Prompt: In-class Essay


Contributed by Jen Schell

In-Class Essay on Michel Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces’  and Joe McGinniss’ Going to Extremes

Take the entire class period to formulate an essay around one or more of the following questions. The essay should be approximately three handwritten pages (single spaced) or as long as it takes to adequately answer the question. You have the entire class period, so take your time. Make sure to formulate a plan before you begin writing and proofread the essay when you finish. You may double-space the lines if you wish, but in that case, your essay should be twice as long. Please write clearly whether you are printing or not. You may use the readings to find quotations.

When you are finished working on the essay, you are free to go. You are going to keep your essay, take it home with you, type it up, revise it, and submit it on Friday as Assignment #4. This assignment will give you practice with in class writing, but it will also give you a chance to revise your work before it’s graded.

Before the midterm conferences, we were working on understanding the definition of “heterotopia’ that Michel Foucault advances in his essay, “Of Other Spaces.’ Much of this work was theoretical and abstract. For this essay, I would like you to apply some of the ideas we discussed to a real-world space, namely Alaska.

In the first part of the essay, I would like you to think about Alaska as a heterotopia (an other space). According to Foucault, heteroptopias have six different qualities (they are listed below). Which ones does Alaska possess? Explain your choices in some detail using specific examples.

In the second part of the essay, I would like you to think about the way in which Joe McGinniss writes about Alaska. McGinniss is an outsider who came to Alaska in the 1980’s (just after the pipeline was built).  His goal was to write realistically about Alaska and explode romantic myths about life on the “last frontier.’ Briefly describe the vision of Alaska that emerges from McGinniss’ writing and explain whether or not his description of Alaska matches Foucault’s definition of heterotopia. What aspects of Alaskan life does McGinniss mention? How does he describe the people he meets? The land? The transportation? What does he think about Alaskans and their state? Which of the six qualities of heterotopias appear in his writing? Keep in mind that McGinniss did not write about Alaska with Foucault in mind. In other words, he was not specifically addressing Alaska’s heterotopian qualities. This does not mean, though, that they do not appear in his writing.


The Six Qualities of Heterotopias:

  1. All cultures have heterotopias.  Examples include:
  1. heterotopias of crisis: places where cultures put members of society who are undergoing some sort of physical or psychological change (examples include: teenagers in boarding schools or college dorms and retirees in retirement villages)
  2. heterotopias of deviation:  places where cultures put members of society who are deviant (examples include: prisons and psychiatric hospitals)
  1. Every heterotopia has a particular function. This function can change as times change. (example: graveyards move from the center of the city to the suburbs).
  2. Heterotopias are multi-dimensional. A single heterotopia can contain other heterotopias within it (example: movie theater).
  3. Heterotopias are sometimes linked to slices of time, sometimes fleeting or long-lasting (examples include: museums, libraries, and state fairs).
  4. Heterotopias are both open and closed. People can enter heterotopias and leave them as they wish. To enter a heterotopia and be accepted, though, a visitor might need to know certain information or perform certain rituals (examples include: fraternities, sororities, and nations).
  5. Heterotopias have a function with respect to other spaces.
    1. heterotopias of illusion: these are fantasy spaces in which visitors live in a dream world, which is very different from their own (examples include: brothels, theme parks).
    2. heterotopias of compensation: these are fantasy spaces in which visitors live in perfectly orderly world which is very different from their own chaotic (examples include: colonies)

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