory-inscribed body”. Even in the dead of winter, virtual imagery of a space is able to stimulate my body with same way the actual space would.

Drawing from Sarah Ahmed’s phenomenology of whiteness, I myself possess white orientation in the space along with all other residents of the space, unaware of our orientation of power and exclusivity in the space, due to our ownership, politics and ideology. Along with being an inherently white space, Erie Beach is also authentically heterosexual. Both Valentine and Ahmed draw from Lefebvre in stating that the normality of a space is a consequence of constant reproduction of a certain behavior the bodies that are in that space conduct repeatedly and must always be reinforced. Next summer when I visit Erie Beach in its prime, I am going to challenge myself to try and break the norms of what is socially acceptable.

Week 8 — Notes : Locative Arts and Mobile Media

Hello! Our two readings for this week deal with locative arts and mobile technologies and the ways in which we experience them with our sensory-inscribed bodies.

Jason Farman‘s chapter helps us frame our understanding of Hemment’s survey of locative arts projects, and this week and next week’s themes of digital/online space. It is a tough chapter, so below are some of guiding points to focus on. For continuity I have also included some guiding questions to Hemment’s piece. Of course you are also welcome to focus on other parts if they are suited towards your research goals. 🙂

If you have any questions/muddy points of the readings, post a comment!

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Class 6 — Notes

This week we read three works and looked at a selection of slam poetry performances by queer artists that provided us with more concepts and embodied ideas to get at the question of the course — which bodies? which spaces?

Two of the readings assigned from the 1990s may seem outdated, but I assigned them because it’s important to have a history of when these issues and problems finally entered academia on a larger scale. Both Valentine and Knopp challenge the city/public space/the street as heterosexual. We used those two pieces as frameworks to think with Melissa Gira Grant’s evocative and high-speed Playing the Whore, which was released last year.

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Week 3 — Notes

For this week we continued to think about our bodies in space. We accrued more language with which to describe the ways we assume some spaces to be natural and neutral, but how they are actually a series of social and political decisions / processes. To help us with this we were introduced to Henri Lefebvre and the Situationist International.

Henri Lefebvre, arguing against Cartesianism and capitalism (and more!) undoes notions of space as static, universal, and a series of related mathematical systems that were developed to break space into fixed units which could be mapped over the land (abstract space). He claims that space makes up the fabric of social life and is socially produced.  The production of space occurs through both social practices and material conditions. This means that space is contingent upon and shaped by innovations such as maps, and everyday routines like finding a parking spot. Politics and ideology affect these innovations, as much as these innovations shape and affect us. Thus, politics and ideology are embedded in the very objects that assist us being who are are and ‘being-in-the-world’.

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