Relationship between power and knowledge

Discipline and Punish

In the novel Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault, have studied the birth of prison in France. The author illustrates that the techniques of punishment, supervision and discipline stretch out well beyond the boundaries of the prison. The novel primarily concentrates on the growth and change of punishment from the seventeenth century to the modern era. Foucault emphasizes on the belief that the concept of discipline, which originally sprung from military eventually, spread out into organizations such as schools, factories, hospitals and prison. Through Foucault’s novel, the reader learns that with time prisons have changed its outlook from dark and dingy dungeons into organizations which work towards educating, reforming and surveillance. By making use of the model system of Panopticon, the author elucidates on the notion of discipline and reform via indicated inspection and individualization.

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Michel Foucault analyzes the relationship between power and knowledge and explains how both of them are dependent upon each other. He writes,

Perhaps, too, we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside its injunctions, its demands and its interests.

Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge. We should admit, rather, that power produces knowledge; that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge (Michel Foucault,

Discipline And Punish, Pg. 27-28).

The point, which Foucault focuses on, is how power changes a person’s behavior completely i.e. juridical coercive power feat upon bodies to disciplinary discursive power effects produced in behaviors: from torture to therapy (Briefing). Changes or modification in the form of punishment evolved in 1789. With the coming of the nineteenth century the bourgeois cultures originated models of humanity, nation, man and woman to obtain new doses of omnipotence and restrain, which not only concentrated upon the consciousness of the individual body but also upon the consciousness of the mass of people.

With the origination of many disciplinary practices came docile bodies. This disciplinary practice included disciplinary training, normalization vision and discursive control in organization, which coupled training regiment with Panoptic supervision to explain normalities and abnormalities of the individuals and the mass of people as a whole (Briefing). Docile bodies were produced during the restructuring of the social body through conceptual vocalization and comportment administration, atypical careerism, and carceral networks of its management, turning punishment into penitentiary justice regimens, new notions of law and order, informational visions of personality, and entire modern apparatus of discursive power and knowledge (Briefing).

According to Foucault, a body is basically docile if it is subjacent, utilized, metamorphosed and improved or reformed. Michel Foucault said,

It implies an uninterrupted, constant coercion, supervising the processes of the activity rather than its result and it is exercised according to a codification that partitions as closely as possible time, space, movement. These methods, which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility, might be called disciplines (Michel Foucault, Discipline And Punish).

The disciplining of bodies could be related to imposing domination upon these bodies, but it did not mean that disciplining a person meant subjection to slavery. The sort of disciplining Foucault speaks of has nothing to do with violence and chaos. He writes,

The disciplines became general formulas of domination. They were different from slavery because they were not based on a relation of appropriation of bodies; indeed, the elegance of the discipline lay in the fact that it could dispense with this costly and violent relation by obtaining effects of utility at least as great (Michel Foucault,

Discipline And Punish).

The author points out that discipline resulted in human bodies so that they could become more obedient and more useful. With evolution made in the formation of discipline, a policy of coercion was formed which focused on the political autonomy. The political autonomy relied on mechanics of power, which defined how one body had a hold on another body and how the behavior of later body was controlled with the techniques, and the efficiency wished by the former body. By the utility of the docile body the author meant using that person economically and politically. By economically, he refers to the benefits caused by docile bodies contributing to the economy of the society, which he inhabits. A person would work in various organizations after being reformed and would teach others to reform too. By politically, he refers to the docile body, which is reformed and would not go against the rules and regulations set up by the body governing the society. The author writes,

Increases of utility which, although they involved obedience to others, had as their principal aim an increase of the mastery of each individual over his own body. The historical moment of the disciplines was the moment when an art of the human body was born, which was directed not only at the growth of its skills, nor at the intensification of its subjection, but at the formation of a relation that in the mechanism itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely.

What was then being formed was a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behavior. The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it.

‘political anatomy’, which was also a mechanics of power, was being born; it defined how one may have a hold over others’ 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 the efficiency that one determines. Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, docile bodies. Discipline increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience). In short, it dissociates power from the body; on the one hand, it turns it into an aptitude, a capacity, which it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses the course of the energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict subjection. If economic exploitation separates the force and the product of labour, let us say that disciplinary coercion establishes in the body the constricting link between an increased aptitude and an increased domination (Michel Foucault,

Discipline And Punish).

By the modality of control it is meant the continual, uniform compulsion, which is practiced in accordance to a codification that divides time and space. Hence, the author implies that discipline results in body’s individuality, which a person possesses. Through these acts of discipline, docility is achieved. Discipline as mentioned above cannot be related to force and violence since its prime function is to command the deed and position of the body. The important point to concentrate upon here is that Foucault finds discipline in monasteries and armies. Both monastic and army rules emphasize upon self-control and rule obedience.

Beneath every set of figures, we must seek not a meaning, but a precaution; we must situate them not only in the inextricability of a functioning, but in the coherence of a tactic. They are the acts of cunning, not so much of the greater reason that works even in its sleep and gives meaning to the insignificant, as of the attentive malevolence that turns everything to account. Discipline is a political anatomy of detail (Michel

Foucault, Discipline And Punish).

While referring to their stretching time, Foucault does not imply for everyone to become monks and army soldiers. Rather than just monasteries and army’s emphasis on discipline, Foucault believes that organizations such as schools, hospitals and prison should also employ discipline and convert into machines whose prime aim and objective would be to reform existent people. One way of accomplishing this is to fix people in time and space.

The analogy of both time and space are explained separately by the author. Individuals in a certain space act according to certain rule and regulations. The entire process would take place under a larger space, for example if the prison is considered to be a large space than the cells in it are small spaces. Discipline would then rely upon the position of soldiers or echelon of pupils.

Like the space, the control of time is also given a lot of significance. Once again the author relates the relation of time with the monastic way of life. He basically preserves the notion that individual persons are held in series. Disciplines cannot be used as machines for calculating time but as guidance for managing it. Just like space, time is also divided into segregation. For example the day is divided into hours, which is further divided into minutes and seconds. Hence, both time and space are seen as important objects, which discipline a person’s life.

Monasteries also practice exercises to control and discipline their lives. The performing of prayer especially silent prayer is also an exercise, which teaches a person many things such as patience and time management. The scenario, which is most common in prisons, is the chaotic illustration of all the personnel imprisoned. This, according to the author does not help or provide any advantage to prisoners.

The last object of Foucault’s concern is the notion about the body as a machine. He argues that the idea of controlling and reforming people is new. The power, which controls people, causes them to part into groups. Foucault’s group could dwell only in large groups, which were not formed by people but vice versa. To consider a person as an element of knowledge holds a lot of significance. Foucault points out that an individual cannot becomes a member of the society by signing an agreement and once he becomes a member, technology and power directs him/her.

A meticulous observation of detail, and at the same time a political awareness of these small things, for the control and use of men, emerge through the classical age bearing with them a whole set of techniques, a whole corpus of methods and knowledge, descriptions, plans and data. And from such trifles, no doubt, the man of modern humanism was born (Michel Foucault, Discipline And Punish).

Hence, the docility of the body depends upon discipline, technology and power.

Works Cited

Michel F. Discipline And Punish. Paperback Publication. May 1995.

Briefing. Available on the address http://www.olma.vt.edu/psci/courses/5214a/tim663.pdf. Accessed on 5 May 2003.


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