Discipline and Couponing: A Foucauldian Approach (Review)

I read this article that I found on the Critical Theory sub-Reddit. The article was entitled Disciplining the Ethical Couponer: A Foucauldian Analysis of Online Interactions. For your knowledge; I’ve linked the article here. This piece was written by Stephanie Gonzalez Guittar & Shannon K. Carter.

This piece was a hard read for me, as it combined two areas of thought; that I previously had not combined, social theory and couponing. Initially, I was admittedly baffled by this combination. Critical theory, being something that I certainly use to analyze and dissect popular culture; I have not ever been able to understand the coupon-culture. Call this trappings of my current middle-class existence. I don’t coupon, and I also don’t have the space to store large amounts of extraneous goods earned by couponing.

I should firstly also disclose how I came to this article. Michel Foucault has, for some time now, been a source of awe. I took a class while an undergraduate student at Florida State and had to read some of his work in Amit Rai’s Literature of the Human Rights class, and I liked his philosophies, but couldn’t first-hand read and comprehend them. (The same was true of Derrida that semester, likely still so, haven’t returned to him yet) I’ve since come back to Foucault and read some of his works for other reasons, and have come to appreciate his works. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to dive into this work, was the fact that this summer I am engaging in an independent study on Foucault with some doctoral candidates and a faculty member at USC, so I thought this timely.

This piece looks at several aspects of Foucauldian elements of social control, discipline and power.  I think Foucault has also always been interesting to me; as I’ve long since been fascinated with the way power & discipline dance together in society. I think this is readily apparent in culture today. Foucault’s philosophies can be directly observed in many of every day interactions. In fact I wrote a paper in a class I took a few years back regarding this very topic.

I think one of the most poignant reflections I had while reading this work was the element of surveillance that I impose upon myself. I mean this in the very real way. We all do this; we check how we are being perceived in our everyday interactions. My initial thought regarding couponing is that I could never, for that goes against the perception of who I am, perhaps this means I should try it? But I think not, mostly as it also seems a very time intensive arena.

Some of the findings in the article surround the way in which an online, largely anonymous community build around saving money and couponing self-surveils and disciplines one another according to a (largely) unwritten set of rules; ie don’t clear the self for the next couponer.

This at the very core is fascinating to me as I often think of web 2.0 sites as being the wild west; my number one rule of the internet is to never read the comments. While some of the data the researchers collected was a bit extreme in how they disciplined one another for breaking their codes. This was done in a way called Petty Humiliations (being a force of corrective nature for the community). One such example is in relation to a couponer cleaning off a store’s supply of baby wipes and bragging. Another poster ridicules the individual for being selfish and not leaving any for other consumers.

Largely, what I liked most about this piece is it’s accessibility. This was the most concise work regarding Foucauldian philosophy I’ve read in some time. I think it’s a fantastic place to start a journey of Foucauldian philosophy.

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