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Dystopia, Power and the Subject : Orwell meets Foucault



… We shall meet in a place where there is no darkness …

Dystopia, Power and the Subject : Orwell meets Foucault

It’s a deep, all encompassing, pitch black darkness that stems out of the core of the human being. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, can you ? Or even the tunnel itself ?

George Orwell made the world sit up and take notice, and notes. Having lived through a number of political systems, from an India under the imperialist British, to a communist-fascist Spain, his writings, severely critical in nature, morbid in essence, and ominous in conjecture, drew him to the chaotic and the rotten at the foundation of societies. A vocal critic of capitalism, a stout supporter of democratic socialism — yet he could not shed off the ideological inconsistencies that sprouted from his desire for an egalitarian utopia, and his deep aversion to the totalitarian impulses of the Socialist States. His exploration of the mechanisms of institutional power inevitably carries one to Michel Foucault’s work on the subject. Foucault acutely laid bare the ‘power-knowledge’ compound that underpins the fabric of modern societies, the banal routine that is central to the disciplining of the material body and the wider population, and his intellectual products pick up the analysis where Orwell’s fiction left off.

The course will wade through the later works of Orwell, which are a commentary on the dystopia that is twisted out of a revolution ; after all, the best of men with the best of intentions give in to the draw of power. Supplemented with selected readings from Foucault’s seminal works, primarily Discipline and Punish, the focus will be on a thematic reading of the allegorical, political satire – Animal Farm along with Nineteen Eighty Four, which was inspired from a Trotskyist critique of the Soviet Union, and was a vehement attack on the all powerful, oppressive State apparatus in the guise of being a saviour. Bringing together the ‘literary’ and the ‘critical’, our journey through the Orwellian world will lay bare the tensions between the individual and the group, power and freedom, and the idea of absolute and subjective truths.

How this course works

The participants and the instructor meet on the decided weekly timing via a group Skype, for a session of textual analysis of specific sections from the material assigned that week. Through this method, the guide offers at once the keys to participants to enter and further explore the texts on their own, and a personal reading rich with originality and creative potential. Participative responses are encouraged by the instructor, across the sessions of textual analysis and during open discussions.

In the course of the second month of this course, the study of Orwell and Foucault is complemented with CineWords, our participative exchange of movie interpretation, based on A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) (more details here), selected by the guide in relation to the course. This participative sessions takes place through a group Skype.

Finally, also during the second month of this course, the group connects for a live Questions & Answers session with the instructor. The session is optional, and based on the questions of the participants.

Term Course

Duration : 8 weekly sessions of 90 minutes each
Dates and Times : decided with the participants
Modality : Skype Videoconference
Open to : All · No pre-requisites

At IST, a new edition of each course is organised upon 3 confirmed participants


Animal Farm

George Orwell


Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell


Madness and Civilisation

Michel Foucault

1961 (French original)
1964 (English translation)

Discipline and Punish

Michel Foucault

1975 (French original)
1977 (English translation)


The session dates for the next edition of this course will be set
based on the common availability of the registrants.

Session 1

An untimely demise : discussion of Orwell’s life, journey and influences.

Session 2

Individual vis-à-vis the Group :

Critical discussion of excerpts from 1984 (George Orwell)

“The Great Confinement” from Madness and Civilisation (Michel Foucault)

Session 3

Individual vis-à-vis the Group :

Critical discussion of excerpts from Animal Farm (George Orwell)

Excerpts from Madness and Civilisation (Michel Foucault)

Session 4

Power and its Use :

Critical discussion of excerpts from 1984 (George Orwell)

“Docile Bodies” Discipline and Punish (Michel Foucault)

Session 5

Power and its Use :

Critical discussion of excerpts from Animal Farm (George Orwell)

“The Means of Correct Training” from Discipline and Punish (Michel Foucault)

Session 6

Surveillance and Freedom :

Critical discussion of excerpts from 1984 (George Orwell)

“The Means of Correct Training” from Discipline and Punish (Michel Foucault)

Session 7

Surveillance and Freedom :

Critical discussion of excerpts from Animal Farm (George Orwell)

“Panopticism” from Discipline and Punish (Michel Foucault)

Session 8

The Nature of Truth :

Reading 1984 and Animal Farm with Foucault’s critical philosophy


Participative discussion on the following film, with open interpretations and cross-analyses with the text of the course.

A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) (details)

The participants will be shared the link to watch the movie online. They are expected to join the discussion after having watched the movie on their own.

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers session.

Open discussions based on the remaining questions of the participants.


Shivani Makkar

Shivani Makkar


Experience with the Texts of this Course : 4-5 years

The larger questions do not drive a person to change their reality ; the intimate and immediate reasons do. Senses lie dormant till the right nerve is struck. George Orwell reached out through the pages to strike a particularly emotional nerve, within a narrative that was entirely political. His incisive, albeit bleak, grasp of human nature and ontological queries nudged me to explore deeper into the darker side of civilisation, and Foucault rose to the challenge brilliantly. A parallel reading of these two great thinkers brings out the interplay of the body of the singular and the collective with all of its implications — social, political and psychological. While Foucault has dominated the theoretical and philosophical realms, Orwell’s novels are a vivid manifestation of those reflections. Despite the dismal reality he paints, his words are an assertion that happiness can be found in the smallest of locations, in a string of tiny pleasures beaded together, and that battles can be fought with as natural an impulse, as giving in to love.

Shivani Makkar is a research scholar based in Delhi.

Discover her courses here.



The financial contribution is open
beyond a minimum amount of

59.00 $

or the equivalent in your local currency
Check the conversion rates here

8 Sessions of Textual Analysis
1 CineWords Discussion
1 Questions and Answers session
Reading Material in soft copy
Instructor’s Notes for each session
HD Audio Recordings of the sessions


A new edition of this course will be organised
upon 3 confirmed registrations