mechanics of discipline

Foucault, genealogist of power, unearthing discipline’s roots. What is discipline? It is the act of making the body itself docile: making it productive, using it to produce profit for moneyed exploitation. How does discipline go about making bodies docile?

  • distributing and organizing individuals in their space: organized enclosures, cells, each unit shut off from one another. The monastic cell, sphere of quiet solitude, replicates itself throughout society, be it the office cubicle in a downtown skyscraper or the house in suburbs. “Each individual has his own place; and each place its individual… Disciplinary space tends to be divided into as many sections as there are bodies or elements to be distributed.” ( Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pg. 143) When the spatial distribution of individuals reached the floor of the factory, it incorporated elements of surveillance into its rational. Individuals and their tasks were organized along aisles, rigid lines that were easily monitored and micromanaged by the bosses. And we must not forget rank – the solidification of hierarchy among the distribution lines.
  • command over activity: Time tables. “…establish rhythms, impose particular occupations, regulate the cycles of repetition…” (Discipline and Punish, pg. 149) After this, disciplinary command moves beyond the regimenting the timespace that the body occupies and chooses the body itself as the subject of its regulations. Without a body that operates in the way that is necessary for the task, there can be no proper dispersion of time; the body’s movements are thus overwritten with codes. The codes can provide a form (ex. – the technics of the hand in developing ‘proper’ handwriting) or they can correlate parts of the body with an external machine that it tends to (ex. – the relationship between a soldier’s arms and his rifle). The individual may exist, but through disciplinary coding he or she is reduced to a mechanical array of segments; pieces, not a whole.
  • precise systems of command: Condition the individual to response to command instantaneously, without question, preferably in the appropriate, coded way. “Place the bodies in a little world of signals to each of which is is attached a single, obligatory response: it is a technique of training…” (Discipline and Punish, pg. 166) Pavlovian response methods, ingrained in soldiers, prisoners and school children alike. Disciplinary power, the necessary genetics of the any system built upon human labor, exploits the contours of psychology; learn the code and salivate at the ringing of the dinner bell. Salivate and let your body and your time be divided up, reassembled into the megamachine of the factory/school/the army/the penitentiary system. 

Or the State. “‘Discipline must be made national,’ said Guibert. ‘The state that I depict will have a simple, reliable, easily controlled administration. It will resemble those huge machines, which by quite uncomplicated means produce great effects…” (Discipline and Punish, pg. 196)

The brief summation of Foucault’s method of discipline brings back Le Corbusier’s vision for the architectural regimentation of the urban; just as the individual in the school/factory/barracks/prison is spatially coded, so is the layout of property along class-based demarcations, radiating outwards from the seat of power. Le Corbusier’s fetishization of Euclidean geometry – symmetry, straight lines, parallels, etc., – could also provide the function of surveillance, monitoring and intervention; central corridors , designed in straight lines and right-angle intersections, rapidly link areas of the city – providing an ease of mobilization impossible in a city unfolding in the sporadic disarrays of organic growth. This was part of the rationale behind Louis Napoleon’s renovations of Paris, conducted by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann between the years of 1853-1869. Radicalization was rife in the city’s underbellies, the aristocratic elite having witnessed the revolution of 1848 and more recent resistance movements. Much of this resistance congregated in the working class neighborhoods, dense, mazelike networks that consistently escaped authority’s command and police intervention. Haussmann described these networks in his writings as a home of a “nomadic population without any real ties to the land [property] and without any effective surveillance [it] grows at a prodigious speed.” (Scott, Seeing Like a State, pg. 61)

For Napoleon, Haussmann established avenues linking these revolutionary hotbeds to barracks located outside the city, providing navigable terrain for the swift deployment of troops in the event of an uprising. In other cases, the subversive neighborhoods were fractured, divided by the convenient placing of roads or replaced with  ‘commercial development.’ Keeping in the liberal tradition emerging from the Enlightenment, the reformation of Paris also boasted concern with the citizenry’s welfare; redesigned sewers, higher degrees of water circulation, and containment effectively combated the disease and plagues that routinely befell the city.

It’s not a wonder, then, that Le Corbusier praised Haussmann’s renovations, glorified that “magnificent legacy left by a monarch to his people.” (Brian Elliot, Benjamin for Architects, pg. 81) At the same time, however, he found fault in his predecessor’s work: Paris was still a work of social production – and as such frivolity and ‘free time’ clogged the arteries of his architecture of precision. “Cafes and places of recreation will no longer be the fungus which eats up the pavements of Paris. We must kill the street,” he wrote of his own plans for city renovation. He approached the city the way that discipline approaches the body. He aimed to cut it into fragments, make it into components fixed in processes, master its time with his own rational rhythms, and overcode it with lines of procedure. Clockwork. When it came to speaking of his Parisian plans, he spoken in a language that recalls Foucault, sifting his way through disciplinary practice:

“From its offices come the commands that put the world in order. In fact, the skyscrapers are the brain of the city, the brain of the whole country. They embody the work of elaboration and command on which all activities depend. Everything is concentrated there: the tools that conquer time and space – telephones, telegraphs, radios, the banks, trading houses, the organs of decision for the factories: finance, technology, commerce.” (Seeing Like a State, pg. 111)

Le Corbusier’s ideal image of society and its residency was the factory, for there exists a “hierarchical scale, famously established and respected… [the workers] accept it so as to manage themselves like a colony of worker-bees: order, regularity, punctuality  justice, and paternalism.”

Only the Plan, the work of the enlightened magistrates and managers, can provide the codes essential to transforming the whole of the world into the model factory. Modernism: The rationalized production of everyday life, organized under authority’s watchful eyes.

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Le Corbusier’s Paris plan

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2 Responses to mechanics of discipline

  1. noir-realism says:

    I like the way you are projecting the history and ideas of modernism here. We both see how in many ways what is termed as neoliberalism is not a new liberalism but in fact its opposite… I think that’s the key point. Neoliberalism based as it is as an enemy of the modernist vision was a merger of cybernetic theory and authoritarian vision in a postmodern flexible modulation of control and domination. We see both forms in our current American society overlapping each other everywhere. There is no pure separation between the two modes of power. Control and Discipline seem to be complementary aspects of the neoclassical and neoliberal modes of power over the proles. I’ve always felt that the term postmodernism was a misnomer. Modernism just transformed itself into the digital, but kept its soul in the analog. This dialectical movement between simulacra/automata is at the heart of Mirowski’s Machine Dreams.

  2. noir-realism says:

    Oh, have you read the latest work by James C. Scott? The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. I just bought the one you spoke of above Seeing Like a State. For some reason I missed it along the way… fascinating!

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