One such institutions that Foucault talks about is the mass media and how it wields its power in defining what is social order and disorder. A major cause of social unrest in the modern multicultural Britain is the issue of race and ethnicity. The British media – both print and electronic mediums – has also been criticized for its reluctance to discuss openly issues of race and ethnicity in its programmes. The advent of new mediums of communication too has not made a significant contribution toward racial conciliation in Britain. The tendency of the native British to maintain their unique cultural identity has had pervasive effects. In the political front, Britain is still holding on to Pound Sterling even as the rest of Europe is integrating economically and thereby becoming stronger. In the social realm, “the issue of racism has become a latent one, lurking behind media discussions and TV programmes such as the recent five-part BBC White Season” which focused on what the BBC termed ‘the disappearing White Britain’, and the media’s examination of the 40th anniversary of the infamous speech by the controversial Tory politician, Enoch Powell, who spoke about ‘rivers of blood’ if immigration into the UK was not halted” (Biney, 2008, p.89).
In spite of London gaining a reputation for its cosmopolitan demography, the issues of race and ethnicity have not been superseded, thereby leading to tension between communities and even sometimes to hate-crimes. With the formation of the European Union and the attendant flux of immigrants from the Continent, British cosmopolitanism is met with an unprecedented challenge. Supporting Foucault’s view of the role of powerful institutions in defining social disorder, the mainstream media and right-wing political parties seem bent on perpetrating xenophobic fears among the native population. For example, these institutions have portrayed Eastern European workers in a particularly unfair way. Despite statistics from independent agencies showing that “Britain has accommodated the huge influx with comparatively few real, as distinct from perceived problems–and crime has actually fallen in England and Wales by 9% in the past recorded year” (Alia & Bull, 2005, p.25), newspapers carry disproportionately high reports on petty crimes committed by Eastern European workers, which is duly amplified by political rhetoric from Tory party-men. It is true that the erstwhile communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe have low literacy levels and that they come to Britain in search of low-paying manual work (Biney, 2008, p.87). But the British media and polity has unfairly extrapolated the low socio-economic profile of these ethnic groups to indicate criminal tendencies (Biney, 2008, p.87).
Similarly, some critics have asserted that the BBC is systematically biased in favour of Christianity and against Islam. This assessment was prompted by the public broadcaster’s dress code policy for newsreaders. According to Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC, “the BBC does not object to newsreaders wearing small religious symbols, whether crosses, crescents or Stars of David. But we do not believe it would be appropriate for a newsreader to wear a veil over the face, not because we favour one religion over another but because we believe it would distract from the presentation of the news” (Thompson, 2006, p.42). To be fair to the BBC, the criticisms of ethno-religious bias in this case does seem far fetched. But such instances are exceptions rather than the rule and have to be evaluated in the backdrop of Foucault’s observation that “by looking at how discourses and institutions change, and the different forms of power they mobilise, the question of how social orders differ and change, and with what consequences for people’s lives, can be addressed directly. Further, people are not the authors of society, they are not even the authors of their own actions, as the scripts or discourses they are governed by are formed independently of anyone’s purposes”.(Staples, et. Al, p.50)
Finally, the aforementioned phenomenon of convenient type casting of entire communities and groups extends beyond the realm of race and ethnicity and into gender as well. For example, there is a tendency in British media to label young women who are found guilty of violent offences as ‘ladettes’. The media houses believe that this is a consequence of the new set of attitudes and behaviour adopted by some women characters in television programmes. It should be remembered that “these images explicitly portray female aggression as an instrumental act in contrast to the traditionally expressive stereotype of female aggression” (Muncer, et. Al, 2001, p.33). Hence, it does appear that the theory postulated by Michel Foucault is more robust and thorough than that proposed by Ervine Goffman. Neither of them purported to offer a general theory of social order, but
“for both it is a result of fragments ordered in different ways. For Goffman, the fragments are individuals in social interaction; for Foucault, the fragments are discourses that organise knowledge and power. And neither theorist thought that there was a centre of power purposefully directing society: for Goffman, the making of social order is distributed across a range of different contexts of social interaction; according to Foucault, the fragments are the discourses that govern us and which we internalise in governing ourselves” (Staples et. al, p.51).