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Foucault's Concept of Discipline - Essay Sample

7 pages
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University of Richmond
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Discipline, in the most comprehensive of its possible meaning, refers to an action or inaction that is regulated to be in harmony with a particular system of governance. It is commonly applied to controlling human behavior. Sometimes, animal behavior is also regulated by instilment of discipline. Moreover, discipline is applied to every branch of organized actions and knowledge among other fields of observations and study. Precisely, discipline is a set of expectations required by any governing entity including classes, fields, groups, industries, and even self. On the other hand, punishment is any form of change in human or animal's environment which occurs after a particular response which works to reduce the probability of that particular behavior being repeated in the future. It is imperative to appreciate that it is the behavior that is punished and not the individual or animal. The effect of the change in the rate at which the behavior occurs determines whether a change is punishing or not. There are myriad justifications for punishment including deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, or rehabilitation. Incapacitation could include measures like isolating the individual to prevent them from being in contact with people that they could easily harm. There exists a plethora of concepts and theories around the idea of discipline and punish, most notable being the Foucault's concept of discipline and punish. It is thus appropriate to delve into the theory of Foucault with respect to discipline and punishment. Besides, I will expound on how the theory offers an alternative theoretical approach to how power relates to the society.

Foucault's concept of discipline is a theory about discipline as a mechanism of power that controls the behavior of members of society. According to him, disciplinary power is the kind of power that can be applied to individuals in the society centered on their knowledge of how to conform to the societal morals. Individuals acquire discipline based on the kinds of messages they get from the society at large including knowledge, images, and reward of the direction their lives ought to take. According to Foucault's theory of discipline, members of society go a long way to try to be disciplined sometimes even when there are no imminent threats of punishment and chastisement. He continues to point out that disciplinary power is often implemented through contrivances that are dissimilar to instruments of sovereign power. Disciplinary power is exercised best through knowledge and surveillance. Foucault pores through the various systems of surveillance for disciplinary establishments like hospitals, asylums, prisons, schools, and army barracks.

Among the most outstanding surveillance mechanisms is the gaze. The importance of the gaze concept is outstanding since it indicates that it is not essential to be constantly on the watch since people may regulate themselves whenever they get the perception that someone is watching them. The gaze, therefore, gives individuals the sense that someone is watching them which makes them have self-discipline. The theory of gaze is inspired by the idea of panopticism drawn from Bathams idea of the panopticon, a jail design which gives a chance for prisoners to be watched by a supervisor. Panopticon is a kind of institutional building designed by Jeremy Bentham, a European philosopher, and social theorist. Fundamentally, the concept of the theory is to allow for the observation of all inmates of an institution by a single observer without the knowledge of the inmate. Though it is practically impossible for one watchman to keep watch of the inmates cells at once, the fact that all inmates have no idea whether or not they are being watched means every inmate will strive to do the right thing having in mind that they are being watched. This works magic in helping to control their general behavior. Foucault reiterates that the fundamental principle is a central inspection. He labels a prisoner of a panopticon as one on the receiving end since the prisoner is seen but does not see the observer themselves which makes them an item of information but not a participator in communication. Foucault saw the idea of panoptism as present in several establishments like schools, asylums, and even secret services embrace a panoptic way of disciplining with continuous surveillance working to maintain control of the individuals within them. It could also be reasoned that the amount of surveillance and monitoring as well as the bureaucratic nature of the society today could class the society that we live in presently as one of panopticism.

A panoptic society is one whereby the members internalize the social norms and expectations through a top-down process. As the people internalize the norms, they act like someone is watching them at any given time whether it is the government law enforcement agencies, or from surveillance cameras, or even from other agents who may also be under some form of surveillance. As individual behaviors become normalized, the expectations of how an individual is expected to act in the public slowly find their ways into the private spheres where such expectations are not applicable anymore. For instance, the behavior portrayed when one is sick. When in public sphere, it is expected that one would cover coughs and sneezes using their elbow or a tissue paper in order to avoid the spread of germs into the air or surfaces. As a behavior to avoid the spread of diseases to others, it would seem unwarranted also to apply it when going about your private life in your room, yet the behavior continues. This is a strong indicator of the power of self-surveillance. The internalized behavior and discourse finds its way into the private sphere where there is no surveillance from other parties.

The idea of panopticon was destined to spread throughout the society. According to Foucault, it is effective in making power more economic. It does this to bring development to the economy, improve public morality, and spread education. The panopticon idea characterizes the relegation of bodies which increase the usefulness of power while dispensing with the necessity of a ruler. A renowned sociologist, Bentham, builds on the knowledge that it is possible for discipline to be dispersed throughout the entire society. He even goes ahead to give out a formulation that would ensure easy operation of a society infiltrated by disciplinary devices. Furthermore, Bentham outlines that there exists two image of discipline; one is the discipline blockade, which is a walled area on the edge of society. Disciplining mechanism is the second face of discipline and is a functional mechanism to ensure power operates effectively. The change from one image of discipline to another exemplifies the development of a disciplinary society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The development of the society has links with a chain of historical procedures. First, disciplines are methods used to give assurance to the ordering of societies that intricate mechanisms of power operating economically and imperceptibly. The primary objective of these tactics is to boost the utility and docility of every element of the system. This translates into a population increase and a resultant rise in the number to be supervised. The uprising of a capitalist economy saw the start of a state in which these mechanisms could be carried out in various regimes. Secondly, there is no independence in the panoptic modality of power. Panopticism and discipline are the reverses of a process that guarantees moralities. The enlightenment that brought about the liberties also brought about the discipline. Thirdly, whatever is new in the eighteenth century is the blending of disciplinary techniques

According to Foucault, another mechanism of disciplinary power is the generation of certain kinds of knowledge, more so knowledge of the human science. In this discipline, the knowledge of social science and psychology is critical in assisting individuals to appreciate who they are. Innumerable educational disciplines and knowledge on morals spread in a society proved the foundation of which individuals become aware of the right things to do and the manner in which they are supposed to conduct themselves. Certain kinds of knowledge are produced and availed to members of society, and the knowledge gives them a chance to manage themselves in a particular manner. For instance, individuals sometimes may decide to discipline themselves to eat nutritious foods, listen politely during a conversation, join a health club, or even read the books assigned to them by their instructors on the basis of knowledge that they possess. For Foucault, the gaze, human knowledge as well as science are technologies and mechanisms of disciplinary power. Indiscipline and punish, Foucault brings two ideas to the fore. He christens the two ideas as technologies of punishment.' There are two representations of punishment within these technologies of punishment. The first is a monarchial punishment which refers to the open and torturous punishment practices which were mostly carried out before and during the 18th century, as well as disciplinary punishment referring to the imprisonment and incapacitation of offenders and their subjection to the prison officers' power. Furthermore, he continues in his arguments stating that disciplinary power usually results into self-policing of behavior through the dread of being caught in an illegal act. In linking these ideas to contemporary society, Foucault employs an adaptation of the idea of Jeremy Bentham.

Probably, the most quoted section of Foucauldian legacy is his analysis of the power relations as critical to social relations and an individuals knowledge of the world and themselves. The two elements converge in what Foucault emphasized as his primary interest: subjectivity, that is the fashion with which we relate to ourselves and the way we mingle with other people and things in the environment. The various modes of subjectivity are subject to this double relation: the interaction of the subject with itself and with others in its environment. To appreciate the innovativeness of the analysis of power relations, a note on the predominant conception of power as depicted by Foucault as juridical power seems, by every means, justified. The sword of the sovereign is the image of this power. The sword is not, however, not able to create a thing, the only method of power it carries with it is embedded in its prohibition, refusal, and concealment. Its primary tool is the law defined in negative terms like do not steal,' or do not commit murder.' On the other hand, a disciplinary power relation, which was a key objective of analysis for Foucault, is a sharp contrast to the juridical description of working of power. As a disciplinary force, power relations choose among many possible actions and are positive in this sense. For instance, do talk in this kind of way or do dress like this.' Its primary tool is not prevention through law but control through the norm which creates a positive of existence besides punishing individuals that do not conform to these set norms. In plain speech, this can be evident if individual acts weirdly in a particular situation.

Foucaults approach in discipline and punish offer an alternative theoretical approach to appreciating how power relations work in the society. In the book, he suggested myriad new ways to pore through a subject that began to weigh upon many individuals. Upon subjecting Foucaults literary works, a spirit of investigating discursive structures alongside their impact is brought to the fore. The opening of the book Discipline and Punish reveals a riveting scene of horror before Foucault establishes a series of social pra...

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