Cultural Studies Terms/Visibility and spectacles

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Visibility and spectacles

Main Theorist

Michel Foucault


Visibility in cultural studies does not define the term physically, but as a question of discourse, according to Michel Foucault's theories of discourse and power. Foucauldian speaking an object is visible if it is spoken of or discussed - it is visible as a topic of discourse. Hence how an object is discussed does influence the object itself, because the discourse concerning it can exclude certain opinions while including others. Therefore visibility has a strong political dimension.

Colonialist nations – for example – did largely influence the discourse on Africa in order to support their position as masters. Spectacles presented “untamed tribes” like animals and thus supported misinterpretations of the evolutionary theory; African cultures were presented as “wild savages”, the Colonialists on the other hand as “nobles” (ethnocentrism). Such a discourse did clearly exclude humanistic and include aristocratic ideas for the better of colonial masters.


In order to gain a highly objective view cultural studies should also involve an analysis who or what events did dominate a discourse and how elements of discourse have changed.

Related terms




Hall, Stuart (2003). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: The Sage Publications.

Further links

Limited preview of "Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices from Google Books