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Michel Foucault – Disciplinary Power, Society of Control and Bio-power, Modernity and Transion


Power is evident in all aspects of an individual’s normal life. Power is the ability to influence the decision of others even against their own will.1 Michel Foucault is the father of power definition in any social construct. He defines power in terms of “stuff,” modernity and according to relational concepts. In terms of stuff power is related to the organization of arms and authority in all aspects of culture, the sate and social institutions. Further according to his approach, he sees power to be in relation with our bodies and minds which he sees as bio-power. In other instances he sees the institution of law helping in defining the current dimensions of social control. The approach therefore faces several sub-arguments but in the end, Foucault’s approach becomes the Sigmund Freud’s definition of the conscious in terms of power. This paper therefore seeks to bring out the arguments relating to this approach in a detailed and scholarly manner.



Power is thought or related to staff or wealth possession. Bill Gates has more power because he is worth over $58billion according to Forbes magazine. In terms of bombs and guns power is evident in the nations with more arms arsenal.[1]The United States for example is the most powerful nation in the world because it posses more wealth and more arms arsenal. The Position of authority is evident in student teacher relationship. Teachers for example, posses more power in classrooms because they are able to pass the students’ exams or fail them, set easy or hard tests and much more. The local forms of wealth define the manner in which power is distributed in the society and this helps to show some form of social control in the same social contexts. According to them capitalism is related to use of wealth to coerce the forces of the world and people in to doing things even against their own will. In small situations do we find a consensus that is rational, rather people conform to the forces of growth because they posses more power in terms of wealth and authority.[2]


Foucault focus is to provide a critique of modernity through a thorough analysis of the social frame in which the subject is imminent.[3]. The juridical conception of power relations no longer, predominantly describe the way power operates in modern society.’[4]He sees that power is organized in the form of modern social institutions of democracy and control. Along this line of argument Cronin in 1996, stated that, understanding the duality of power is in line with two concepts, that power and history of modern social institutions help us in defining power along two main axes; First, they seek to effect a radical shift in the conceptual framework in terms of what we generally think about power, and secondly, they present an original historical account of the genesis of modern institutions. In Foucault’s argument, the view that power involves one individual or group exercising control over another systematically misrepresents how power functions in modern society. He argues that power is invested in institutional hierarchical structure of power relations, exercised with tacit consent of the subjects. Finally it operates I accordance with shared conception of right which sets limits to its legitimate exercise. According to Bevir, Institutions and the concepts on which they are based arise out of the more or less random interaction of numerous micro practices. That is, there are programs which the government uses to lead its people in the prisons, hospitals, asylums, the economy and social security which inform individual behavior and at the same time act as grids for perceptions and evaluation of things.[5]


Disciplinary power:  prison surveillance in the form of the Panopticon is used to maintain self controlling prisons. That is, even when a prison warder is not observing a criminal, they believe that they are being watched by the guard, hence they exercise self control. According to Tadros, in the modern world, law operates between Foucault’s concepts of government and discipline. They help in the provision key ways I which government decisions can adjust the relationship between disciplinary institutions.[6]. The economy is set in a way that promotes self control. In that, reflecting the analytical rhombus by economists help to shape the direction of the economy and its excesses. In terms of health individuals exercise control even if they are not being watched. For example, individuals will clean their teeth properly, knowing that their dentists are watching them, even if in reality they are very far away. Also cameras on the streets help define conformity, whereby individuals act in a way showing that the cameras are watching over them even if in real sense they are not. We monitor our behavior because we are conscious we are being watched.[7]

Surveillance sets boundaries for behavior for example how many customers a supermarket attendant is to see. Institutions judge and punish or reward us on our relative normality or abnormality

In this approach he brought out the concept of normalization, we behave in a certain way because we feel it is normal and believe someone somewhere is watching you. Normalization is a situation where both behaviors and ideas are established as normal. Spring on the other hand opens up to state that, discipline exploits the differences between discourses.[8] For example, observations can be passed be passed from the prison to the psychiatric hospital. The techniques of one institution can be used to direct the operations of another. While the hospital strives to gain cures to diseases the prison on the other hand fights to offer control, deterrent, and rehabilitation that constitute the desired ends. But he argues that they operate in similar ways to achieve their desired goals of discipline. The integration of institutional goals towards discipline brings about the concept of hegemony between the various disciplinary approaches of the society.

Social control: Power is not contained by a handful of individuals, but is something that passes through all individuals who are the social body. The institutionalized search for truth is what is both professionalized and rewarded. Moreover, this truth is what is important in establishing what is normal. In legal infrastructure the truth is reflective of how power relationships are enforced and reinforced and it represents how the world is visualized. For example, the western world’s respect for the truth from economists has been generational since the Middle Age. The blind trust is so much on them that people do not realize their fault even when they are misleading the world. For example when economy grows faster than the pace of environment, the result is mass pollution. But even with the pollution, the economists are still being sought for further advice on how to control the pollution. People do accept truth that is normal.

Bio-power- power that affects the body, and the mind. “ each one of us creates the limits of our own control without being conscious that we are even doing it”.[9] Power in this sense not only operates in our minds, but actually shapes our bodies: what we consider to be beautiful, the products we spend money on, why women spend time shaving legs, cosmetic surgery, time at the gym and much more. “The general demands of the population echo those of dominant power and they reflect what we want as individuals even if it negatively affects them.”[10] Peoples’ demand for things are shaped and reproduced by their bodies and their minds.


The modern world is evidently full of forms of power in all dimensions. In capitalist nations power is identified with instances of coercion and others consent. In this regard, it is evident to note that power revolves around the ability to influence other people’s decisions eve against their own will. In Foucault’s arguments, this form of power revolves around “stuff”, modernity, bio-power and other forms of relational power. Nevertheless, rationality is needed for those being influenced by these forms of social control. Because as Danny Lacombe argues that- it has become so much obvious that in every attempt to reform society, to give people more freedom ineluctably becomes opposite-[11] which he sees is a technique of domination.

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