Foucault: Power is Everywhere

Foucault recognizes three major forms of power, based on sovereignty, discipline, and governmentality. He regards power as a constitutive force, in that power creates subjectivities (ways of thinking and being).
For this week’s food for thought question,
1. Provide a short overview of disciplinary power (in your own words);
2. Explain how disciplinary techniques create ‘disciplinary subjects’, and;
3. Describe an example of how you have been subjected to disciplinary power.
4. (Bonus) – describe how you have resisted disciplinary mechanisms.

Disciplinary power is a form of social discipline in that one who holds power can ultimately rein and rule over all existing bodies. Disciplinary power can take different forms especially seen in the prison system. By using discipline, people can soon be controlled. Foucault believed that power was everywhere. Foucault challenges the idea that power is wielded by people or groups by way of episodic or sovereign acts of domination or coercion, seeing it instead as dispersed and pervasive. Power is everywhere and comes from everywhere so in this sense is neither an agency nor a structure (Foucault, 1998). He also recognized that power was not always negative and that it does not always repress us and forces us to do things we do not want to do. He states that it can also be necessary, productive and positive force in society (Gaventa, 2003). Foucault also suggests that a major source of social discipline and conformity is power and that disciplinary power could be observed in the administrative systems and social services such as prisons, schools and hospitals. This form of surveillance and assessment did not require force or violence. Instead people learned to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways ( Foucault, 1998).

For an example Disciplinary punishment gives professionals like parole officers power over the prisoner and the judgment lies within the professionals (Foucault, 1998). His argues that with the right discipline people will inevitably discipline themselves. He calls this form of power discipline in that soldiers could be made rather than just picked. Finally, Foucault (1993) claims that ‘disciplinary power’ is exercised by those more powerful than their subordinates in order to make their subordinates behave in ways in which the ones in power wish them to.

An example of disciplinary structure is how we are managed at work. For most people when they are hired for a job they go through extensive test to make sure they are right for the job. When they are hired, they are told they must follow or obey the rules that are listed out by the company. We are informed that if we break the rules then there are punishments like suspension or even worse being let go. When we follow the rules of the work place we try to enforce the rules upon others as well. A lot of times we do not have to even brush up or read the rules because some are just known for us to follow or what we call common sense. We know it is expected behavior and when someone does not follow the rules we see this as abnormal. We also follow the rules because we feel like we are always being watched and do not want to get into trouble.

The only time I have resisted disciplinary mechanisms is at work. We started this new system where we are supposed to write every shift we start with what are goals are and the questions seem so ridiculous. It was a mandatory system implemented and when I was asked why I had not been doing the questions, I simply stated that I will not subject myself to childish questions when my work should not be based on how I answer repetitive questions they should be based on my work ethic. I believe at times when given the power of control to the wrong person, they can use it either for good or for evil. In this specific case we are asked to write down ridiculous answers because someone who is higher up with power thinks this is effective.


Foucault, Michel (1998) The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, London, Penguin.
Gaventa, John (2003) Power after Lukes: a review of the literature, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Macey, David. The Lives of Michel Foucault (London: Hutchison, 1993)—This is the most detailed biography of Foucault.


1 Comment

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One response to “Foucault: Power is Everywhere

  1. This is a great post!!

    I will open with a quibble. You write: “Disciplinary power is a form of social discipline in that one who holds power can ultimately rein and rule over all existing bodies. Disciplinary power can take different forms especially seen in the prison system. By using discipline, people can soon be controlled.”

    This requires some editing. It would be more accurate to say that “disciplinary power is a form of power that is geared towards training and normalizing bodies. Disciplinary power can take different forms (for example, the prison system). By using disciplinary techniques, people can be regulated. When disciplinary techniques are at their most effective, subjects internalize them and engage in self-discipline”.

    Good use of parole as an example of a disciplinary technique. It would be great to read a more detailed unpacking of how parole fits with Foucault’s model of discipline.

    Your use of the workplace as a case study is also an effective example. Your account of the workplace involves practices of hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement, and micro-rewards and punishments – the key features of disciplinary power.

    Your final example is great (you have my sympathies!). It seems to represent a mix of disciplinary power and governmentality, in that such exercises are based on ‘shaping the conduct of conduct’ and encouraging self-regulation.