Disciplinary power

Foucault (1979) claims that ‘disciplinary power’ is exercised by those more powerful than their subordinates in order to make their subordinates behave in ways in which the ones in power wish them to. Foucault goes on to argue that power structures not only control people’s actions directly, but indirectly whereby people become easier to control to the extent that they discipline themselves to act in line with the wishes of the person or organisation that controls them.

An example is following rules at work. These rules are not just imposed on us, we also make sure we follow them, and try to enforce them upon others. We do this because it is expected behaviour, and what is considered to be normal. However, we also do this partly because we feel we are being watched or scrutinised and wish to avoid any potential penalties for not following the rules.

Some examples of disciplinary power I have observed at different places of work:

  • Swiping in and out via security pass (monitoring time spent on site)
  • Use of company telephones (monitoring for personal calls)
  • Use of company email (monitoring for personal emails)
  • Use of company internet facility (monitoring for excessive use)
  • CCTV in corridors (monitoring people away from their desks)

Some places I have worked actually employ all of the above techniques!

An example outside the workplace includes average speed cameras which are typically installed in roadworks on motorways, or on sections of managed motorway such as the M42 or M25. These devices are particularly effective at meting out disciplinary power: we make sure we abide by the speed limits in order to avoid an almost certain penalty for exceeding it.

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