Foucault News

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

Katherine Firth, 5 Ways Hogwarts Helps Us Understand Foucault’s ‘Docile Bodies’. In Barnes, Naomi, Bedford, Alison (Eds.), Unlocking Social Theory with Popular Culture, Remixing Theoretical Influencers, Springer, 2021

Hogwarts, the school in the Harry Potter novel series, controls and shapes the experiences and adventures of the protagonists in ways that are best understood through the work of Michel Foucault. Michel Foucault (1926–1984) is a French post-modern philosopher most notable for his theories of power and social structures. Foucault is one of the most influential thinkers in the humanities, and thousands of academic books and articles use theoretical tools based on his work. The Harry Potter novels (1997–2007) by J.K. Rowling are the best-selling book series in history and have become the centre of a pop culture network including blockbuster films (2001–2011, 2016–ongoing), a digital platform Pottermore, video games, spin-off books, a play, amusement parks and fan works. Foucault’s ‘Docile Bodies’, from perhaps his best known book Discipline and Punish (1975), is often taught at foundation level in sociology, cultural studies, historical studies, literary studies and education.

This essay will explain how Foucault’s understanding of the traditional school is parallel to Rowling’s vision of Hogwarts. Foucault’s theories show how school rules and norms train students to be members of modern society through classroom discipline, school sport, timetables, being watched, and being publicly punished. These are also central aspects of Hogwarts’ organisation, and they are what makes it easy for Hogwarts to be transformed into other sites of disciplinary control and observation across the series: a prison (book 3), a sporting arena (book 4), a totalitarian state (book 5), and a battlefield (book 7). Foucault’s writing is famously challenging for undergraduate students, for example, the ideas about school governmentality in ‘Docile Bodies’ are what Foucault would later call ‘contact between technologies of domination of others and those of the self’ (1988). However, Foucault’s ideas become much clearer when explored through concrete examples that are likely to be familiar even to people who have never read the books: in Hogwarts’ official institutional structures like Quidditch and House Points, as well as apparently subversive magical items like the Time Turner, Marauder’s Map and the Invisibility Cloak. These five exemplars will be the structuring principle for the essay-listicle.

Foucault Hogwarts Docile bodies Discipline Subversion Resistance Enclosure Surveillance Functional sites Machine

One thought on “Katherine Firth, 5 Ways Hogwarts Helps Us Understand Foucault’s ‘Docile Bodies’ (2021)

  1. Jessamine says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I have such mixed thoughts!


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