Was professor Kim’s approach Justified?

After reading the newspaper article, I do not see anything wrong with Professor Kim’s approach. It may be an awkward situation for the students assigned the tasks of spying on the other students; but, we live in a country that protects our rights and freedoms, therefore the students could refuse to participate in the experiment. In most classes I have attended, the vast majority of students are using laptops for things that are unrelated to the lectures: surfing the web, sending email or text messaging, and looking at social networks or engaging in video chats. Not only is it distractive to other students sitting beside that cannot seem to keep his/her eyes away from the screen, it is also disrespectful to the professor. One may argue that, why bother? They are adults, they pay their money, and if they refuse to pay attention during lectures, it is on them. Our society is quick to judge and we always see fit to blame parents and the educational system for a student’s failure.Professor Kim’s approach fits well with Foucault’s “disciplinary power,” it exercises power over individuals through “hierarchical observation, normalization judgement and the examination to conform and normalize individuals. The success of disciplinary power depends on these three elements of control. “Hierarchical observation,” exercises power through surveillance; as a way to classify, punish or qualify. Disciplinary power operates by rendering its subjects visible to a perpetual gaze in which the many are observed by a few.”  “Normalizing judgement, serves as a corrective function. “Disciplines through imposing precise norms” (Gutting, 3.3).  Schools like those that any other institutions are developed as a way to discipline and exercise power over students, to get them on the right track and make them useful.  Schooling has continued in its role of creating and reinforcing, the bounds of what it means to be normal and sorting students according to the relation to the normal.

“The examination; combines both the first and second element as stated above. Foucault situates the examination method within the context of a “field of documentation:”

The results of exams are recorded in documents that provide detailed information about the individuals examined and allow power systems to control them (e.g., absentee records for schools, patients’ charts in hospitals). On the basis of these records, those in control can formulate categories, averages, and norms that are in turn a basis for knowledge. The examination turns the individual into a case—in both senses of the term: a scientific example and an object of care; caring is always also an opportunity for control (Gutting, 3.3).

Professor Kim’s approach demonstrates an effective strategy of disciplinary control. Students are told what the rules are and have to commit to being a watcher or reporter. They are subjected to “hierarchical observation” through been watched. They will follow these rules because they may feel they are been watched. “Normalizing judgements” is illustrated by creating a sense of judgement and shame for those who deviate from the norms; in turn, this creates conformity. This form of control allows students to change behavior patterns. A school system operating in this way, forms clear articulation of educational aims, coherent vision, and internal accountability. Through the examination, students are classified on the basis of individuality. The examination, demonstrates how students may be described, judged, measured and compared with others as individuals; and it is the individual that is trained or corrected, classified or normalized. The concept of knowing that you are been watched creates a disciplinary subject.

Does this mean professor Kim’s actions are justified? I would argue that, yes he is justified in his actions, although he may be sacrificing his professional integrity in order to help every student to be successful. I believe universities or colleges do more than just educate. They are the path to preparing students for career success, character development; in addition, education is the foundation for individual prosperity and social mobility. These institutions train (e.g. leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges) to help and serve others. I would not put trust in a lawyer that I knew was on twitter or facebook in class while the lecture for the day was on procedure and evidence. Professor Kim’s approach in my opinion is an effective strategy to attain these goals; thus, he has the responsibility to the students and potentially to the student’s future clients.


Gutting, Gary, “Michel Foucault”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/foucault/&gt;.



1 Comment

Filed under Musing

One response to “Was professor Kim’s approach Justified?

  1. Excellent post, Kapena.

    You do a good job of applying Foucault’s theory of disciplinary power to this case.

    I am interested in this topic for a number of reasons, one of which is a broader interest in the ethics of participatory surveillance. Foucault notes that all instances of power (including disciplinary power) generate resistance. I wonder – at what stage do you think an arrangement like this would generate serious resistance from the subjects (the students)?

    What would happen, for instance, if the professor sought to increase the efficiency of the surveillance regime by using software that tracked students’ web habits and automatically flagged suspicious activity?

    At what point does a disciplinary regime become unethical?