M Belcher — Foucault on Puberty Blues

Michel Foucault’s “Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison”, or “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison”, outlines themodern contemporary philosopher’s beliefs position on how we as humans are affected greatly by our social environment. Foucault believes that the powers existing within our society “have an immediate grip on” our bodies (65). In other words, whatever group, individual or belief has the most power within a society has a large amount of influence on how we think and why we do what we do.

Foucault also touches on how knowledge and power are essentially inseparable, saying that they “directly implicate one another” (66). This does not only mean that the more power one has, the more knowledge one gains into on certain topics; it also means that the more knowledge one gains, the more power they hold over others. In other words, knowledge does not just exist on its own without any sort of slant. For instance, if one is an expert on a certain topic, whenever they teach anyone about said topic, they are going to include their personal bias or self-interest in whatever they teach them, therefore spreading their influence. Foucault states that one’s knowledge is always “interested”–in other words, it can never just coexist, it must make a difference in how others think.

Going further into that concept of influential power, Foucault also analyzes how and to what extent these same powers shape and create what he calls our “soul”. Not at all how necessarily what one would consider the same the soul is understood when referenced in religious texts, Foucault views the soul as a completely real thing : “It is produced permanently—around, on the surface of, and within the interior of the body—by the functioning of a power that is exerted on those who are…watched, who are trained and corrected…” (67). Furthermore, Foucault explains that the soul is what we are influenced through inseparable from our self. Therefore, since our bodies are under control by power, “the soul is the prison of the body” because it is created by social surveillance and punishment (68).


One can then apply these Fouault’s concepts to Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey’s Puberty Blues. The plot of this story focuses on the protagonist, Deb, who is a thirteen-year-old Australian teenager whox isx trying to fit in with the cool surfer crowd along with her friends. The only problem is that the way to fit in with these older teens is to have sex with the boys in the group. This concept practice is upheld by a “strict code of sexual behavior” (18) that determined whether the girls were to be included in the in-crowd or not. “The boys had to be good surfers and the girls had to be good screws” (19), explains Deb. Throughout the story, Deb keeps getting pressured into attempting to engage in sexual intercourse with one of the older boys named Bruce in order to ensure her place in the popular group, although things do not go entirely as planned and by the end of the excerpt, she is unceremoniously dumped by Bruce.

Overall, one thing that stuck out to me, especially when doing my tech analysis, was the frequency and placement of certain pronouns throughout the Puberty Blues excerpt. Utilizing Voyant’s word trends chart, it was easy to see that during times in the story when the word “he” was used the most often, the words “I”, “me” and “my” were used very few times, and vice versa. It was not completely exact one hundred percent correlated,  but there was a general negative correlation overall an inverse relation between the two. In addition, the most intriguing part of this particular phenomenon issue was that the times when “he” was used the most often were during the “sex scenes” within the story. Foucault would point this out as an example of the exchange of power that happens when youhave the most knowledge within a situation have a privileged position within a certain context.  Whereas Bruce is seventeen and more sexually experienced, Deb is thirteen and a virgin. Without any knowledge of the situation, she hands the power completely over to Bruce, who uses this power to convince Deb to continue to try and have sex with him.

The biggest thing main point Foucault would state is that this story is a perfect example of the way those who have social power influence our thoughts and actions, especially within this particular unique era and society.] The surfer crowd are the people who have that power in Puberty Blues, while Deb and her girlfriends are the individuals being influenced. Foucault would also argue that the young girls’ souls would be created by this social surveillance and continue to be influenced throughout the story.



I used Voyeur Tool’s Voyant to analyze Puberty Blues. Although I applied Foucault to the text, some things became very clear to me before I even stepped back and saw the text from that standpoint. I only plugged in the excerpts from the text describing the protagonist attempting to engage in sexual activity with Bruce. Using Voyant, it was very easy to see which words were used most and when within these sections of the text. While obviously the most used words, such as “and”, “the”, and “was” didn’t help me analyze anything very much, there were other, lesser used words also stuck out within the word cloud, such as “tried”, “ugh”, and all of the words with a negative connotation (“didn’t”, “silence”, etc.).

Applying Foucault to these results, the most interesting thing for me to observe is the times when the words “me”, “my” and “I” are used in the text compared to the times when the word “he” is used. Looking at the word trends chart, it appears that when “me”, “my” and “I” are used more, “he” is used less, and vice versa. It is not exact but, in general, the correlation between the two groups of words is a negative one. This shows the give and take of power within these situations. Overall, “he” is used mostly during the sex scenes, so to speak, and these areas are the same areas where the word “I” is used especially infrequently. In general, males tend to have more power over women, in addition to the fact that these “cool kids” could be acknowledged as the power that is ruling over our protagonist. In this way, Foucault would say that the way she thinks and why she is pressured to continue appeasing Bruce is because of them.


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