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Foucault on Governance

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            Issues of governance and the proper role of government in society have continued to be a dominant social issue. Concurrent sections of this paper will address this issue from Facault’s point of view. His workings on governance will especially be central in this investigation. Literature critiquing Facault’s stand on the issues will also be analyzed and reported accordingly. The paper shall further trace changes in thoughts of governmentality in past history. The issue of governments being responsible to set discipline in society will get most scrutiny. Other than these investigations, the last section of the paper will provide some reflections on what has been learned regarding contemporary social issues and especially the one discussed herein.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† According to Hunt and Wickham (2004) the issue of discipline in society originated in 18th and 19th centuries during industrial revolutions. His period was also faced with several major political and social revolutions that greatly shaped societies. The spread of these revolutions all many places worldwide resulted to discipline becoming major social issues in respective societies. The rise of governments in these localities resulted to increase need to have people conforming to certain societal norms. This slowly led to governments taking the initiative of ensuring that individuals were conforming. On the other hand, the populace was demanding that each other embark on developing the proper discipline that would not hurt fellow society members‚ÄĒthis later came to be referred to as civil liberties.

            Governments in respective societies thus embarked on the process of enforcing certain social disciplines. Other than the self-initiatives, the respective governments saw citizen groups demanding that certain matters pertaining to social discipline be enforced. The end results were the governments completing taking over issues of discipline that had previously been let to individual communities. This meant that disciplinary issues were becoming central to smooth running of societies. However, it did not take long for the governing authorities to become the initiator of discipline issues that all in respective societies had to conform to. Foucault notes that discipline eventually became ways that governments gained control over respective populace (Kerr 2002). Having the power to hold individuals responsibility to comply with the discipline resulted to ever increasing state involvement in societal disciplinary issues.

            Foucault’s critics argue that his theory on government in enforcing discipline, and using the same discipline to control its people was true between 16th and 19th centuries, but not since beginning of 20the century (Hunt & Wickham 2004). Critics argue that that the state was loosing influence over discipline to modernity. The influence of modernity has thus resulted to taking responsibility of discipline to back to individual members of society. Foucault’s ideas on governance and disciplinary have thus become under serious intellectual scrutiny to an extent of being seed as almost irrelevant in modern era. It is however too early to rule out the influence and importance of Foucault in disciplinary and governance issues.

            Foucault’s ideas on the state taking central using discipline to control its populace has especially been exemplified since late 20th century. According to Graham et. al. (2001) the disintegration of international order resulted to break up of nations into smaller state that have aggressively use discipline to suppress respective populace. Sovereignty issues have meant that other countries can hardly intervene, they can only watch as authorities continue suppressing their own people. This scenario illustrates the earlier mentioned Foucault’s assertion that governing authorities can successfully use discipline to control people whose liberties the governments is supposed to be protecting.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Economic liberalism that started three decades ago has further illustrated the vitality of Foucault‚Äôs ideas in societies. This is especially so because of the central point that individualism plays. Thy renewed focus on the importance of individualism calls on the state to only enforce disciplines that citizen demand, not governing individuals or special interest groups see fit. More powers on disciplinary measures have further been taking over by the citizens in respective communities. This has resulted to people gaining more control of what is being enforced in respective areas of jurisdiction, and therefore avoids the abuse that happens in higher levels of governance. In recent past, Foucault‚Äôs surveillance and panopticism have been used to study the way modern governing authorities embark on dealing with disciplinary threats (Foucault 1997). Governments in several developed countries have especially been using surveillance and panopticism to keep a track on trends that might lead to erosion of discipline. Application of the two aspects of Foucault‚Äôs work is getting used at the international level to control ‚Äúindiscipline‚ÄĚ such as the one resulted to 9/11 destructive attacks (Hurley 2004) much to the satisfaction of governing authorities and general populace.

            Foucault’s thoughts have also been used in the process of understanding ways of the populace ensuring that power entrusted to respective leadership does not get abused. Among other Foucauldian solutions have included the decentralization of governance in society. According to Lemke (2004) taking the decentralization measure results to the governing authorities understanding that citizens are watching and therefore embark on using best practices in instilling the commonly agreed discipline measures. Further, people’s close proximity to leadership results to various initiatives of holding leadership accountable.

            A major disagreement arises between Foucault and his critiques with regard to investigating the role modernity in societal discipline and governance (Kerr 2002). Critiques state that modernity is the source of progress, which helps in achieving coherence and continuity of proper discipline in society. However, Foucault claims that looking for origins can hardly succeed in achieving the desired degree of proper understanding of modernity. This results to Foucault utilizing discontinuity and incoherence in the way society deals with modernity. Foucault sees the discontinuity as the source changes in societal, because continuity robs stakeholders’ interest demanding better performance of leadership with regard to discipline in society.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Lack of continuity in best practices of ensuring discipline in the society causes a conflict between respective leadership and the general public. This conflict has people in leadership and special interest groups insisting that present practices are fine for the society. General public could on the other hand opinion the adoption of other practices that would better people interests in most beneficial ways. The difference in both groups‚Äô interests leads to long terms disagreements, as one group argues for continuity and the other change to better and representative processes. According to Foucault (Rose 2001) governing authorities use three specific instruments to control individuals, they include: hierarchical observation, panopticon, and conduct assessment‚ÄĒall of which are discussed below in detail.

            Foucault’s hierarchical observation is an arrangement that allows respective leadership to easily see the people being governed easily. This helps in the process of understanding whether citizenry exemplify the discipline being demanded. The higher levels of respective hierarchy are usually occupied by confidants of the leadership, which allows for smooth flow of information regarding compliance The hierarchy is also used to ensure that instructions regarding measures to be undertaken by individuals or groups failing to comply reach implementers. This is the same measure currently being used by various governments to perform surveillance activities. This hierarchical measure is hugely successful because of public’s fear of repercussions on being reported to authorities. Unfortunately, it is prone to creating fear in the population, instead of establishing confidence to proceed with their lives.

            The panopticon aspect of control aids in the process of overseeing total observation at all levels of society (Cruikshank 2002). This is especially used in combination with hierarchical order. Here, the individuals in the hierarchies are given powers to take most appropriate action against the individuals failing to comply with stipulated disciplines. The accruing grassroots observation is indeed very effective in attaining the respective enforcement goals. This effectiveness further results to the affected populations become wearier of stern measures when they fail to comply and therefore improve on their compliance to levels agreeable by authorities. The third step involves regular assessments on progress being made. Those holding power use these assessments to understand the true effect of their policies to rest of population. An indication of lack of success in achieving the intended goals is followed by the development of more serious measures, which are expected to achieve best of the intended results. On the other hand, success in various measures seen them being enhanced and application widened to other regions in respective societies.

            The power enjoyed by respective individuals results to others wanting to take part, which Foucault says results to constant contestation among different groups in respective societies. Most of individuals in these groups intend to replace current practices with new ones, which might be better or even more oppressive. This constant change of guard in societal authorities ends up subjecting citizenry to different disciplinary measures. In the long run, however, people themselves are able to develop ways and means of holding leadership accountable, which streamlines governance operations.

            As mentioned in the introductions, this last section shall provide reflections. By undertaking the project, the writer has increased understanding on contemporary social issues. Most importantly, concepts learned in the module have been enhanced to higher levels. This has been achieved by concentrating efforts on one social contemporary issue of governance of discipline in society. The writer now understands that everyday contemporary issues evolve with time. Most importantly, it has been learning that various stakeholders are involved in the process of change. First, authorities and leaders in society play a key role in shaping the issues. This especially happens because of special interest groups that influence leadership decisions. Second, the society members, who mostly get affected by various aspects of governance, end up developing measures to control leadership. Third, intellectuals such as Foucault play a vital role of explaining and the underpinnings of measures used by the stakeholders. Combinations of the three stakeholders’ interests lead to constant changes of contemporary social issues to until all are relatively satisfied. The project has indeed been vital in the process of developing the understanding contained herein.


Cruikshank, B. Revolutions Within, Chicago: UoC.

Foucault, M. 1997, Ethics, Subjectivity & Truth, NY: New Press.

Graham B., Colin G. & Miller, P. 2001, The Foucault Effect, Chicago, UoC.

Hurley, R. 2004, History of Sexuality (trans.), NY: Random.

Hunt, P. & Wickham, G. 2004, Foucault & the Law, London: Pluto.

Kerr, D. 2002, ‘Critiqueing Foucauldian governmentality,’ Science & Society, Vol. 63, No. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 2, pp. 169-210.

Lemke, T. 2004, ‘On Foucault’s governmentality,’ Marxism, Vol., 14, No. 3, pp. 38-71.

Rose, N. 2001, Self Inventing, Cambridge: CUP.

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