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Sovereign and Disciplinary Power

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 20, 2005
Latest Update: September 20, 2005

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takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site Covalaeski's Power Goes to School: Teachers, Students, and Discipline

Introduction

The "life style" with which most of us are familiar today, and which most of us accept without question is based on sovereign authority and the rule-based hierarchical control that has grown from it. This is essentially an outgrowth of imperialism and/or feudal society. We still follow this life style in matters of declaring pre-emptive wars and exerting the power of control over other sovereign nations, like Iraq, when we figure we've got enough arms and money to generate the power to do so.

Concepts

  • legitimacy - quality of according with the power recognized by the people of the territory in question

  • sovereign power - the power exercised by the king, ruler, president, based on his/her elected or inherited or violently won "legitimacy"

    From Covaleski's Power Goes to School:

    "As Foucault describes in the first part of Discipline and Punish, sovereign power is that form expressed in recognizable ways through particular and identifiable individuals. The “nodes” of this form of power are the king, the prince, and the agents thereof. These individuals are visible agents of power, known by others and by themselves to be such. Sovereign power is also typified by the intermittency with which it is exercised. It assesses taxes, enforces the law by exacting penalties for violations thereof, raises armies in time of war, and so on. But each of these cases where sovereign power flexes is discrete; it acts in response to a certain set of circumstances and through a specific and identifiable agent or set of agents. When sovereign power operates, we know that we have been acted upon, in what ways, and by whom. The complement to this is the understanding that most of one’s life is beyond the control of the sovereign."

  • disciplinary power - the power exercised by those who represent the soverign authority in everyday transactions by their own or the sovereign's rules. Rule-based authority.
    "It is more difficult to ascertain the precise nature of disciplinary power since one of its distinguishing features is the swiftness and lightness with which it acts, thus rendering it substantially less visible than sovereign power. Briefly, we can state three differences: (1) sovereign power operates through specific visible agents; disciplinary power is diffuse in its operation, coming from everywhere and acting on everyone; (2) because of its visibility, sovereign power is susceptible to resistance, while disciplinary power, invisible and all-pervasive, is difficult to locate, and therefore difficult to resist; and (3) while sovereign power affects only a small portion of an individual’s life, disciplinary power affects virtually all aspects of living, subjecting everyone to the possibility of surveillance at all times.

    "First of all, the disciplinary society controls not through the direct application of power by the sovereign or his agent, but through an impersonal and invisible gaze. The efficiency of disciplinary power is closely related to its invisibility compared with the visible sovereign. For disciplinary power to be effective, it is the subject, not the power, which must be seen. This relationship of visibility and invisibility is reciprocal; for the subject to be disciplined, it must be visible, at least potentially, to the disciplinary gaze, and know itself to be; at the same time, the gaze must actually be invisible so that it is effective even when it is not actually turned on an individual. Its totalizing power lies precisely in its universal potentiality, combined with the impossibility of verifiability."

POWER GOES TO SCHOOL: TEACHERS, STUDENTS, AND DISCIPLINE

by John F. Covaleskie
Northern Michigan University

These are a few of the paragraphs I just grabbed for commentary. I haven't had time to do the essay yet. Soon. Jeanne:

" when used in school-talk, “discipline” often is translated into terms of control and power, not development or education. “Discipline” is often, perhaps usually, synonymous with “classroom management.”

Briefly, we can state three differences: (1) sovereign power operates through specific visible agents; disciplinary power is diffuse in its operation, coming from everywhere and acting on everyone; (2) because of its visibility, sovereign power is susceptible to resistance, while disciplinary power, invisible and all-pervasive, is difficult to locate, and therefore difficult to resist; and (3) while sovereign power affects only a small portion of an individual’s life, disciplinary power affects virtually all aspects of living, subjecting everyone to the possibility of surveillance at all times.

. . . its universal potentiality, combined with the impossibility of verifiability.

. . . We are shaped through the coercion of disciplinary power, but unaware of the shaping.

QUOTE . . . . . QUOTE . . . . QUOTE

COMMENT: This reminds me strongly of Duncan Kennedy's perception of the self-fulfilling prophecy - the students are shaped by the learning

More citation:

And this process of normalization then serves the ordering function of power, as it helps create individuals of a certain type. Using the “normal” as a goal and an ideal, disciplinary power acts in the world to normalize those selves subject to it. This process of normalization defines for us the way we are supposed to be. And the invisibility and lightness of the operation of this form of power leads the subjects to confuse the “normal” with the “natural.” That is, the defined and desired “normality” is not seen as a product of power’s operation; it is seen as a “true” measurement of the way the world “is.”

YES . . . .YES........YES

Duncan Kennedy, here is where we differ. Mothers simply won't believe their children are "against" them.

answer to above paper: OVERCOMING AMBIVALENCE ABOUT FOUCAULT’S RELEVANCE FOR EDUCATION by Kevin McDonough, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"The fact that individuals (and their aims) are necessarily embedded in power relations also structures the educational task in an interesting way. The Foucauldian educational task becomes not the common sense one of making the uncertain certain, the unfamiliar familiar.8 That is the logic of the examination, which assumes prior fixed knowledge which individuals must acquire. Rather, Foucault would regard education as primarily a matter of making the certain uncertain, the familiar unfamiliar, the given contingent. If nothing else, this educational ideal embodies more than a little of the spirit of Deweyan inquiry."

I like this definition of "education as primarily a matter of making the certain uncertain, the familiar unfamiliar, the given contingent. If nothing else, this educational ideal embodies more than a little of the spirit of Deweyan inquiry."

COMMENT:These are heavily academic papers that repeat Alfie Kohn's ideas, put in good journalistic reporting with solid references and Duncan Kennedy's loftier academic analysis that doesn't deign to go into the actual workings of the student mind trapped in a law school. Both papers are worth reading.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which is harder to spot and why: sovereign power or disciplinary power?

  2. What is wrong with the system of power under which we live?

    Consider McDonough's definition of education.

  3. More later, jeanne



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