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Understanding Michel Foucault’s Concepts of Power and Discipline

May 29, 2023 | 0 comments

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May 29, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Discuss Professional Power With Reference To the Social Construct of Deviance

Michel Foucault’s Concepts


The concept of pastoral power was developed by Michel Foucault in order to comprehend the significance of individual governance and collective governance. Foucault defines pastoral power as a technique of old power feature in the institutions of Christianity (Foucault, 2000, p. 783). Foucault explains pastoral power as a mode of power that plays significant roles of improving, sustaining, and ensuring the well-being of everyone’s lives (Foucault, 2007, p. 141). In expanding on his perspective on this concept, Foucault undertakes to study two technique of pastoral power, which include individualizing and totalizing (Foucault, 2013, p 104). To illustrate how pastoral power works, Foucault gives an example of a shepherd and the flock. He says that a pastoral power involves individualizing through essential paradox granting  like the value accrued to an entire flock by a single sheep (Foucault, 2007, p. 187).


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Foucault argues that pastoral power ensures that people are saved in the current world, rather than in the next world (Foucault, 2000, p. 785). Moreover, he suggests that the salvation of humanity is one of the main goals of the Western society. The term “salvation” in this case can be used to refer to well being, health, protections against accidents, and security (Foucault, 2013). Maurizio Lazzarato in explaining the concept of pastoral power discusses how the government is demolishing the relationship between public life space and private life (O’Farrell, 2005).

An example of pastoral power within the professional experience can be seen in the health care sector. Healthcare providers are concerned with the restoration of the health of their patients, as well as the provision of quality healthcare services to the general patient populations (Biebricher, 2011). Thus, pastoral power describes power relations between leaders and the individuals and the entities they govern. The implications of this concept as explained by Foucault reveals that power is a system that is practiced from points of innumerability through mobile relations and interplay of non-egalitarianism, rather than something that an individual can hold on, or allow to pass away. He indicates that power can neither be shared, seized nor acquired (Foucault, 1978, p. 94). The concept presents a challenge as illustrated by Foucault in that it is not applicable in political systems led by authoritarian regimes. It can therefore be argued that pastoral power is a feature of modern democratic states.


Foucault’s concept of pastoral power is applicable in the education system in various ways. To begin with, the education system is considered as an agent of pastoral power (Masschelein, 2004). This is because the system promises salvation by improving the lives of individual students and promoting the wellbeing of the entire student population. School rules are there to give direction to both individual students and all the students (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 2000). Every student is required to adhere to these regulations in order to be on the safe side. The same case applies to all students. In the same way, the Code of Ethics for Educators targets both individual teachers and all teachers (Golder, 2007). Every teacher is required to comply with this code. All teachers as well are required to abide by the principles of this code. These examples demonstrate the individualizing and totalizing nature of pastoral power as described by Foucault.


The concept of discipline was developed by Foucault in order to comprehend the productivity of power. Foucault defines discipline as “methods that made meticulous control possible for the body operations, which assured a subjection constant of its forces and also imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility” (Foucault, 1979, p. 137). Foucault explains discipline as mechanism of power whose function is to regulate the behaviors of individuals within a social body. In expanding on his perspective on the idea of power, Foucault undertakes to study how the organization of individuals’ time, space, activities and behaviors are regulated (Foucault, 1979). To illustrate the concept, Foucault gives an example of the army. He asserted that during the early years of the 17th century, a soldier could be recognized based on his or her natural traits like pride, courage and strength (Foucault, 1979, p. 144).

Foucault argues that discipline plays a major role in the creation of the individuality of a person. He observes the descending nature of individualization in the direction of the subjects that is the individuals over which power is exercised (Foucault, 1991, p. 193). Moreover, Foucault suggests that discipline can be enforced with the help of complex surveillance systems (O’Farrell, 2005). This is because most individuals find it difficult to comply with its requirements. As a result, it becomes necessary to put some important measures in place that can help to promote compliance. For instance, punishment enhances the maintenance of discipline. Ball (2013) in explaining the concept of discipline discuses how discipline is used for the purpose of correcting and controlling the behaviors of individuals. He justifies the use of force in maintenance of discipline.

An example of discipline within the professional experience can be seen in the military posture. A soldier normally adopts a certain posture as a result of specific guidelines, demands and exercises. These requirements are reinforced through the usage of physical force and other forms of adjustments (Foucault, 1979). Thus, discipline describes one of the ways through which power can be exercised. The implications of this concept as explained by Foucault are that it reveals a coercive way of exercising power. The concept presents a challenge as illustrated by Foucault in that it creates an artificial space within which it is applied. It can therefore be stated that the concept of discipline can be fully understood in terms of the context of its application and how it is applied.


Foucault’s idea of discipline is applicable in various areas of the education system. The concept helps education managers, leaders and administrators to understand that although they are in positions of power, they are subject to discipline (Ball, 2013). This is either in terms of various surveillance systems or through self-control and management. The concept of discipline makes the education system a setting in which the participants are constrained by acceptable principles (Zembylas, 2003). For example, students are required to follow school rules and act in accordance to them. Those who break the rules are normally punished. This makes the education system serve as a political means through which power and knowledge are modified and maintained. The application of the concept of discipline in the education system helps to control the behaviors of students (Ball, 2013). It helps to ensure that they adopt good behaviors by adhering to various school rules. Discipline thus helps to improve the individuality of students


The concept of governmentality was developed by Foucault in order to comprehend the administration of populations in modern Europe within the context of the emergence of the idea of states. Foucault explains governmentality as a way the government uses to produce the ideal citizens who can help it to fulfill its policies. In expanding on his perspective on the concept of governmentality, Foucault undertakes to study it as an epistemological kind of phenomenon that leads to the production of subjects. To illustrate the concept, Foucault gives an example of ancient prisons that were designed by Jeremy Bentham. These prisons, referred to as panopticons, were constructed as ring cells with guard towers at the center. The panoptic design allowed a guard to observe the prisoners at any time. It created a sense of being watched all the time. Under such circumstances an inmate in the cell ‘becomes the principle of his own subjection (Foucault, 1979, p. 203).

Foucault argues that governmentality entails various organized practices that are used in the governance of the subjects. These include certain mentalities and techniques used by those in power to legitimize their authority (Foucault, 1991). Moreover, Foucault suggests that governmentality creates suitable conditions for the formation of “docile bodies” that can be used in the modern political and economic institutions (Lemke, 2002). Nikolas Rose in explaining the concept of governmentality discusses how governmentality works. He argues that technologies of power such as schools and prisons are used to shape the behavior of populations (Lemke, 2002).

An example of governmentality within the professional experience can be seen in the healthcare system. Healthcare professionals control the lives of patients by advising them on how to lead healthy lives. This situation shows how the government uses benevolent institutions such as hospitals to gain control over a self-disciplined population (Foucault, 1991). Thus, governmentality describes how the government shapes the conduct of its citizens. The implications of this concept as explained by Foucault are that is reveals a power imbalance between those in power and the ones governed. The concept presents a challenge as illustrated by Foucault in that it ignores the subjective experiences and choices of individuals. It can therefore, be argued that governmentality is both the way the government exercises control of power and how it teaches people about governance.


Foucault’s concept of governmentality can be applied in the areas of educational leadership and management. Educational managers can use governmentality to learn different discourses of educational leadership (Simons & Masschelein, 2006). They can learn more about how to control both the educators and the learners. This will help them to become effective leaders. Governmentality helps educational policy makers to understand that educational leadership is more than just ordering and managing learners as “docile bodies.”  It also involves the ordering and management of principals and teachers through various self-management practices, including the code of ethics for teachers (Simons & Masschelein, 2006). Governmentality manifests itself in the education sector as a kind of power, which is circulated through various routines meant for the enhancement of individualized self regulation (Baker, 2004). This is achieved through the process of bureaucratizing and narrowing the sense of authority.

Ivan Illich’s concept of deschooling the society is relevant because schooling limit the children’s creativity, hence, children do not explore their capabilities rather; they execute the demands of the curriculum. Schools have curricula and every teacher has schemes of work. The teacher through the guidance of the curriculum designs the activities that the students should engage in to accomplish learning of a certain aspect or topic. The teacher always has an outline of the learning outcome and the indicators for success in the learning. All this are designs without the incorporation of the students’ desires or participation. As the students learn, they executed the activities pre-planned by the teacher and directed towards a specific learning experience. If a student comes up with a novel outcome with is not covered in the curriculum, then the student is not in the right course of learning (Illich, 2013).

It is a requirement that the nurses should build clinical competence to serve patients better from an individual perspective. Individual scope of operation in any profession is determined or defined by the basic or formal education attained along the lines of that profession. This is the main reason as to why the nursing education is considered the foundation of developing or building clinical competence to help the nurses serve the patients better (International Transplant Nurses Society 2009). Apart from the formal education, individual scope of operation is also believed to attain its evolvement through a professional lifetime; this is majorly based on the experiences gained during the practice. The individual scope of operation or practice in the nursing profession has heavily impacted on by the clinical experience in a number of sectors, continued education or learning to improve on the already acquired knowledge, formal course work and various developments in the healthcare. These are areas, which are believed to be keys in determining the various factors in the nursing profession within the state of Texas.

The clinical experience is one important area in the life of any nurse or practitioner in the nursing area. Clinical experience is important for an individual practitioner based on the knowledge and skills it instills on the individual. At the individual level, it is important that any practitioner is in a position to handle in the best way possible a wide range of clinical matters. However, to handle these clinical matters in the best way possible one will have to undergo basic and advanced nursing education. This is because most nursing practice environments are based or subjected to clinical issues of various kinds (Boore & Deeny 2012). Having clinical experience will no doubt improve the value and quality of service offered by the nurse practitioners to the patients in the society. To gain or improve the clinical experience, the state of various nursing institutions is keen to offer avenues, which can help the newly recruited, and experienced practitioners gain the experience. This is important in ensuring that any trained nurse does not become exasperated in the efforts of trying to gain clinical experience in the field of operation. However, clinical experience can only be provided to trained practitioners or those with basic information about nursing. That is why it is significant to undergo education in nursing at both basic and advanced levels.

Nursing education is no doubt the foundation for building the various competencies required in the clinical setting and other nursing aspects to provide quality services to the community. Based on this, it is therefore important for the concerned bodies to ensure quality-nursing education to help maintain high standards.


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