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Michel Foucault was a French historian and theorist widely known for pioneering an "archaeological" method of history writing and for analyzing the connections between knowledge and power. Foucault's work has inspired several memes both about himself as a personality and, notably, his notion of the panopticon. Frequently assigned at the university and high school level, Foucault's writings about subjects as diverse as politics, sexuality, the Enlightenment, literature and violence have been highly influential.
Born in 1926, Foucault pursued a somewhat unconventional life path for a French academic. After various trips abroad and a colorful career, became installed at the prestigious Collège de France in 1969. Foucault's book Surveillir et punir (Discipline and Punish in English) sketched out a history of the justice system in the West and proposed the Panopticon (a prison in which prisoners are disciplined by the knowledge that they are always perhaps under observation) as an illustrative metaphor for modern society. The Panopticon has since become a prominent meme and metaphor for understanding the situation of being online.
Foucault's other work concerned "archaeologies" of institutions in the West, such as prisons, hospitals, the state, the academy and the media, challenging modern notions of "progress." He also challenged conventional notions about the possibility of "objectivity" in the sciences and humanities, arguing that what is taken as "normal" or "correct" is often the result of culturally specific processes and power relations. Foucault also researched sexuality and semiotics. Foucault died in 1984 of complications from AIDS.
Foucault died before the beginning of the internet, but his name is often brought up in conversations about the internet and its social impacts, as well as in philosophy meme circles.
A phrase from Discipline and Punish has, in particular, become widely quoted and memed on the internet (seen below).
Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labour, its authorities of surveillance and registration, its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penality? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?
For example, a Get Better Material meme posted by @renjorlas on Twitter on April 14th, 2021, mocks Foucault's apparent fixation on the subject of prisons. The tweet (shown below) gathered over 7,600 likes in roughly a year and a half.
Many have also joked about Foucault's distinctive physical appearance, comparing him to The Rock. For example, a meme posted by Twitter user @pseudolicious on April 22nd, 2022, earned over 120 likes in six months.
Panopticon refers to a piece of artwork by Adam Simpson depicting a panopticon prison system, a type of prison in which prisoners are in cells that surround a guard tower in the center of the prison block. The image has been used as an exploitable in the late 2010s and early 2020s with the central guard tower altered to represent different surveillance states.
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