Disciplinary Power in the Work Place

A disciplinary technique that applies to me is the use of time sheets at my work place. I complete my own timesheet which is standard procedure. However I must get my timesheet approved by my boss. A typical work day for starts at 10am and ends at 6pm. When I arrive to work, the receptionist marks down what time I arrived, as well as when I left for lunch and arrived back from lunch. There is no one to monitor what time I leave from work because my department is the last to leave the building. Furthermore, there is no coercion for compliance, rather there is compliance based on the fear that someone may be watching what we are doing.

In completing my time sheets, I mark down eight hours per five days. It is necessary to note that I do not fill in overtime. Therefore, I am able to justify being five minutes late once in a while. The use of disciplinary power in this situation occurs when my boss signs off on my time sheet and is aware of when I was late. She is aware because the receptionist lets her know; this is an example of hierarchical observation according to Foucault.

The receptionist’s desk operates as Bentham’s panopticon. Foucault describes this is the ‘perpetual gaze’ which allows one person to monitor many.  This disciplinary power is manifest through her. I perceive her as having the authority to reprimand me when I am late, though in reality she does not. There are normalizing judgements which specify standards employees must abide by and arriving to work on time is one of them. During the beginning stages of my job, I thought that it was childish to monitor employees in this manner. However from management’s perspective monitoring employee’s comings and goings is important to ensure they attend work. Another form of surveillance to potentially monitor employees is through the use of security cameras which are located throughout the building. Ultimately, maintenance watches the surveillance tapes, however the executive director also as access to them. This is another example of hierarchical observation.

The micro-penalties and rewards given to those who attend work on time and have minimal discrepancies on their time sheets are easily approved holidays and days off. Those who have many discrepancies do not have easily approved holidays and days off.

As mentioned earlier a form of disciplinary power is the use of timesheets. The receptionist is like the gate-keeper in that she monitors when everyone arrives and leaves. This allows management to delegate duties to other employees, which decreases their duties. However, management still signs off on the timesheets therefore they hold the ultimate power.  Therefore they are able to create normal behaviour and target deviance by not approving such timesheets and possibly putting in more stringent practices for the deviant individuals.

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



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3 responses to “Disciplinary Power in the Work Place

  1. For Foucault, disciplinary power is something that is internalized. The apparatus of disciplinary power produces disciplined subjects who engage in forms of self-monitoring, self-discipline, and the monitoring of others. Is this the case in your workplace?

    Foucault also notes that power implies resistance. Are there examples of resistance to the forms of disciplinary power that you describe?

    • basaltt

      I do believe that disciplinary power has produced self-monitoring, self-discipline and monitoring of others in my work place. I think that each form is intertwined. For example our maintenance staff are highly sought after on an everyday basis therefore, they arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled shifts and are always the last to leave. In my opinion this is an example of self-monitoring and self-discipline. Furthermore, whenever the maintenance staff leave their office they always post a sign on their door letting individuals know where they are; this method has been encouraged by management, therefore they abide by it. As for the monitoring of others, I believe this is the strongest form of discipline because everyone knows whether or not our co-workers are in the office when they are suppose to be. This is due to the interactive nature of our work and if someone is not in the office then we are likely to ask someone else.

      I originally described the use of time sheets as a form of disciplinary power in my work place and the receptionist works to monitor the rest of the staff. Management directs employees to report to her when we leave the building. In my opinion, there is severe resistance from employees in doing this. For example I rarely ever let her know when my program is out of the building or when we’ll return. The biggest reason I don’t report about being out of the building is because she has a calendar of my program’s activities and because the reception desk closes earlier than my regular programming. In terms of reporting when we leave for lunch and when we arrive, my co-workers and I believe it is a form of intrusive monitoring which implies that we can’t be trusted to keep our lunch breaks to one hour. Therefore, we take our lunches within the building. In doing so, I believe we take longer lunch breaks

  2. Excellent follow-up, thanks!