Disciplinary Power in Everyday Life

Many would say that Foucault’s Disciplinary power is not present in everyday life but I would have to disagree. Foucault’s Disciplinary power has a distinct structure to it, there are three parts to it: Hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and micro-penalties and rewards. Hierarchical observation is the few watching the many. Normalizing judgment is when the few point out the violations of social norms but not the violations of the actual law. The last thing is micro-penalties and rewards which is the punishment of deviant behaviour (not a norm) and the reward of having good behaviour (following the norms). Disciplinary power is present in everyday life to different magnitudes such as the police watching the public or as simple as a sport’s team. Disciplinary power is present in my life by the way of being involved with a sport’s team.

I play many different sports and all have a simple structure of Foucault’s disciplinary power. The Hierarchical observation applies to the Head Coach of any sports team. The head coach’s job is to watch and observe the many that are below him including other members of the coaching staff and the players. The head coach position applies to Foucault’s thoughts about hierarchical observation and the creation of the triangle or a panopticon. The panopticon is normally used in the prison system in order to try and get the inmates to internalize the surveillance gaze. As a player, like an inmate, I am always aware of the constant eye watching me from my head coach. I am always aware that he is assessing my skills and my progress with training much like a prison is always assessing the inmates of their day to day life and also their progress within the prison system. The next part of Foucault’s disciplinary power is normalizing judgement. This factors into playing sports because there is a set of norms that represent the rules for that particular team and those rules must be followed. These rules are set out by the school and are not actual laws but they conform to the idea of the social norms that the school expects from their athletes. This is similar to the way prisons have certain rules and norms that the inmates have to follow. Although these rules are not actual law, they are still followed by the inmates or athletes in the same regard as the actual law. The last piece of Foucault’s disciplinary power is the micro-penalties and rewards. In playing sports, the head coach can apply a micro-penalty to you if you show deviant behaviour (not following the norms/rules) by not allowing you to play in a game or making the team run a set of lines for that deviant behaviour. Having those types of micro-penalties would cause the player to conform to the norms because they would not want to have to sit out a game or run a set of lines again. Similarly, in prison, the inmates who show deviant behaviour might get their exercise time cut back or have less of a meal as their micro-penalties which would cause them to conform to the norms of the prison. The opposite of the micro-penalties would be the rewards. In playing a sport, the head coach might reward a player for good behaviour (following the norms) by allowing them to have more playing time or not having to run a set of lines. Again this is similar to the prison where if an inmate is showing good behaviour then the guard might reward him or her with extra exercise time or more food at a meal. Having penalties and rewards allows the few watching the many, keep track of who is following the norms and who showing deviant behaviour.

Foucault’s disciplinary power fits into many different things whether it is high scaled like a prison system or the police watching over the public or it is as simple as a head coach controlling his or her sports team. I see disciplinary power everyday when I go to practice even though it may be on a small scale, I believe that it is still present in my everyday life.

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2 responses to “Disciplinary Power in Everyday Life

  1. Interesting discussion of disciplinary power and sports! I wonder if this is the most applicable form of power for the study of sports teams. It makes the most sense when you are considering the observation, examination, and ’training’ of individual team members. When thinking of the team as a whole, though, I think that Foucault’s notion of governmental power is more applicable – especially in a context where teams are compared with themselves (over time) and with other teams based on the collection and analysis of aggregate performance statistics.

    Generally, a great post.

    Another theme that Foucault mentions is the relationship between power and resistance. Foucault suggests that all power relationships imply resistance. Do you see this in relation to disciplinary power in the context of sports teams?

    Have you looked into the sociology of sport? It is a large subfield of sociology, and there have been many contributions based on the work of Foucault.

    • smcphail22

      I believe that is true that all power relationships imply resistance. I believe that this relation is visible with sports teams because some players might argue with the coach and not accept what he or she is coaching to be right causing a strain or resistance on the coach’s values or norms. Having that kind of resistance may force the coach to change his own values and norms in order to not receive so much resistance from that particular player or the players in general. I have not looked into the sociology of sport but that sounds very interesting and I agree that Foucault’s work can be very relatable to sports possibly more than some people would think it could.