Author Archives: humeanview

Facebook’s Disciplinary Power


Pictures: Left- poster depicting the philosopher, Michel Foucault. Right – picture of the owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook is a social networking site that has grown exceptionally popular in the last decade. Popular to the point that it is rare to find any one that does not have Facebook, and even less likely that someone has not heard of it. Michel Foucault, not as popular as Facebook but provides more important perspectives, writes on disciplinary power, which contain three key instruments: hierarchical observation, normalizing judgments, and micro-penalties and rewards. Foucault’s presentation of disciplinary power can be applied to Facebook with frightening accuracy. Facebook operates in accordance with Foucault’s discourse of disciplinary power, as an internalizing mechanism, and has available points of resistance.

Facebook is a social network that enables users to open an account, and depict a representation of one’s self to accepted friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances and others via the internet. According to Foucault’s application of power, Facebook is a form of power: it incorporates information/comments (knowledge) made by yourself and friends that produce an understanding of your connected social world (reality), and contains available point of resistance (Larsen, 2013). It may not be surprising that Facebook has power, but how does a social network contain disciplinary power? As mentioned, there are three key instruments (hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and micro-penalties and rewards) that intertwine.

Hierarchical observation refers to “a ‘docile’ body [that] is rendered ‘visible’ to the gaze of disciplinary apparatus” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 143). In the case of Facebook, the docile body refers to the Facebook user, more specifically the Facebook account as represented by the user. Docile body refers to the teachable or normalizing nature of persons connected to Facebook (the point will be clarified in the section on normalizing judgment). Facebook is visible to one’s accepted friends list on the social network as any comments, profiles, or “likes” are posted for all to see, or at least available for friends to see, thus a Facebook user’s self-representation is visible to their social world. In addition to friends viewing your posts, Facebook has made it so that accepted corporations may see your posts and connect suitable advertisements to your account. In other words, if you made a comment on Facebook that you enjoyed a particular movie, a company may choose to place advertisements for other relevant movies and electronics that you will see when you log on to Facebook. The point is that you and your Facebook user account are susceptible to observation (gaze), and judgment from others as well as yourself; some accepted, some not.

The ‘disciplinary apparatus’ refers to informal discipline in the case of Facebook. Meaning, it is not the case that if you do not provide a good post or enough posts, you will be issued a fine, incarcerated, or spanked by Mark Zuckerberg (owner of Facebook). Rather discipline, in the case of Facebook, refers to the sense that actions and persons on Facebook can be trained and normalized by others; ‘normalizing judgment’. Think about it, if you were to post a comment on say ‘the importance of the genealogy method’ on Facebook (if your friend list is similar to mine), you will unlikely receive many comments or “likes”, in addition it is unlikely that your friends are posting on the aforementioned subject in their comment page. However, if you were to make a comment on the recent Vancouver Canucks game or the new Hunger Games movie that came out, you are likely to get back numerous comments, “likes”, new ‘friend requests’ and/or obtain a larger amount of friends. This is a simplified scenario that depicts social response, and shows how these social responses work as ‘micro-penalties and rewards’. The point is Facebook feedback works to normalize judgments (via posts made on Facebook) and the individuals included. If you get more positive feedback from certain types of comments (micro-reward) as opposed to others (micro-punishment) than you will more likely frame similar comments in the future. Thus, Facebook works in a manner that “nurtures constant self-surveillance” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 144), you learn and adapt your comments in a manner that normalizes behavior, often without even knowing it; disciplinary power that works as an internalizing mechanism. The behavior is internalized even though not every post or comment made will be read by everyone, it is likely only some comments will be viewed by some people; ‘perpetual gaze’.

Notably, in order to be normalized through Facebook it presumes that you value Facebook at least to a small extent, the higher the value and dependence, the higher the ability to normalize. As Facebook continues to grow, and millions of people make comments it seems apparent that many do value Facebook. However, Facebook can also be met with resistance, as opposed to compliance and normalization.  This is important to note, since Foucault argues that in order for power to be available, as in the case of using Facebook, there must be available points of resistance (Pavlich, 2011). There are certainly many instances of potential resistance to Facebook that one may take: remove friends, delete entire or partial comments you have made or others have made on your page, and/or do not join or remove Facebook. These are opportunities to resist the power relation that Facebook has on normalizing individuals and society via social networking.

As Pavlich presents Foucault’s argument, “discipline spreads itself across a social network [Facebook] in a highly ramified, decentralized fashion and is not efficient when its operations are invisible” (2011, p. 143). So, the next time you log on to Facebook, think about how the perpetual gaze from others affects what you say and do. Even though Zuckerberg is not disciplining us personally, he certainly has produced a mechanism that does work as a mechanism to informally discipline us.

Works Cited

Larsen, M. (2013, Fall). Law and Society [CRIM 3305 class handout]. Surrey, B.C., Canada: Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.



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Collective Solidarity, Marital Rape, and Jaywalking

This article aims to critically analyze how the law can function in a manner that affects “collective solidarity” in connection to Emile Durkheim’s theory. I shall begin by explaining collective solidarity and connect it to Durkheim’s theory, then provide two contemporary examples (marital rape law in Canada, and the recent (2013) jaywalking crackdown in Vancouver, B.C., Canada) in order to help critically analyze the law in connection to collective solidarity.

Collective solidarity seems to refer to a group of individuals (society) that group together from common responsibilities (“collective”, “solidarity”, n.d.). In George Pavlich’s chapter titled “Durkheim Socializes the Law,” Pavlich applies Emile Durkheim’s theory to the subject of ‘law and society’. Durkheim does not explicitly use the term ‘collective solidarity’ but he does use a similar term, ‘social solidarity’. Social solidarity refers to the cohesion that holds society together (Pavlich, 2011). According to Durkheim, social solidarity is a moral phenomena, therefore it cannot be directly measured, but social solidarity can be measured indirectly through the law (Larsen, 2013).

Durkheim asserts that law functions in a manner that can be empirically measured to represent social solidarity, since the law reaffirms a society’s norms and values (Pavlich, 2011). For instance, in Canada prior to 1983, it was legal for a person to rape their spouse (marital rape), which changed in 1983 (Koshan, 2010). In this example, according to Durkheim’s theory, he would assert that the current ‘collective conscious’ (society’s norms and values) believes rape, even with one’s spouse, is immoral; while, prior to 1983, the collective conscious did not believe that raping one’s spouse was immoral. The point being that society’s norms and values are represented through the law, so in order to understand these norms and values one can measure the laws and functions of the law. By reaffirming these norms and values, Durkheim believes, the law functions in a way that can promote collective solidarity.

I believe there are two main elements for how the law functions in a manner that affects collective solidarity: codification of the law, and discretionary powers derived from the law. The codification of the law refers to the language of the laws; the written laws themselves. This form connects to the marital rape law example, which (since 1983) is written in a manner that promotes collective solidarity (bonding people through common responsibilities): everyone’s desire for safety and well-being, and everyone’s responsibility to not harm others. The latter element, discretionary powers that derive from the law, connects to the persons that impose the law, for example judges, police officers, and border guards all have discretionary powers.

The discretionary powers element is more problematic than the codified element, since the codified element is susceptible to more scrutiny because it is openly available to everyone. In addition the codified laws have more checks and balances in place (e.g. the legislative process and the Canadian Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) that help ensure laws are written in a fair and just manner. On the other hand, discretionary powers are less susceptible to public scrutiny, and more susceptible to subjectivity; individual judgments and biases. For instance, a judge may favor certain litigating/mitigating factors in a case, or a police officer may stereotype a person (based on class, age, race, gender, etc.). In both cases, these subjective factors can affect a person’s judgment whether to act and how to act in different circumstances.

In the marital rape law example, the law functions in a manner that promoted collective solidarity, however the law does not always function in a positive manner, rather there are instances in which the law functions in a manner that stifles or prevents collective solidarity. An example of the law functioning in a manner that prevents collective solidarity is the recent rise in jaywalking tickets to persons on the downtown eastside of Vancouver, B.C., Canada (DTES). Vancouver police officers have significantly increased fines to persons on the DTES which largely affects persons that most often walk through the area, whom are predominantly persons of low socioeconomic status (Lazaruk, 2013 & Downtown Eastside Ticketing, 2013). The DTES has a high rate of pedestrian connected accidents, which is partly due to a high number of jaywalkers (Lazaruk, 2013 & Downtown Eastside Ticketing, 2013). However, the DTES also has a high number of motor vehicle violations, typically speeders, since few people follow the 30 km/h speed limit. Both acts are enforceable by law, yet the focus has been on jaywalkers. In this example, the discretionary power (Vancouver police officers) is targeting these walkers, while (largely) ignoring drivers in the same area.

In this case, all persons have a common responsibility, public safety, yet one group is being targeted and another ignored. Thus, the law is functioning in a manner that prevents collective solidarity, since the targeted group cannot feel connected to the rest even though both groups have similar responsibilities. From this I believe Durkheim is correct in believing that the law functions in a manner that affects collective solidarity, but as exemplified the effect is not always positive.


Collective. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.). Retrieved from

Downtown Eastside Ticketing By Vancouver Police Slammed in Complaint. (2013, September 17). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Koshan, J. (2010). The Legal Treatment of Marital Rape and Women’s Equality: An Analysis of the Canadian Experience. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from

Larsen, M. (2013, Fall). Law, Order, and Social Solidarity. [CRIM 3305 class handout]. Surrey, canada: Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Lazaruk, S. (2013, September 17). Downtown Eastside residents say they are unfairly targeted for  jaywalking, panhandling. Postmedia News. Retrieved from

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Toronto, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Solidarity. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.). Retrieved from


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