Re: [Foucault-L] A recent question that I asked of my lecturer

I think if you look carefully at the docile bodies chapter in Discipline and Punish you will find that Foucault never says that disciplinary power actually makes people docile. It is rather that there is a military ideal in the 19th century that sees society as a machine and individuals as parts that can be molded to become efficient components of it. This ideal helps drive the development of disciplinary practices. To quote Foucault (p. 169 of the English translation): "Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of the eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature, but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine, not to the primal social contract, but to permanent coercions, not to fundamental rights, but to indefinitely progressive forms of training, not to the general will but to automatic docility."

This in no way means that docility is the actual result of disciplinary mechanisms and, as the later chapters of the book make clear, the drive for efficiency produces any number of inefficiencies and resistances. Even if the idea of resistance isn't worked out well in Discipline and Punish (it appears to an extent with the issue of prisoner resentment leading to recidivism and so forth), it's apparent by the end of the book when Foucault notes that the prison doesn't actually work and that, even today, proclamations of prison failure are invariably followed by calls to build more prisons.

There is still the issue of agency and how it is related to resistance (not all forms of resistance are agent-centred and practices of the self are not necessarily manifestations of resistance), but I think it helps approach the question of how resistance and agency are possible if this thesis that power creates docility isn't erroneously attributed to the earlier Foucault.

Best wishes,


Dr. Nathan Widder
Senior Lecturer in Political Theory
Royal Holloway, University of London
Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX


From: foucault-l-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxx on behalf of Scott Nicholas
Sent: Thu 06/09/2007 07:12
To: Foucault Mailing List
Subject: [Foucault-L] A recent question that I asked of my lecturer

Hi everyone,

I'm just wondering if anyone would care to give me their perspective on this question that I recently and I think legimately posed?:

"the question that I meant to follow up with you is: if social practices, power relations and technologies of the self in creating docile bodies are constitutive of the contemporary individual according to Foucault (this is what I believe him to be saying?) then how can the individual decide to or take the initiative to resist said relations, practices and technologies? Of course Foucault might respond by saying well we can invariably reconstitute ourselves by actively changing or acting on our environment but that seems to presuppose an active body; a knowing self certain individual(not the Cartesian variety of course); who has the wherewithall to understand their predicament accurately; and, moreover, who has the means to influence said practices, relations and technologies. This seems to imply that we are more than just docile bodies.I recall you saying in the lecture that Foucault did not account sufficiently for the psychological effects of power but this may have prove!
d self defeating in terms of his efforts to remove the subject from politicaly motivated discourses."

Is my construal accurate?


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