For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"“Disciplinary Power,” The Labor Process, and the Constitution of the Laboring Subject"

by Sakolsky, Ron (1992)


My purpose here in applying Foucault’s theory of “disciplinary power” to the labor process is not to create an adversarial relationship to Marxist research on a subject that has traditionally been squarely within that domain. As Foucault himself has said, “I am neither an adversary nor a partisan of Marxism” (in Rabinow 1984, 355). Rather, my project is to offer what I trust will be a complimentary approach, building on both the insights of Marxian and Foucauldian analysis-the goal being to create a more nuanced analytical framework for viewing the labor process, which in turn points toward new directions not encompassed by previous frames of reference. In accomplishing this task, I focus on the relation of Foucault’s theory of disciplinary power to the constitution of both the labor process and the body and psyche of the laboring subject. Then, in order to ground these theoretical abstractions in the constructed reality of the contemporary workplace, 1 examine management discourse as a powerknowledge discourse in relation to such specific disciplinary techniques as computer surveillance and quality circles.

Key Passage

Rather than focusing on “power as property” questions, Foucault’s “strategic” concept of power is concerned with how power is exercised and the effects of that exercise on individuals. In analyzing control, he focuses his analysis somewhat in the same vein as Max Weber’s earlier work (1947) on discipline as “automatic obedience,” concentrating on the “disciplinary power relations” that are actually constitutive of the laboring subject in the first place, rather than on questions of the relative independence of power relations from production or the effect of the capitalist mode of production on the laboring subject. Foucault concerns himself with constructing a genealogy of the modem subject by analyzing the inscription of forms of power on the body and psyche of individuals (“political anatomy”), and the corresponding forms of administration, governmentalization, and regulation that pertain to that objectivized subject. For Foucault, then, the shape of the labor process is not secondary or subordinate to the mode of production and does not exist merely to maintain and reproduce that mode of production. (p.115)


Foucault, Marx, Marxism, Disciplinary Power, The Labor Process, Power, Surveillance, Worker Surveillance, Worker Monitoring


On Foucault, Foucault

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