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

Foucault’s emphasis is not on workplace supervision per se, but on surveillance itself as a disciplinary mechanism, and this is what Zuboff builds upon in her theory of the information panopticon. In the capitalist workplace as a consolidated site of disciplinary power, faced with a desire to eliminate “downtime,” computerized management systems are increasingly designed to act as technological watchdogs while at the same time masking class conflict in claims to objectivity associated with the assumed truth value of hard data. While management has always been preoccupied with meeting output quotas, in the past output increases might be achieved through the use of close supervision on the shopfloor or by hiring outside timestudy experts to make Taylorist recommendations for speeding up the labor process and directing the bodily motions of the workers. Today, however, computers allow top management to retrieve information on production operations as they happen 24 hours per day. (p.118)


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


On Foucault, Foucault

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