Michel Foucault: Disciplinary Power in Action.

The word power encompasses many different thoughts when trying to explain what it is. Some may see power as domination by one entity over another, while others may equate power to strength or the capacity to do something. Disciplinary power is the kind of power that we exercise over ourselves based on our knowledge of how to fit into society (Education Museum, 2013). It does not include coercion. Functioning through variables and changing norms, discipline manifests itself across a social network through conduits such as schools, hospitals, etc, which Foucault calls “discipline societies” (Pavlich, 2011). Essentially, it is the normalization of individual bodies. What’s interesting about disciplinary power is that we are narrowly circumscribed in advance from the choices we get to make. We try to be normal by disciplining ourselves even in the absence of threats of punishment (Education Museum, 2013).

What arise from the notion of disciplinary power are characteristics such as hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and rewards vs. punishments. To demonstrate the idea of disciplinary power, Michel Foucault analyzes the prison system, incorporating his idea of the Gaze which is symbolized through Bentham’s idea of the panopticon. The Gaze is important because it reminds us of the fact that it is not always important to watch over people because they will begin to set standards of living on their own, thinking they are being watched. The basic architectural plan behind the panopticon is this: a central tower overlooks radiating, backlist cells; the lighting allows guards in the tower to see prisoners in the cells at all times. But the guards are invisible to the prisoners (Pavlich, 2011). In turn, the gaze embodies an idea of constant self-surveillance among subjects, who become complicit in the production of themselves as normal individuals, the pleasures and pains of judgment (Pavlich, 2011). Furthermore, what Foucault calls the internalization of the gaze, it purports that the subjects who think or know they are under surveillance, will internally discipline themselves to the norm and act as if they were being surveillance. The inmates have a set of rules and conducts to maintain while in prison. If they choose to disobey and showcase deviance, they will be punished with no meal or being thrown into solitary confinement. In turn, if the inmates obey and uphold all regulations, they will be given more exercise time by the institutional guards. This displays the notion of punishments vs. rewards.

A contemporary form of disciplinary power that applies to me would be my workplace and how things are managed there. Before I was hired, I went through an interview against others for the company to see who was the better fit for their office based on a series of questions and tests in regards to my job description. Once I got the job, I was told to uphold and maintain the rules and regulations of the organization. Working in a bureaucratic office, some of these rules and regulations included being privy about the private documents we worked with on a daily basis. Many of the rules and regulations where common sense, ones that I’ve been told to uphold my whole life (E.g. Respect everyone’s work environment). In turn, I was told that if I were to break a rule or conduct I would be suspended from work with the possibility of termination. Moreover, my workplace also has proponents of hierarchical observation as staff members are given statuses such as “Director” or “Assistant” based on their qualifications and experience. Although the higher ups aren’t physically watching the rest of the staff, everyone works with a sense of discipline as if they were being watched because they want to make the least of errors as possible. This also can tie into disciplinary power because at a workplace, we’ve internally normalized ourselves to carry out our work and get it done, otherwise we could get fired. There are no coercive powers used throughout the office, we are given feedback about our work and in turn, are reaffirmed about expectations. Finally, this also showcases a balance between rewards and punishment. If we disobey rules or don’t finish work on the approved deadlines, we’re punished. If we do the job we’re supposed to and go above and beyond our goals, we’re rewarded with an income and raises.

Work Cited

Museum Of Education. (2013). Michel Foucault: Modalities of Power.

Retrieved from: http://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/michel-foucault-modalities-of-power/

Pavlich.G. (2011).  Law and Society Redefined. Canada. Oxford University Press


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One response to “Michel Foucault: Disciplinary Power in Action.

  1. You offer a reasonable review of Foucault’s model of disciplinary power. It is important to note that disciplinary power focuses on individuals, and that it is operationalized through knowledge. To discipline someone, we must know them (through observation, the gaze, examination, etc.). To discipline ourselves, we must ‘know ourselves’ and be able to relate this knowledge to some sense of the ‘normal person’.

    Good discussion of the disciplinary relations of your workplace. Foucault would note that normalization involves more than following the official rules and mandated objectives of the organization – it also involves assessing oneself in relation to ideas about what it means to be a ‘normal worker’ (in terms of appearance, demeanor, etc.).