Foucault (1967): Chap. IX – The birth of the asylum

Discussing the case of "the Crew" on the 28th of september 2004

By Thomas Krohn



In the following, I will suggest two points of discussion – using the Foucault-text to interpret the case of the 19-year old girl being "placed" in "the Crew". The overall keyword to the discussion will be the idea of "Freedom" - as experienced by the girl in the case. I will assume that not everyone will have read the Foucault-text – so the common knowledge of Foucault and especially his idea of "internalised control" will be enough for you to participate in the discussion. The discussion could focus on the following three quotations from the case-material:

"So you didn´t trust the clever guys?

No, Everybody was asked, what do you think, and why, - if you did show up for the meeting. Of course, if you don´t come you haven´t much to say." (Case, p.2)

"…I can decide for myself what I want to do, after all, that´s what Sjakket [the Crew, tk] is all about." (case, p.4).

"What would you do if not the Crew?

I´d be in my bed doing nothing. I was so tired of everything. School, jobs. I was unlucky. Went to work when I was attending school. In a baker´s shop I was accused of stealing, got fired. Any other places – a bit of everything. I just can´t comply with a boss, I have to learn that first" (case, p.5)


1) Organisational considerations:

What is the institutional setup of "the Crew" and what does this setup means for the girl – especially when considering the notion of "Freedom" experienced by the girl. Is a loose organisational structure necessary to ensure the feeling of Freedom? Will a loose organisational structure necessarily lead to Freedom? How loose a structure can an organisation have – without losing its status as an organisation of social work (as authorised by the conventional social system)?

2) What is Freedom?:

This seems to lead to a discussion of "Freedom". Foucault could be utilised here to discuss discipline as internalised/privatised control. Subsequently, Bronwyn Davies could be used to critically discuss the somewhat bleak approach of Foucault.

Interpretation I (Foucault): The Crew is internalising control. While the parents and the conventional social system failed to discipline the girl, the loose structure of the Crew does the trick. The girl is made to control herself – as "individual Freedom" is a necessary requirement of western capitalism.

Interpretation II (Foucault):

…yes, but this involves organisational practices in several layers. A) The conventional social system must provide the frame for this "internalised control" (supplying resources and official recognition). B) The community of the Crew must be "Self-organising" to ensure the feeling of Freedom experienced by its members. C) The girl should "feel Freedom" (be successfully disciplined). If any of these layers fail to work, the overall system of discipline collapses. What are the dangers for the Crew (as an organisation of social work) according to this interpretation?

Interpretation III (Bronwyn Davies):

…While Foucault seems to emphasise on the one-way structuring powers of the system/discourse, Bronwyn Davies would argue that the system/discourse does imply a room for individual action and subjectivity. Although the "subject-positions" offered to the girl by the Crew does not mean "total Freedom", it does provide a certain range of personal choices. Perhaps this could be seen as "freedom" rather than "Freedom"?!