The chief functioning of disciplinary power is to train. It links forces together to enhance and use them; it creates individual units from a mass of bodies. The success of disciplinary power depends on three elements: hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and examination.

In hierarchical observation, the exercise of discipline assumes a mechanism that coerces by means of observation. During the classical age "observatories" were constructed. They were part of a new physics and cosmology; new ideas of light and the visible secretly prepared a new knowledge of man. Observatories were arranged like a military camp, a model also found in schools, hospitals and prisons. Disciplinary institutions created a mechanism of control. The perfect disciplinary mechanism would make it possible to see everything constantly. The problem was breaking surveillance down into parts. In a factory, surveillance becomes part of the forces of production, as well as part of the disciplinary process; the same thing occurred in schools. Discipline operates by a calculated gaze, not by force.

Normalizing judgment. First, at the heart of all disciplinary mechanisms, a small penal system, with a micro-penality of time, behavior and speech, existed. Slight departures from correct behavior were punished. Second, discipline's method of punishment is like that of the court, but non-observance is also important. Whatever does not meet the rule departs from it. Third, disciplinary punishment has to be corrective. It favors punishment that is exercise. Fourth, punishment is an element of a double system of gratification-punishment, which defines behavior on the basis of good-evil. Fifth, the distribution according to acts and grades has a double role. It creates gaps and arranges qualities into hierarchies, but also punishes and rewards. Discipline rewards and punishes by awarding ranks.

This art of punishing refers individual actions to a whole, and differentiates individuals from each other by means of a rule that is the minimum of behavior. It measures individuals and places them in a hierarchical system; it also traces the abnormal. The perpetual penalty essentially normalizes. This is opposed to the juridical penalty that defines the individual according to a corpus of laws, texts and general categories. Disciplinary mechanisms create a "penality of the norm". The normal, which exists in medicine, factories and schools, is one of the great instruments of power at the end of the classical period. Marks of status were replaced by ideas of belonging to a "normal" group. Normalization makes people homogeneous, but it also makes it possible to measure differences between individuals.

Examination. Examination represents the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of a normalizing judgment, a gaze that makes it possible to qualify, classify and punish. It is a ritualized innovation of the classical age; the organization of the hospital as an examining machine is one of the features of the eighteenth century. A similar process is evident in the development of examination in schools. Examination introduced certain new features: first, it transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power. The subject, and not the sovereign, becomes seen. Second, examination introduces individuality into the field of documentation; a mass of writing fixes the individual. Third, each individual becomes a "case" that can be analyzed and described.

Examination is at the center of processes that constitute the individual as an effect and object of power. The disciplines mark the move from a situation where individuality is greatest in the higher ranks, to one where those on whom anonymous power is exercised are more individual. The child is more individual than the man, the patient more than the healthy man. If you want to individualize a man, ask how much of the madman he has in him.

Power does not exclude or repress. Instead, it creates the reality and rituals of truth. The individual and knowledge about him belong to this production. The individual is the functional atom of political theory, but is also constituted by the technology of power that Foucault calls a "discipline." But how could disciplines achieve such effects?


Foucault now explores disciplinary power and its operations, in order to discover how individual cells or bodies are created out of a group. The individual is a modern invention, a construction of power. It is a body that is observed, and compared to a "norm" of average behavior. This section essentially becomes a further explanation of the operation of discipline in terms of observation and training, rather than exercise.

Observation is again important. It undergoes a further change, however: now it is a mechanism that coerces, rather than the process by which the public watches an execution. Foucault's point is that you can be coerced or forced to do something by being observed constantly. Not only do you feel self-conscious, but your behavior changes. This is an excellent example of the operation of power: an effect occurs on your body without physical violence.

Foucault charts the development not just of the process of observation but of the institutions in which it operates. The perfect disciplinary institution, he argues, is that in which everything can be seen at once: this is a clear reference to the Panopticon discussed in the next section. The way Foucault links the development of observatories to scientific developments shows his early interest in the history of science, but also one of the major criticisms of his work: that he puts theory before evidence. Whether such observatories were designed, or whether military camps actually operated in the way he describes is uncertain. This is perhaps unnecessary to the overall argument, which depends more on Foucault's philosophical interpretation of society than on historical evidence.

The discussion of the norm returns to the point made in Foucault's discussion of the judicial inquisition: that the status of judgment changed in the pre-modern period. Judgment now concerns an arbitrary standard: pupils, soldiers and prisoners are observed and measured against this standard. What is normal is good, and what is abnormal is bad and must be corrected. Penality becomes about correcting deviations from the norm, organizing people into ranks and classifications according to their "normality". For Foucault, the norm is an entirely negative and harmful idea that allows the oppression and silencing of deviants and the "abnormal." The aim of Discipline and Punish is to show how unnatural this process is.

Examination unites the processes of observation and normalization. It covers both the school exam and the medical examination, and was developed only in the eighteenth century. In an examination, the individual is looked at, written about and analyzed. There are similarities here with the concept of the "clinical gaze" that Foucault relates in his history of medicine, The Birth of the Clinic.

Foucault's negative conception of individuality is important. Advertising and the mass media tend to praise people seen as "individuals," but for Foucault the individual is a harmful device constructed by power. The more abnormal and excluded you are, the more individual you become. Individuality is the mark of the mental patient and the convict. It has nothing to do with taking control over one's own life. To free the excluded and allow them to speak, we need either to make them anonymous, or to expose the structures that separate them from "normal" society.