Closely related to Foucault’s analysis of power and knowledge is his concept of “discipline” or disciplines which appear in his famous book Discipline and Punish.
Discipline for Foucault is a type of power, a modality for its exercise. It comprises a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets. It is a “physics” of power, an “anatomy” of power, or a technology of power.
Disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human groups with the following aims: to exercise power at the lowest cost and maximum efficiency and effectiveness; to increase the docility and utility of the people who are disciplined.
According to Foucault's analysis disciplines emerged in the course of 18th-19th centuries in Western Europe at the historical conjuncture of two processes: (a) The increase in national populations, and the increase in the population of institutions which needed to be controlled (such as schools, hospitals, prisons, armies, etc.) (b) The growth in the productive apparatus (the production of commodities, and the “production” of health, education, etc.)
What distinguished the disciplines from previous forms of power based on repression and violence are the following features:
n Discipline objectifies the people on whom it is applied. This type of power forms a body of knowledge about the individuals it disciplines, rather than the deployment of visible signs of sovereignty.
n Population increase and growth of capitalism are interrelated. Disciplining techniques would not have been possible without the latter, or useful, without the former.
n There is a parallel between the emergence of a formally egalitarian juridical framework and a parliamentary, representative political regime in
Western Europe, and the development
and generalization of disciplinary mechanisms.
è Representative regime promises sovereignty by the people, but at the same time, panopticism and the disciplines guarantee submission of the people.
“The ‘Enlightenment,’ which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines.”
The main example that Foucault uses here is the “Panopticon,” a surveillance technique “invented” by Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian theorist, for the observation of prisoners. The panopticon consisted of a tower from which, the prisoners down on the ground could be watched at all times.
According to Foucault, in the modern prison system, “the codified power to punish becomes the disciplinary power to observe.”
Foucault's idea about the panopticon or more generally with the disciplines is that, when one knows that one is being watched, one becomes more docile and more “useful.” Thus, discipline is a more efficient instrument of power than repression.