For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The quest for autonomy: a Foucauldian perspective on work‐based research"

by Siebert, Sabina; Mills, Vince (2007)


The relationship between the workplace, the researcher and the university is of a complex nature and all three stakeholders have their own influences on work?based learning. Defining the relationship between the stakeholders provokes a consideration of the issue of power, since power relations within a workplace can affect the reliability of findings. The organisational context and conflict of interest might pose a risk of the academic investigation being compromised. Following from Foucault's conclusion that the pursuit of personal autonomy in education is destined to fail, this article argues that autonomy of the researcher in the workplace can only be guaranteed by a robust defence of academic rigour by the academy in the support it offers the learner.

Key Passage

It could be argued that the parallels between workers and inmates are too far-fetched; however, the techniques of surveillance and the operation of disciplinary powers, especially the notion of self-discipline discussed by Foucault, can be extended to operate in the organisational context. The Panopticon can serve as a metaphor of power exercised over the researcher in the workplace; either in relation to the research process, or to the research findings. Power, according to Foucault, is multidirectional and forms a network of interconnected relationships. It does not ‘belong’ to the elite and is not exercised over the inferior subjects. Disciplinary power comes from inside and is transmitted in all directions, both on the elite and on the subordinates. One of the fundamental components of Foucault’s idea of power is that it is not simply held and exercised on those ‘who do not have it’, but one of its most ‘diabolical’ aspects is that it is entrusted to everyone and exercised over everyone (Foucault, 1991, p. 27). (p.310)


Foucault, Autonomy, Academic Work, Academia, Research Work, Power, Poststructuralism, University Work


On Foucault, Foucault

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