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Thoughts on staring

EP's picture

After watching the short clip of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, I started to think about the nature of staring as type of reinforcement of the social norms of our society. People stare what is unfamiliar to them, and those who are considered outside of the what is considered the norm are constantly the objects of staring. While the intention of the starer is probably not to be unkind or rude, the person being stared at can feel that they fall outside of what is considered "normal," thus feeling othered. Through the act of staring (whether it is intentional or not), the norms of society are reinforced through a subtle act. The person being stared at feels as if they do not belong because they do not fit the criteria of what is considered "normal."


samuel.terry's picture

Some Theory

The discussion surrounding the effects of staring remind me of Foucault’s text Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. In this work Foucault explains the concept panopticism. Now, the panopticon was a prison model developed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. Essentially the design places the authority figure in a position that allows them to observe all of the inmates without the inmates ever knowing if they are actually being watched at any given moment. Thus, the panopticon operates on the principle that Power should be visible and unverifiable to the extent that the actual practicing of power is rendered unnecessary. If one knows that there is the potential for surveillance through constant visibility one begins to exercise self-surveillance. And as Foucault notes this manufactured self-surveillance is not just relegated to those society finds most deviant and in need of corrective measures, prisoners, this design is replicated throughout our industrial environment in schools, hospitals, and factories. This production of ‘docile-bodies’ another Foucault term that refers to those who have internalized normative expectations to the extent that they self-regulate is absolutely intentional. Sure, we tell small children that staring is rude but all of us understand and use the act of looking at another as a disciplinary force—a quiet coercion that demarcates the acceptable from the spectacle. Judges of normality arev omnipresent; omnipotent because the enforcer of norms is society and all members within (that means you!). In this way, we all are participants in biopower, or collective surveillance, of the body-- as the subject and the object. 

juliah's picture

Strength in Stares

I had a very similar reaction to the views expressed in the video. One point I would like to raise, however, is an idea to which I was recently introduced—there is a power in being stared at. Although I am still working out what I believe this phrase to mean, the idea is deeply intriguing. Staring is considered a social no-no, and yet it is ubiquitous. While I am not trying to minimize issues surrounding voyeurism, especially when danger (be it any kind) is present, I find the idea of turning such a negative experience into something empowering enticing. Referring specifically to innocent, spontaneous, and often uncomfortable moments of accidentally catching someone staring at you, I think they hold a possibility for growth in some way. Again, these are all very ill-researched thoughts, I just found the correlation between our recent discussion topics and this vague idea I have been musing on interesting.