Researchers use different ways in doing their crafts. Even when studying the same thing, one may employ a procedure distinctive from what has been previously used. This is because there are various ways on how to look at things and this diversity produces abundant knowledge available for man’s scrutiny. Such is the case with Michael Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” and Erving Goffman’s “Asylums”.
In the mentioned works although the core idea is the same, which basically is the role of prison cells or asylums in relation to the people confined in them, which help define how social controls are experienced by people in modern society; they differed in their focus, thus providing the variations between their outputs. Michael Foucault chose to examine the bigger picture by analyzing the society in its entirety. His focus was more global rather than personal and he gathered ideas using previously written literatures.
For him, the accepted norms of the society define the culture and ways on which power is used and distributed. His theories are developed based on the interpretation of ideas of other researchers who made previous studies about the topic he is tackling and he did not conduct direct research. Thus, his interpretations of innocent, insane, criminals, outsiders and insiders are anchored to the status quo standards and his focus is broad. On the other hand Erving Goffman’s approach was more personal and his focus is narrower.
He analyzed the accepted rules concerning nonverbal individual interactions in the development of his theories. Unlike Foucault, he conducted his own research and immersed himself in the community observing the actual movements and behaviour of the people there. He saw the importance of even the most basic actions such as body movement, eye contact and posture in understanding the feeling of people towards things or the situation they find themselves in. His focus was on the individuals rather than the society.
Thus, his daily interaction with his subjects as well as the most basic descriptions of those individuals constituted the greatest part of his work. Based on the approaches that Foucault and Goffman used in their works, I can say that I prefer the latter because of his firsthand account and understanding of the thing he was studying. Being able to have yourself immersed in the community you are trying to study, in my opinion, will give you an accurate idea of what is actually happening.
You will be able to give a more personal interpretation of the situation as well because you are able to experience them yourself. Thus, when you do your analysis, you can draw from your practical understanding of things basing it on what you saw with your own eyes and how you felt when you were in the same situation and condition as with your subjects. However, that choice is not intended to undermine Foucault’s approach because his was also useful in understanding people’s reactions to social controls.
What he provided is an explanation of how such institutions are generally seen by the society, Goffman provided the specifics. These two intellectuals in a sense seem to complement each other because Foucault draws understanding from people who made in-depth researches the way Goffman does. In the texts, Foucault provided knowledge of the relationship of prisons to society while Goffman showed the relationship between the prisoners and the asylum.
Thus, in understanding the main topic, taking both works in consideration will provide a more complete and better comprehension of the matter at hand. The approaches researchers use in developing their theories will often differ because people have varying perspectives and they do things based on their personal preferences and the practices they are accustomed with. Nevertheless, that does not make one idea superior over another. In fact, that is what makes literature rich.