Discourse Analysis II: Institutions and Ways of Seeing

What is Discourse Analysis II ?

Based on Foucault’s work different kinds of discourse analsysis have been developed. While discourse analysis I focuses on content and communication, discourse analysis II is drawn to analyse institutions and spaces. The method also realises that institutions are crucially influencing human perception, experience, behaviour, and normative assessment. Although the second form of analysis works with similar materials, it is “much more concerned with their production by, and their reiteration of, particular institutions and their practices, and their production of particular human subjects” (Rose, 2001, p.164).

In his works Foucault examines institutions – prisons, hospitals, asylums – with regard to the system of constraints, privations, prohibitions and obligations. In Discipline and Punish (1975) Foucault analyses the way modern institutions operate with the help of new technological powers that changed the Western penal systems. He claims that surveillance, the new organisation of visuality in prisons, schools and hospitals, is effective to produce social order. With the example of Bentham’s panopticon he explains how these power relations work: People in the panopticon know there is a potential that they are being watched by a supervisor at any time, which leads to self regulative behaviour. Since they cannot see if there is surveillance or not, people tend to act according to the rules and social norms.

Foucault’s Panopticon. Retrieved from: Google Images.

Foucault argues that institutions work on one hand through their apparatus and on the other through their technologies. The institutional apparatus describes the form of power and knowledge constituting the institution. This could for example be the architecture, regulations, scientific treatises, laws and morals. The panopticon is therefore an apparatus, as it is “at once architectural design and a moral and philosophical treatise” (Rose, 2001, p.166). The institutional technologies on the other hand are the techniques used to execute power and knowledge. Examples would be the design of windows and blinds in the panopticon, so the set of tools and methods that help fulfilling the practices. However, this term is sometimes difficult to differentiate from the apparatus.

The Apparatus of the Train Station

While Rose chose to analyse museums and art galleries, I apply discourse analysis II to train stations as institutions. I recently travelled fro Maastricht to London and switched trains at Liège and Brussels. The following analysis reflects on the way in which the traveller’s behaviour is altered and regulated through the apparatus and technologies of train stations.

Organisation of passengers at the check in, Station Bruxelles Midi.


While analysing the apparatus of an institution, one focuses on the bigger picture. Rose claims that the apparatus explains how discourses are materialised in the forms of architecture and the subject position. However, one has to look beyond what is physically there and and include studying the specific discourses of culture and science. The connection of power and knowledge plays a crucial role in analysing the institutional apparatus. The architecture – or internal layout – of a train station is separated into areas where people can walk or sit and areas that are reserved for trains of staff only. Social behaviour is also regulated through social subjectivities such as staff and police controlling the people. There are several common rules that apply regarding safety and security of the passengers. People usually act according to the rules, especially because they know there is surveillance by CCTV. This relates to Foucault’s panopticon, since one never knows if and how they are being watched. In addition, the regulation of social behaviour is also conducted by the individual’s knowledge that he or she is being watched by others (Rose, 2001, p.183).


The Technologies of the Train Station

Institutional technologies are the “practical techniques used to articulate particular forms of power and knowledge” (Rose, 2001, p.175). The focus lays more precisely on what is physically there and how these objects produce social meanings. Rose’s first point are the technologies of display that are concerned with the spatial organisation of the place and its effect on the visitor. There are many examples of spatial regulation at train stations. Every station I have been to on my way to London had some kind of regulation at the different gates. The border between path and rails is indicated with the help of different colours or a yellow line that separates the people from the incoming trains. Although some people disregard these regulations, the spatial organisation encourages the safety of the passengers. Other places that regulate the directions people walk in are waiting areas at passport or luggage inspections. Due to physical barriers, such as straps or ribbons, passengers know where to line up.

Liège-Guillemins Station.


Station Bruxelles Midi.

Furthermore, there are many signs and panels reveal the directions travellers are supposed to walk to. These textual and visual technologies regulate the people’s behaviour and indicate prohibitions and constraints. Examples are stop signs, the symbols separating female and male toilets, and the arrows pointing to different areas for business class and regular passengers. The colouring of the bins tells people how to recycle their trash properly.

Eurostar Lounge, Station Bruxelles Midi.
Border Control Eurostar, Station Bruxelles Midi.









Another point are the technologies of layout, which are also linked to the technologies mentioned above. The way individual rooms are designed and decorated plays a role in the way people behave. There are specific seating, smoking, and shopping areas where passengers are supposed to do what the signs are telling them. Chairs arranged in certain ways also tell the people where to stay for instance while waiting for the next train.

Seating area at London St. Pancras International Station.




Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage.


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