Discipline and Punish

by: Michel Foucault

Docile Bodies

Summary Docile Bodies

Discipline creates individuality out of the bodies that it controls. It is cellular, organic and genetic. It has four techniques: it draws up tables, it prescribes movements, it imposes exercises and arranges tactics. The highest form of disciplinary practice is war as strategy. Strategy makes it possible to understand warfare as a way of conducting politics between states. The classical age sees the birth of strategy between states, but also the creation of a strategy by which bodies within states were controlled. This was a military dream of society, which referred not to a contract or the state of nature but to the cogs of a machine. While jurists and philosophers looked to the contract to explain the creation of society, the technicians of discipline created procedures for the individual and collective coercion of bodies.


Again, the body is the subject of attention. Now, however, the body is not subject to torture but to forces of discipline and control. Foucault analyzes various technologies that control and affect the body.

Docility is achieved through the actions of discipline. Discipline is different from force or violence because it is a way of controlling the operations and positions of the body. The link to the idea of academic "disciplines" such as the human sciences is intended, and becomes important later. The fact that Foucault finds the roots of discipline in monasteries and armies is important. Monastic rules, which regulate the behavior of monks, and drill exercises in the army both emphasize self-control and obedience to rules, but from differing starting points. When Foucault talks of their extension over time, he does not suggest that everyone eventually became monks or soldiers. Instead, he argues that institutions like prisons, schools and hospitals acted like machines for transforming and controlling people in this period. To do this, they fixed individuals in time and space. Foucault thinks of these institutions in terms of machines and living organisms, hence the reference to political anatomy.

The organization of individuals in space works according to certain rules. The whole process works within a larger space, such as the prison, which is divided into parts or cells. Discipline depends on the idea of a series, such as a line of pupils, or a rank of soldiers.

The control of time is equally important. Foucault again traces the regulation of time back to monastic life. The idea that people are held in a series is preserved, only this time they are controlled by a timetable like that discussed at the beginning of section one. Foucault's idea of a "positive economy" is hard to grasp. It essentially means that modern timetables aim to cram more and more activity into a day.

Time also has broader effects. These effects are related to the technology of time that includes both machines like clocks and the political technology that regulates the individual's time. The disciplines are not machines for calculating time in the same way as clocks, but rather ways of regulating time as the individual experiences it. Time is divided up like space. The convict's day is divided into one-hour segments, for example, according to a detailed plan. The control of space and time is essential to Foucault's disciplinary system because they are the most basic elements of human life. Regulating them affects the way in which people act and think; it is a particularly deep and effective strategy.