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4 Kostas Dimopoulos

Foucault‘s (1980) insistence on the fact that ―a whole history remains to be written of
spaces—which would at the same time be the history of powers... from the great strategies
of geo-politics to the little tactics of the habitat‖ (p. 149) opens up the spatiality of
representations in conjunction with the questions of power-knowledge-discourse.
Foucault understands institutions such as schools, prisons, the military or asylums as sites
of discipline. These institutions function up to a certain extent for merely ̳disciplining‘ the
body. This is a more efficient way of exerting power. Rather than being immediate, direct and
targeting only a very few, this new regime of power is disseminated in a myriad of different
channels and applied through an invisible gaze, which targets and controls the many. These
new ̳technologies of power,‘ Foucault argues, emerged in and with such institutions as the
military, prisons and schools, which functioned as ̳normalizing‘ institutions. Spatial forms
such as city squares, classrooms, gated communities, shopping malls, or prisons produce
particular power effects and may enable or constrain certain actions. The key concept of bio-
power is useful here. Bio-power consists of all those technologies of power that are exercised
indirectly upon the body for normalizing it, ranking it, cataloguing it, marking it, training it,
supervising it, torturing it, forcing it to carry out tasks, etc, or in one word to transform it into
a ̳docile body‖ (Foucault, 1977). Material culture of social institutions like schools plays an
important role in naturalizing these forms of power relations.
Within the framework of social constructivism, one finds interesting sociological
contributions aiming at linking material culture with social order. For instance, one can
consider Bourdieu's analysis (Bourdieu, 1979) of living rooms, as one of the most complete
studies on this theme. While his sophisticated statistical technique succeeds in framing groups
of objects, significantly related to different "life-styles" and social status, it completely fails to
record the linking patterns of these objects in their social spaces, patterns that, according to
Baudrillard (Baudrillard, 1972) are deeply related to the dominant values of social groups and
Massey summarizing the main tenet of the social constructivism movement argued that to
be in space is not just to be situated somewhere, but rather to participate in distinct cultural-
semiotic activities anchored to, and mediated by, particular material objects and textual
representations of one‘s situationality. Places emerge from these activities as the
constellations of ―culturally specific ideas‖ about the world and lived experiences of being
embodied in it (Massey, 1994).
This study clearly falls within the theoretical milieu circumscribed by the aforementioned
works inspired by social constructivism. We have adopted an approach according to which
analyzing material culture using semiotic tools can reveal widely held beliefs, attitudes and
views of a given social community, in our case of a school community. This approach stems
from a definition of culture as the whole of the signifying practices of a community, or using
the word of Raymond Williams ―culture is the signifying system through which...a social
order is communicated, reproduced, experienced and explored‖ (1981, p.13). A similar view
is expressed by Geertz who sees culture ―as the webs of signification in which humanity is
suspended‖ (1975, p.5).
According to this approach, material culture apart from the functional needs it renders at
a denotative level, serves as a medium of signification involving social and cultural value
practices closely associated with a particular type of schooling at a connotative level.
School artifacts are not only beautiful and useful things, they are also meaningful things.
They are made to reflect status, personality, taste, etc. In other words they are not only

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