Disciplinary power

From my understanding of the class lecture and the textbook reading on Michel Foucault’s modes of power, disciplinary power is about training the actions of bodies and a mechanism that is responsible for the regulation of behaviour of individuals http://www.michel-foucault.com/concepts/index.html. Disciplinary power comes into action when a population is under surveillance and/or are being monitored by a few people of ‘power’. Disciplinary power broke off from sovereign power by virtue of the fact that it was interested in investing in and enhancing life, rather than punishing by incapacitation or death as previously seen in sovereign power. Moreover, disciplinary power focuses on structuring the individual’s behaviour and mindset by targeting “correction…[and] rehabilitation through subtle, indirect, and judgmental micro-practices,“ rather than direct infliction on the body (Pavlich, 2011, p.143). According to Foucault, power is omnipresent, it is essentially everywhere; he goes on to say that it “comes from everywhere“ so in this sense we can interpret that power is neither an agency or structure (Foucault, 1998, p.63).

We see this when Foucault discusses Bentham’s panopticon, a prison with a tower at the center of the building from which it is possible for the guards to see each cell in which prisoners are incarcerated. In this system, each prisoner is seen but cannot communicate with anyone. Prisoners are under surveillance during every aspect of their lives under the guise of reforming them for the better rather than merely seeking retribution for their crimes. The systems of surveillance in the panopticon did not require force or violence, just the mere fact of observation changed the ways in which the prisoners acted.

When making a connection to the panopticon to the real world (life outside prison), I do believe that disciplinary techniques such as surveillance do in fact create `disciplinary subjects,` I think this because I have observed that people act differently than they normally would when they think they are being watched. Just like the panopticon, people discipline themselves and behave in ways society expects them to act, for example by following societal norms and such. In society, people conform to the ideas of norms in order to be presumed normal rather than abnormal. Disciplinary power creates a body of knowledge and behaviour known as “discursive practice” which defines what acts are normal, acceptable, deviant, etc (Foucault, 1991). Till date, disciplinary power can be observed in systems of administration or social services, such as prisons, schools, workplaces, and mental hospitals.

Most people have been subjected to disciplinary power at almost every step at life as I have, though many have not even thought of be subjected to it. For instance, in childhood our actions are monitored by parents who teach us values and normative behaviours of their society (Krevans and Gibbs, 1996; Halpenny et al., 2009). Later on, we are surveilled by teachers in schools; I think it is somewhat appropriate to say that in schools teachers train/teach us to conform in acceptable ways (school policies would be a strong example). As life goes on we experience disciplinary power in the workforce (we follow and abide the policies put out by our employers). Reflecting back, I cannot remember/retrieve an instance on which I have resisted disciplinary mechanisms; I think I have been a person who conforms to societal norms.

References:
Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London, Penguin.
Foucault, M. (1998). The History of Sexuality: the will to knowledge. London, Penguin.
Halpenny, A. M. et al. (2009). Parenting Styles and Discipline: Parent’s Perspectives Summary Report. The National Children’s Strategy Research Series.
Krevans, J. & Gibbs, J. (1996). Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 67:3263-3277.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford.
http://www.michel-foucault.com/concepts/index.html

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One response to “Disciplinary power

  1. Interesting post. Good overview of Foucault’s work.

    You write that “Disciplinary power broke off from sovereign power by virtue of the fact that it was interested in investing in and enhancing life, rather than punishing by incapacitation or death as previously seen in sovereign power”. This is pretty accurate, but note that disciplinary power did not ‘break off from’ sovereign power. Disciplinary power emerged alongside institutions and practices of training, normalization, and surveillance. It covers aspects of life that are not ‘captured’ by sovereign power.

    Regarding the Panopticon, it is important to note that the prisoners were constantly visible, and aware that they could be observed at any time – but also unaware of whether they were being observed at any given moment. This omnipresent but invisible potentiality of surveillance is what fosters a disciplinary mentality.