For at least two decades discipline has been at or near the top of the list of public concerns about our schools.
1 Nor should this surprise us; developing the mix of foresight, judgement, and self-control that enables (or perhaps just constitutes) “discipline” is an important task of childhood. As long as schools are places where part of a childs education takes place, helping children develop discipline will be one of the “problems” that is, legitimate tasks that schools face. However, 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.
” This sense of discipline-as-control will not seem strange to anyone who has read Michel Foucault, especially his Discipline and Punish. 2 On his view, when we begin talking of “the problem of discipline,” we are really asking about the power relationships3 that exist within schools. Specifically, we should be asking what form of power4 we face, for power is multi-faceted. Foucault analyzes two forms of power in detail: sovereign and disciplinary. So let us examine each in turn.
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 ones life is beyond the control of the sovereign. 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 individuals 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.
The second advantage gained when the dominant form of power shifted from sovereign to disciplinary results from the key elements of its effectiveness: lightness, speed, and subtlety, which result in invisibility. 5 This invisibility of disciplinary power makes resistance and/or revolt against it substantially less likely and more difficult than was the case with sovereign power. This is simply because there is no single or visible locus of disciplinary power against which to direct ones resistance; disciplinary power is simply everywhere. 6 In one sense, this might seem to make resistance easier there are so many opportunities to resist. But power .