Tag Archives: Foucault

Disciplinary Power and the Science of Persuasion

The following post was written by Zahra Sunderani, a CRIM 3305 Law & Society student:

Food for Thought: Select a contemporary example of a mechanism of disciplinary power. Briefly introduce your example – with reference to supporting sources. Then explain how it exemplifies disciplinary power, drawing on Pavlich (2011) and other relevant sources. Finally, explain the relationship between this mechanism of disciplinary power and law. You will find Pavlich (pp. 144-145) and the excerpt from Hunt and Wickham (1994) helpful.

Foucault’s disciplinary power is a mechanism of power that does not use force or coercion to obtain compliance, but instead relies on everyday institutions and interactions to allow individuals to govern their own behaviour. It is stated that disciplinary power works very differently, as it functions through “variable and changing (statistical) norms rather than laws, [and] spreads itself across a social network in highly ramified, decentralized fashion,” (Pavlich, 143).There are three key aspects to this mechanism of disciplinary power.

The first is of hierarchical observation, which explains the idea that subjects are under the impression that they are being constantly watched by superiors, when the reality is that they are only sometimes being watched. This constant fear of being monitored forces individuals to always act as if it were the case that they are being watched, in the occasion that they actually are. The second is of normalizing judgments, which sets standards to which individuals are compared with in order to determine the norm, as well as the abnormal. The third, is that of motivational and discouraging techniques. These are small actions that encourage individuals with rewards, or discourage them with penalties. (Pavlich, 143)

The animated video that I chose to relate to Foucault is called “Science of Persuasion,” and it describes the six universal Principles of Persuasion that have been scientifically proven to be effective by the research in Dr. Cialdini’s text: Influence: the psychology of persuasion. In his text, Dr. Cialdini notes that there are six shortcuts which allow persons persuade others to form decisions. These are: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus. I note that based off of Dr. Cialdini’s research, these social persuasion techniques, specifically reciprocity, create a mechanism of disciplinary power. The first, reciprocity explains how if an individual acts on the behalf of another, the other individual will feel obliged to return a favour. In a study outlined in this text, the tip percentage with relevance to the number of mints left for guests by a waiter at a restaurant was measured. In the study, giving one mint at the end of a meal increased tips by 3%, while giving two increased it by 14%. Most shocking though, were the results found when a server left a mint at a table, started to walk away, but then turned back to leave another while mentioning how pleasant their company was. This action increased tips by 23%, and the study concluded that actions where an individual is the first to give, with personalized unexpectedness will receive the same or even greater rewards in return.

This study, and specifically the tactic of reciprocity can be seen to be a mechanism of disciplinary power. Persuasion is a very strong sort of power which allows persons to act without force or coercion. When a person persuades another, there is a hierarchical power dynamic between the two, where one wants something from another, and when it is given, the power dynamic shifts. Since the server hopes for a large tip from every customer, they monitor their behaviour accordingly. They socially interact to the standards of their customers, and in this way, towards the end, they receive their reward. The standards that the customers have of their servers can be seen as the normalized judgments. If a server is not living up to those standards, they will be penalized with the lack of a tip, and if those standards are surpassed, they will be rewarded generously with a tip. The tip then represents the form of motivator for the server, which guides their behaviour up to the normalized standards.

The law acts as a disciplinary power in the following ways with relation to reciprocity. It is a hierarchical power for it allows and persuades persons to follow the rules and laws even when persons know they are not being watched. I note that part of the reason for why persons do so is because they agree with the standards that the laws hold them to. If a large group of persons did not agree with the standards of the laws, there would be uproar over them, but for the most part, in Canada, most persons are in compliance with the standard. In this way then, as the system of laws function in a way that persons want them to, they reciprocate it by complying to the law as well- creating a hierarchical power. Reciprocity also allows persons to normalize their judgments in accordance with the law as they note that everyone does the same. Following the law is so normalized, that persons who, for example, blow stop signs, are seen to be outliers. As persons reciprocate the idea of following the law to the state, this act becomes the norm. With regards to the example of blowing a stop sign, said person can receive a ticket, and they will be socially condemned by other drivers for doing so. These two negative actions form discouragements that uphold the standard of the law. When persons view that others are following the law, they reciprocate this action by doing the same, in turn creating a hierarchy of power that governs their actions.



Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Collins, 2007. Print.

Pavlich, George. Law & Society: Redefined. Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Science of Persuasion. Influence Network. 2012. Youtube Video.


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Food for Thought: Foucault and Law

This week, we examined the ideas of Michel Foucault, with an emphasis on his typology of techniques of power: sovereign power, disciplinary power, and governmentality / biopower. We focused on the theory of disciplinary power that Foucault explored in his influential text Discipline and Punish. Both Pavlich (2011) and Hunt and Wickham (1994) note that Foucault’s account of the emergence of disciplinary power downplayed the importance of law in modern regulation. Contemporary scholarship that is informed by Foucault’s ideas often involves efforts to reconcile the relationship between law and mechanisms of disciplinary power.

Food for Thought:

Select a contemporary example of a mechanism of disciplinary power. Briefly introduce your example – with reference to supporting sources. Then explain how it exemplifies disciplinary power, drawing on Pavlich (2011) and other relevant sources. Finally, explain the relationship between this mechanism of disciplinary power and law. You will find Pavlich (pp. 144-145) and the excerpt from Hunt and Wickham (1994) helpful.

Other resources of interest:

Posts prepared in response to this food for thought question must be submitted before class on Nov. 18, 2014

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Food for Thought: Law, Sovereign Power, and States of Exception

We dedicated this week’s class to an exploration of the complicated and troubling questions about the relationship between legality, legitimacy, and power that emerge from the work of Giorgio Agamben and other theorists of exceptionality.

For our final ‘food for thought’ exercise for the term, I would like to offer two options. You may choose to respond to either of these questions (but not both!).

1. Regarding the rhetoric of exceptionality

During my presentation on this topic, I suggested that, in the context of late modernity, the invocation of a state of exception involves two related moments or actions:

  1. The sovereign decision, as discussed by Agamben. This involves the opening-up of a zone of exceptionality in relation to an individual (on the basis of a deemed status), a space, or a period of time, and;
  2. A discursive act whereby the sovereign decision – the exercise of sovereign power – is explained and rationalized through an appeal to necessity / crisis / emergency

A great deal of socio-legal research focuses on the first moment / act, but it is important to note that those able to exercise sovereign power generally seem to be compelled to give an account of their decisions that justifies the state of exception while simultaneously affirming a commitment to legality.

For this food for though question, I would like you to select an example or case study that fits the definition of a state of exception. This can be from any historical period, and any location. Your post should:

  1. Provide an introduction to the case study / example
  2. Explain how this case study / example demonstrates the exercise of sovereign power and the creation of a state of exception (drawing on concepts from Pavlich’s chapter)
  3. Explain how this exercise of sovereign power was justified rhetorically through an appeal to necessity

For part 3, I am particularly interested in primary source documents or direct quotes from politicians or government officials. Please provide links and excerpts.

2. Regarding bare life and resistance

To be the denizen of a camp or normalized state of exception is, according to Agamben, to be reduced to the status of bare life – life excluded from law / politics. In explaining this, I referred to Arendt’s important comment about “the right to have rights” (a right that one cannot claim as homo sacer or bare life). This raises some interesting and important questions, especially when we consider it in light of Foucault’s claim that all exercises of power necessarily imply resistance:

What possibilities for resistance exist for those whose status is that of homo sacer?  Put differently, is it possible for those who are subject to a state of exception and therefore cast outside of the sphere of ‘normal legality’ to resist sovereign power? If so, how? On a related note, if it is the exercise of sovereign power that creates the juridico-political space of the camp and places people into this space, how can people exit the camp? Is it possible for persons to move from the status of homo sacer to a ‘legal’ status, despite the decision of the sovereign? If so, what kind of power are they exercising?

For your response, write a post that reflects on one or more of these questions. You should respond to the question and provide examples to support your position.

Posts written in response to either of these questions should be submitted before next week’s class.



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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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Modern Experiences of Michel Foucault’s Disciplinary Power

Identify and explain an example of a technique of disciplinary power that applies (or likely applies) to you. Your post should ‘unpack’ this technique and explain how and why it reflects disciplinary power. Employ Foucault’s concepts where appropriate.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Michel Foucault was “a French historian and philosopher” with a “strong influence not only (or even primarily) in philosophy but also in a wide range of humanistic and social scientific disciplines” (Gutting, 2013). One of his major works, Discipline and Punishment, focuses on the concept of disciplinary power and how it has evolved over time (1977). Michel Foucault argued that “the rise of parliamentary institutions and of new conceptions of political liberty was accompanied by a darker counter-movement, by the emergence of a new and unprecedented discipline directed against the body” (Bartky, 1988). Foucault’s book explores how army soldiers were once seen as someone who bore “the natural signs of strength and courage” with his body being “the blazon of his strength and valour” (1977). Foucault artistically explains how soldiers were born through experience, learning his profession little by little, generally in actual fighting, marching with poise, strength and honor. However, he contrasts this ideal soldier with one in the late 18th century, where the ‘soldier’ became “something that can be made; out of a formless clay”.  He explains how “one has ‘got rid of the peasant’ and given him ‘the air of a soldier.” He argued that men have become accustomed to holding their heads high, standing upright and always keeping perfect posture. They were taught to “never fix their eyes on the ground” and to “remain motionless until the order is given.” Foucault describes this evolution of a solider as the “classical age [which] discovered the body as object and target of power. It was with this example, that Foucault explained that the body can be manipulated, shaped, and trained to obey, respond, and become skilful in order to increase its forces. In his book, Foucault explains how methods such as coercion and supervision have the ability to meticulously control the operations of one’s body, imposing upon them “a relation of docility-utility” or disciplines. Foucault explains how disciplinary methods have become “general formulas for domination.” By viewing the human body as a “machinery of power”, Foucault explored this new power and how one may “have a hold over other’s bodies, not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that they may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and efficiency that one determines.” It was noted that “at the core of Foucault’s picture of modern “disciplinary” society are three primary techniques of control: hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and the examination” (Gutting, 2003). According to Sandra Lee Bartky, Foucault pointed to a new kind of ‘disciplinary power’ tied to “modern forms of the army, the school, the hospital, the prison, and the manufactory” with the aims of these disciplines to increase the utility of the body (1988). Systems of surveillance and assessment no longer required force or violence, as people learned to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways.

In regards to today’s modern society, a disciplinary practice I personally am exposed to on a regular basis is at Kwantlen University. As a student, I am constantly enclosed within a classroom to which all the desks are facing the same direction, towards the teacher. My motions, my behavior, and my work ethic are all being watched and monitored not only by my professors, but my peers as well. It is not expected that I remove my body from my desk during lecture, so I sit their patiently until granted to authority to leave for break or the dismissal of class. I do not act out in “irregular conduct”, but remain silent until asked to speak. Like Foucault described, unconsciously my body is left under the control of others. The power my professors and the University has over me is undeniable. I am under constant surveillance whether through the glances of my peers, or by the cameras in the hallways.

Another example where I personally conform to disciplinary powers is at my work. There are rules and procedures that must be followed on a regular basis, with daily tasks needing to be completed before a days end. However, Foucault would argue that these rules are not simply imposed on me, but I make sure that I follow them, while also enforcing them on others. (If I notice a task needs to be completed during shift change, I make sure to tell my co-workers what needs to be done). This is expected behavior, something everyone considers to be normal, especially if one wants to keep an income. However, we also do what we are told because we are fearful of breaking the rules and facing the consequences. At one of my jobs, only one employee is at the workplace at a time. At this job, we are not allowed to have our cell phones out in order to ensure that we give the best customer service possible. However, when days are extremely slow and there are no customers, every single employee will have their phone out, hidden from security cameras under the desk. Why do we keep it hidden? Because we know there is a chance that we are being watched, scrutinized, and later will be punished. However, this is the same reason why we make sure that our daily tasks are finished, for if we don’t, all it takes is a quick look at the security tape to find out if we actually did it or not. Other examples of disciplinary practices at my work include the use of company email (where it is monitored if I use the email for personal uses), the use of computerized “clock in” and “clock out” procedures which monitor exactly when I arrive and leave work, and the use of daily commission reports which shows whether I am doing well for the company, or need to sell more product. (By having permanent residence for this type of data on the screen, it motivates us to do better for fear of punishment or for hope of a reward). Through all these examples, I do what is expected; what Foucault would consider to be my new normal. Through Foucault’s disciplinary power concept, it is not important that I may not actually be under surveillance, it’s the fact that I think I am, therefor in turn, I have learned to monitor and discipline myself. Touché.


Bartky, S. (1988). “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” in Feminism and Foucault: Paths of Resistance. Ed. lee Quinby and Irene Diamond. (Northeastern Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 61-86.

Foucault, M., & Sheridan, A. (1977). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Gutting, G. (2003, April 2). Michel Foucault. Stanford University. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/foucault/


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Food for Thought: Foucault and Law

This week’s class focuses on the work of Michel Foucault, with an emphasis on his discussion of forms of power and their relation to law.

Our Food for Thought question for this week will focus on Foucault’s work on disciplinary power. The question is straightforward:

  • Identify and explain an example of a technique of disciplinary power that applies (or likely applies) to you. Your post should ‘unpack’ this technique and explain how and why it reflects disciplinary power. Employ Foucault’s concepts where appropriate.

I am looking for posts that demonstrate creativity, originality, and an understanding of Foucault’s ideas. The more deeply you engage with the features of disciplinary power, the better (so, an application of the key instruments of discipline to your example is a good start, but an analysis that incorporates themes of resistance and internalization will be really impressive).

Posts submitted in response to this blog are due prior to our next class.

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Racial Profiling: Critical Race Theory and Michel Foucault

Alternative Food For Thought:
You may write a post that outlines three sections of your term paper – the description of your topic and the two analytical sections that explain the topic using your chosen approaches.
This gives you an opportunity to receive some additional feedback regarding key ideas from your term paper.

Instead of addressing the original blog, I chose to do the alternative food for thought question because I felt that this opportunity should not be missed. By doing this topic, I feel that Mike gets a glimpse of our papers and could provide us with his opinions and constructive criticism which will help us better our assignment before the due date.
My term paper will address the very debatable and controversial topic of racial profiling in the Canadian society (and a few comparisons to United States), with a particular focus towards law enforcement. Racial profiling has been prevalent in Canadian history and in modern day since many citizens observe this as an ongoing issue. Racial profiling is the act of a police officers singling out individuals from visible minorities and giving them the title of being criminal. I am narrowing down the victims of racial profiling by focusing mainly on two groups have been constantly targeted solely based on their appearance, Muslims post 9/11 and African-Canadians. There are few members of law enforcement that successfully acknowledge racial profiling to be a concerning and continuous issue, where a large number of them disregard the issue as whole. The society needs to come together to eliminate racial profiling in order to live peacefully without the fear of being victimized by those in whom we bestow trust and power.
The first theory I chose to use to address and analyze my topic is critical race theory. In my opinion, the critical race theory goes hand in hand with my topic after the class lecture on critical legal studies and the presentation on “Stop and Frisk Program” implemented by the New York Police Department. What is critical race theory, critical race theory examines the relationship between power, race, and law. Critical race theory is about race and confronting racism which seem to be deeply rooted in many aspects of Canadian and American society (Pavlich, 2011). According to the UCLA School of Public Affairs: “ Critical race theory recognizes that racism is engrained in… [North American] society. The power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color”. In regards to race, theorists of critical race would suggest that racial profiling is responsible for reproducing unequal race relations (Pavlich, 2011).
The second theorist I will draw upon is Michel Foucault. Some concepts in Michel Foucault’s theory of power-knowledge which I want to and will apply are the notions of governmentality, power, and discipline in the context of the racial profiling of Africans and Arabs. From my understanding of Foucault’s work, would likely argue that “racial profiling is an expression of power” (Morrison, 2007). For Foucault, power is that which represses a class or individuals. Morrison states that “Racism is, for Foucault, necessary to the State: only with racism can state killing be justified, and only with racism can the State exercise its sovereign power” (2007). From this view racial profiling instead of criminal profiling is a demonstration of racism used by members of law enforcement to achieve a kind of “control” if you will, over society.

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