February 7, 2016
In the chapter titled “The Means of Correct Training” from Discipline and Punish, published in 1975, Michel Foucault scrutinizes the ways in which modern society is ordered through discipline. Discipline, he argues, is a modality of power that ensures the obedience of its subjects not with direct violence, but with the threat of violence. It establishes and enforces power by manipulating the mind of the individual in order to control their body. This is done using three instruments: hierarchical observation, normalized judgment, and the examination. Hierarchical observation is an omniscient presence of power which constantly observes everything, with all knowledge circulating back to its center. This results in a more insidious, calculated, and constant way of controlling people. It is most evident in the architectural structure of the École Militaire, where the soldiers-in-training were given the impression of near-constant surveillance alongside a set of rules that had to be obeyed. This was done through the installment of windows in their rooms that could be looked into via the corridor, as well as raised tables for inspectors over students’ tables at meal-time, and even half-doors in latrines where a soldier’s head and feet would be visible to the supervisor. The second instrument, normalizing judgement, involves a multitude of subtle but consistent procedures of discipline (including some physical punishment, deprivations, and humiliations) that over time create the understanding that deviating even slightly from what was considered normal, would result in punishment. The final instrument of discipline, a combination of hierarchical observation and normalizing judgment is the examination. The examination is “a normalizing gaze,” by which those in power observe, judge, and punish those who are not. This is used, for example, in the school system, where students are constantly compared to one another, sized-up and dismissed if they do not exceed expectations. The existence of the individual here is integral to the efficiency of the examination as a disciplinary instrument. By controlling the will of the individual, one can control the bodies of the masses. The various aspects of one’s personality that differentiate them from the rest, are used to define each individual as a “case” that can be observed, considered, and recorded on their own. The record therefore is an essential element of the examination. It is the vast collection of written records and data of each individual which ensures that people are unequivocally accounted for, located, described, and analyzed.
Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader, “The Means of Correct Training.” Compiled by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.