Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Xue Yujie, Camera above the Classroom, Sixth Tone, Mar 26, 2019

See also this article on the background of Sixth Tone magazine.

BEIJING — Jason Todd first discovered his school’s secret on the internet.

It was late September 2018, less than a month after high school had started. Jason was idly scrolling through his news feed on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo when he saw a trending hashtag — #ThankGodIGraduatedAlready — and clicked it.

Under the hashtag, someone had posted a photo depicting a bird’s-eye view of a classroom. Around 30 students sat at their desks, facing the blackboard. Their backpacks lay discarded at their feet. It looked like a typical Chinese classroom.

Except for the colored rectangles superimposed on each student’s face. “ID: 000010, State 1: Focused,” read a line of text in a green rectangle around the face of a student looking directly at the blackboard. “ID: 000015, State 5: Distracted,” read the text in a red rectangle — this student had buried his head in his desk drawer. A blue rectangle hovered around a girl standing behind her desk. The text read: “ID: 00001, State 3: Answering Questions.”

According to law professor Hu Lin, the lack of consent in the use of the surveillance systems creates an imbalance of power. “The schools hold the power to evaluate, punish, and expel,” he says. “The parents won’t sacrifice the students’ futures by standing up against the schools, which leaves the students in the most vulnerable position.”

Hu refers to the panopticon, a circular prison discussed by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his book “Discipline and Punish,” in which inmates are observed by a single watchman but cannot tell if and when they are being watched, forcing them to act as if they are always being watched. To Hu, using systems like CCS will have the same impact, encouraging students to simply act like they’re behaving.

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