Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foucault / Panopticism: Discipline - summary

Discipline, as described by Foucault in the "Panopticism" chapter of "Discipline and Punish", is a form of power which operates through bodies in space. Discipline insures the augmentation of human efficiency: making it more productive while at the same time more docile and obedient. The process of disciplination is not conducted through violence or ideology (in its Marxist sense), but rather through many micro processes of training and supervision.

Discipline for Foucault is not embodied in one specific institute (like prison which is the subject of " Discipline and Punish"), it a "technology of power" which is utilized by various institutions of power such as armies, schools, prisons and factories. For Foucault power and discipline are never something which one has, they are something one does, operates, wields. Foucault describes the formation of discipline not as a solitary unite but rather as a collection of practices and techniques which came together to form a system.

In Panopticism Foucault attacks the identification of power with the state and the law, and he offers a much more distributed notion of power as something which permeates all aspects of life, including the most intimate. In addition, power for Foucault is not oppressive, but rather productive: it does not stop you from doing things as much as it causes you to do things. One thing that power and discipline produce for example is the individual which is a subject with a sense of choice and independence which is becoming ever more controlled by power (more on the individual in the next part of the summary).

What's interesting in discipline for Foucault is the manner in which it operates on the human body which is the object of power. Discipline in Foucault's account in Panopticism subordinates the individual body to a mechanism which studies it, breaks it apart, trains it and reshapes it as a efficient and obedient body. Discipline does this is several ways, according to Foucault. First, discipline positions  individuals within hierarchies. Second, discipline breaks down actions in order to gain full control over each of them. Third, Discipline breaks down time into measurable units for tasks (you go to work 9-5). Last, discipline according to Foucault combines the forces of all isolated individuals into one massive force. Discipline, to conclude, operates on a mass of people by breaking them apart, ranking them, allocating positions and tasks. In the next part of our summary of Panopticism we will see how Foucault thinks that discipline produces individuals.

Panopticism / Foucault - summary 

Part 1:Foucault's notion of discipline
Part 2: discipline  and the production of individuals
Part 3: human sciences
Part 4: disciplinary society
Foucault's panopticism explained

More on and by Foucault: 

Foucault - "Of Other Spaces" - summary   
Foucault's concept of discourse
Foucault on power and knowledge
technology of power

Recommended books by and on Foucault: