Foucault’s framework of rights and disciplinary power

  1. Literature review


In this study, Foucault’s framework of rights will be used as the basis for examining the impact of school discipline on students. “Power is at the level of struggle and manifests itself in its effects.” (Haugaard, 1997, p.67). Before the 19th century, punishment prevailed in all social institutions due to the influence of social power. At that time, corporal punishment was the main discipline in schools, and students became obedient because of fear of corporal punishment.


Disciplinary power appears at the beginning of the 19th century. In Foucault’s opinion (1977), disciplinary power is everywhere, barracks, hospitals, schools, and any place are controlled by it. Under disciplinary power, punishment is increasingly underpinning the governance and discipline of the individual’s physical body, enabling people to self-examine and manage to achieve the objective of classifying people, rather than being killed or tortured. Discipline comes along with disciplinary power and begins to have a significant impact on people.


According to Foucault (1977), the modern school has become a disciplinary institution with all the characteristics of its disciplinary system. Education has become a process of discipline, and disciplinary power has given school discipline an important position in education. School discipline helps schools discipline not only the body but also the spirit of the student. If a school does not have enough discipline and constraints on students, it will be challenging to achieve its goal of taming individuals (Onderi & Odera, 2012).

In this literature review, the researcher first introduces the current social views and disputes on school discipline. Then, the researcher further uses Foucault’s framework of power to show how disciplinary power is applied in education.


The researcher then explores the influence of school discipline on students’ behaviours and thoughts from five aspects: space distribution, time and activity control, hierarchical observation, normalization and examination. In the last part of the literature review, the positive and negative effects of school discipline on students will be analyzed from the perspective of the hidden curriculum.


2.1 School discipline in modern western education: critical and controversy


At the beginning of the 20th century, Emile Durkheim (1973) proposed that school discipline was central to the socialization of individual students and that schools, as the first social institution outside the home of young people, should teach students to develop values and behaviours related to the social environment. School discipline is, therefore seen as an effective tool for regulating student behaviour and thoughts. Controversies about the disciplinary environment in modern schools have been raised, with emphasis on the application of discipline. In modern education, based on Irby (2014), there is a controversial school discipline network built by society. For those who are positive about school discipline, it is believed that school discipline represents rules that tell students what is right, what should be done, what is wrong and what should be avoided (Straus & Paschall, 2009). Discipline has a positive impact on the individual and classroom environment (Scarlett, 2015). Discipline ensures students can enjoy a beneficial educational environment in school education. The school comprehensively makes rules in line with social norms such as respecting teachers and rejecting violence. If students violate the rules, they will be restricted by discipline. Furthermore, school discipline also contributes to the academic achievements of students. According to Kabuka’s (2016) research, the students’ academic achievement is positively correlated with the level of school discipline.


However, those who hold a negative view of school discipline argue that the school discipline in modern Western education is too superficial. School discipline should not be a simple means of ensuring harmony in the classroom or on the surface of society (Durkheim 1973). As MacIntyre (1973) pointed out, the pursuit of achievement by social authority has marginalized moral education. School discipline is supposed to properly guide student behaviour and thinking. Although the discipline has long been seen as a key feature of successful schools, overemphasis on academic achievement has caused several problems in recent years. School discipline should be reflected not only in administrative actions but also in student behaviours, norms and values (Arum & Velez, 2016).

2.2 The importance of school discipline: disciplinary power in education

As already mentioned, school discipline is built by society, and school discipline is the embodiment of social power in education. Foucault has called disciplinary power the new power of modern Western society. To examine the discipline of schools from the perspective of Foucault, the first is to understand the power framework of Foucault. In Foucault’s eyes, power is micro, concrete and productive, and it is the power relationship between people (Siu-ming, 2013). According to Foucault (1980), power can be understood to be exercised through a network-like organization in which individuals can be subjected to the effects of power and act as vehicles for its articulation. In his discussion of power, Foucault (1982, 1990, 1991) put forward four concepts of power. First, power and discourse are interrelated. Power and knowledge are interrelated to form a claim to truth. Each specific historical moment has a specific discourse so that each society has a different system of truth to unify people’s thinking scale. Second, the unity of truth allows modern society to exercise the ruling technology over individuals, and to produce submissive individuals through various tools, techniques, and procedures that reflect the subjectivity of power. In Foucault’s eyes, the third concept of power is that power constitutes individual subjectivity. Foucault believes that power and the subject are interwoven. Power not only conquers the subject but also makes the subject constitute its own identity through the development of conscience and self-cognition. The final concept of power is that power and resistance coexist in nature. Resistance does not necessarily lead to a change in power relations, depending on the possibility and potential of resistance. Foucault’s concepts of power reveal the way power operates in education.


After analyzing Foucault’s concept of power, it can be seen that Foucault believes that contemporary society is a systematic discipline of engineering (Foucault, 1980). Society includes people in a net-like organization of power, and people are manipulated, shaped, and disciplined. In Foucault’s view, after the 18th century, schools were a social institution related to individual discipline. If the prison is a representative of the modern discipline of punishment, then, school represents the image of the prison (Wolosky, 2013). The school adopted the “meticulousness of regulations, the fussiness of inspections, the supervision of the smallest fragment of life and of the body” (Foucault, 1995, p.141) to better permeate the disciplinary power within the individual. In this process, students are surrounded by a network of disciplinary powers, and their actions and thoughts are subject to obedience, and the role of school discipline is valued.


2.3 Foucault’s perspective examines the operation of school discipline


According to Foucault (1977) as a centre of disciplinary power, the school plays the role of a discipline institution by providing a certain space for students, regulating and restricting the activities of students and monopolizing the discourse of students. The application of discipline in education has always been controversial. Throughout modern society, discipline education has provoked considerable thought as the primary means of controlling children. Foucault believes that the most terrible part of disciplinary education is through the spiritual level of penetration and education so that the body becomes tame and the people become “submissive”. In the same way as Cohen (2008), Cohen agrees with Foucault that disciplinary powers are used to train individuals to achieve the desired results. Discipline education in the modern education system consists mainly of four aspects: closed space, hierarchical observation between class members, control of class rules and regulations, and unidirectionality of activities.


2.3.1 The art of distributions


Space distribution is the basis for the implementation of a series of disciplines (Manuel & Llamas, 2006). Foucault pointed out that a disciplined society should allocate a certain space to individuals and restrict their activities to monitor people. This closed and divided space is monitored all over the place where everyone is embedded in a fixed position, every action and word is recorded, and everyone is constantly examined and classified (Foucault, 1977). In school, the whole school is divided into different places; each place has its own specific function, such as a playground for sports, a classroom for learning. Students should perform the corresponding behaviours according to their respective locations. They can eat in the canteen but will be subjected to discipline when eating in the classroom.


In addition, teachers also classify students by the distribution of classroom seats. According to Foucault, in the process of space distribution, discipline as an “art of rank and technique for the transformation of the arrangement” is designed to fulfil the influence of disciplinary power on individuals(Foucault, 1977, p.146). Discipline differentiates bodies by localization, but this localization does not give them a fixed position but allows them to distribute and flow through a relationship network (ibid). In general, students with good grades will sit at the front centre of the classroom, while students with poor grades will sit at the edge of the classroom. Manuel and Llamas (2006) also point out, when studying school discipline, that good student tends to be first and as close to teachers as possible. Teachers ignore students who are sitting at the back of the classroom. It can, therefore, be seen that space distribution, as the basis of the school discipline operation, ignores students who have been classified as “back” in practice. As a result, good students will become better and better, and the gap between students will be broader.


2.3.2: the control of time and activity


Time control is the most severe manifestation of educational discipline, which is a prerequisite for the implementation of all discipline techniques (Farmer, 1999). According to Foucault (1977), timetables are an ancient legacy whose rigid patterns are embodied in three main methods: the prescriptive rhythm, the scheduling of activities and the regulation of repetitive cycles. In schools, the teacher’s control over the activities of the students is mainly to set a schedule for the students. All kinds of activities that students may engage in must be completed in accordance with the schedule. Otherwise, they will be subjected to discipline constraints. Disciplinary power penetrates the process of the body being trained by time. Disciplinary power creates a “body-weapon, body-tool, body-machine complex” that has greatly improved the efficiency and speed of activities and has satisfied the needs of the class teaching system since modern times (ibid, p. 153). In the research by Brailsford, Potts and Smiths (1999), the timeline for greater academic performance and school administration in high school is very different from that in the university. The main difference is that high school students must be scheduled and supervised every hour of every day, or almost every hour. However, due to the class time table, students may also suffer from the problem of overloaded study and occupied private time (Ivers, 2003).


On the basis of space allocation and practice control, the school controls students’ activities. Activity control is a control technique that makes use of detailed time mechanism to constrain; it is a technique for maintaining a close relationship between the human body and time (Foucault, 1977). The primary condition of activity control is to formulate and implement a management system and a code of conduct which is the most direct response to the right to education and training regulations. The system is the school discipline which carries out all-round monitoring and management of each individual in the school and punishes the violators. It is a practice of rewards and punishments, and the impact of activity control on students can be seen in the provision of scholarships or in public punishment (Taylor, Barr & Steele, 2002).


2.3.3: Hierarchical observation

Foucault believed that discipline had to be enforced through a coercive monitoring mechanism in which the monitoring technology could induce the power effect (Manuel & Llamas, 2006). Hierarchical observation is a means of enforcing school discipline through monitoring.  Hierarchical observation makes the building mechanism, the building form is no longer for beauty, but to better control people’s behaviour in order to achieve the purpose of discipline, and this mechanism makes “individual behaviour more subtly divided” (Foucault, 1977, p. 173). Hierarchical observation is a top-down observation system, embodied in two aspects in schools. The first is student observation; in schools, the school committees, squad leaders, and disciplinary committees are all set up to better monitor top-down supervision and protect disciplines. Through this observation, disciplinary power becomes an internal system, and disciplines enable it to operate effectively.


The second is building observation, which Foucault called “panopticism,” which allows disciplinary power to reach the smallest corner through observation (Foucault, 1977). Teachers and students supervise and monitor each other at school. Power skillfully eliminates the resistance between the monitor and the monitored, and people begin to control themselves. As long as there is a watchful eye, everyone will live under the pressure of watchful, will gradually consciously start self-monitoring (ibid). In a word, hierarchical observation, as the first step in the discipline mechanism, keeps an eye on individual behaviour for the purpose of discipline. Then, the norm worked in the next step.

2.3.4: Normalization


Normalization is the punishment of words and deeds that do not comply with the norms, and it is also the most obvious step in the implementation of school discipline. According to Ball (1993), normalized supervision can make individuals obey the discipline norms and have the functions of comparison, differentiation, arrangement, assimilation and exclusion that can unify individual behaviours and thoughts. In school, if some students violate disciplines and are punished by normalizing judgment through hierarchical observation. In this process, norms are used as a measure of the criteria for classifying individuals. There are some necessary punishments in order to maintain discipline. This punishment, however, is not based on revenge, but on narrowing the gap. It is corrective. Those who have violated disciplines are divided into bad grades, distinguishing them from those who are regulated, making them feel ashamed that they will not be able to violate discipline again (Foucault, 1977).


Normalization appears to have a moral impact on students, but standardization is mechanized, and the resulting training is mechanized (Man, 2001). Manuel and Llamas (2002) point out that students use normalization to develop their own identity, what’s right and what’s wrong, but students who make mistakes are often isolated and marginalized for a long time. And in a mechanical normalization, the freedom of a good student is constrained, a good student is not allowed to wear a lip stud or grow a beard, and everyone isolates himself.




2.3.5: Examination


Examination is a discipline technique combining hierarchical observation and normalization, which keeps people in the monitoring system of standardization, qualitative, classification and punishment. According to Foucault (1996), the success of disciplinary powers is due to examination. The examinations are probably the most controversial of the disciplinary measures. Examination has high prestige in the field of education and is a system with a long history of education, a student’s ability to pass is a sign that he or she meets the norm (Manuel & Llamas, 2002). As Popkewitz (1998) points out, the great sense of crisis that examination presents students will force them to do what the school wants them to do. However, the pressure exerted by the examinations may also cause students to question themselves and affect the relationship between teachers and students. In the study of Manuel and Llamas (2002), students often find themselves in a state of depression and doubt that they do not pass the exam, and some students will try to negotiate with the teacher when they find that they have failed the exam. Nevertheless, the attitude of the teacher will directly affect the relationship between teachers and students. Evaluation, of course, shows the teachers ‘ authority and the role that teachers are assigned by the disciplinary authority.

2.4: School discipline and hidden curriculum: the invisible influence of school discipline


With an in-depth study of the impact of school discipline on students, the hidden curriculum can not be ignored. Hidden curriculum refers to informal learning that takes place in a school or classroom, as well as some suggestive information. For example, learners learn how to obey authority or when to be silent (Marlett & Steve, 2012). In the above discussion of disciplinary means, such as the differential treatment of good and bad students in the normalization process, there is a response to the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum is shaped by the school’s disciplinary environment. In other words, under the supervision of school disciplinary means, the hidden curriculum can have different effects on students (Hashemi, Fallahi, Aojinejad & Samavi, 2012). According to Valimaa and Nokkala (2014), the school environment, the exercise of power and the setting of the curriculum have a strong influence on the values and behaviour of students. Therefore, in education, teachers should pay attention to the influence of hidden curriculum brought by school disciplinary environment on students when exercising disciplinary power.


A good disciplinary environment can bring positive hidden curriculum, and students’ behaviours and thoughts will also be positively affected. However, excessive emphasis on school discipline and neglect of hidden curriculum will inevitably lead to students’ resistance. According to Perry-Hazan and Birnhack (2018), monitoring devices installed by schools for monitoring and discipline have had a significant negative impact on the trust and privacy of the students. In their research, the school pays too much attention to the maintenance and monitoring of discipline and neglects the privacy of students, which leads to a loss of confidence among students in the school environment, making them unable to enjoy school life and thus affecting their academic performance.

2.5 Summary


In research on the influence of school discipline on students, this literature review presents the current discipline of school-related disputes and critical thinking on school discipline. Current school discipline places too much emphasis on visible effects and too little emphasis on moral education and influence. The literature review mainly focuses on examining the influence of school discipline on students from Foucault’s discourse and provide relevant research to verify Foucault’s view. The analysis of Foucault’s power framework points out the important role of school discipline in school education so that we can know that the influence of school discipline on students is serious and cannot be ignored. Foucault’s study of school discipline is extensive and, beginning with the disciplinary power structure, he points out that school discipline is a means of maintaining the application of disciplinary power in education. It is obvious that modern schools reflect the disciplinary from the design of buildings, space setting and disciplinary means. Relevant studies are also selected in the analysis of Foucault’s five disciplinary means to verify and conclude that the influence of school discipline on students is inevitable, but there are negative and positive distinctions. The analysis of the hidden curriculum and school discipline also highlights the students ‘ hidden influence of school discipline. This review of the literature shows that the effects of school discipline on students are both visible and invisible and will be used in data analysis.

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