Challenging the social sciences through the visual arts : reconsidering Foucault in the light of Field's "Little Children" (2006)

08 Mar 2012

Taking as its point of departure the validity of Michel Foucault’s ideas concerning disciplinary power, bio-power, and the privileged position of sexuality as a focal point of their combination, this article furnishes a genealogical contextualisation of the behaviour of, and the conflicts between, certain of the characters in Field’s "Little Children" (2006). Such an analysis is undertaken, firstly, in the interest of demonstrating the value of Field’s film as a critical cinematic text that reflects upon disciplinary/ bio-power as problematic – through the use of parody and tragedy – and secondly, in the interest of considering the consequent relationship between the social sciences and such forms of visual art. That is, firstly, most mainstream Hollywood films include within their narratives only conflicts between characters that can easily be resolved, in a normative fashion, within the ambit of the disciplinary/biopower discourses that constitute their context. However, in contrast, Field’s "Little Children" implicitly thematises as problematic the ways in which such disciplinary/bio-power discourses both inform subjectivity and dictate the normative parameters of social interaction. Consequently, unlike most other Hollywood films, it refrains from complicity with the discursive regimes of the contemporary era. Secondly, because Field’s film emerged from within the domain of Hollywood, its failure to comply in this regard provides strong evidence of a growth in popular critical awareness, which stands to challenge the validity of social science theories that continue to construe the disciplinary/bio-power subject as discursively myopic. This is because, as part of mainstream culture, Field’s "Little Children" indicates a dissolution of naivety and a concomitant growth in critical awareness on the part of disciplinary/ bio-power subjects – in relation to both their discursive environment and the way in which this environment informs their subjectivity. Moreover, as will be discussed, Field’s film is also not entirely a product of fiction, but rather echoes and reflects both extant social problems and forms of discursive transformation currently underway in relation to them. As such, the social sciences, to avoid falling into the trap of redundancy, can scarcely afford to ignore its implications, and the implications of similar films.