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Can discipline be understood as a dead form of mediation? In social and cultural theory, the most common understanding of discipline comes from Michel Foucault's book, Discipline and Punish, in which Foucault characterizes modern western society as a disciplinary society. He defines discipline as a technique of power more effective than harsh punishment because it is more continuous, dispersed across various institutions that either directly or indirectly serve a governmental function rather than being centralized in one. Discipline is also effective because its power is hidden; it is built into architecture and institutional schedules.

Disciplinary techniques direct the subject's vital energy into productive labor, as well as repressing this energy for the purpose of political obedience: “Discipline increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience)” (Foucault 1995: 138). It thus creates an obedient laboring subject, a subject of both capitalism and governmentality.

Disciplinary techniques might be understood as technologies that turn the body into a medium for the disciplinary subject; in other words, the body's vitality is channeled into a subject of discipline. Disciplinary techniques might also be seen as a medium between forces of power and the subject, or between state power and the subject.

From Discipline to Control

Deleuze argues that disciplinary society has been replaced by what he calls control society: "The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports." (Gilles Deleuze, http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm)

"The real situation is that we have no discipline in the popular camp, and so we have a great weakness." (Alain Badiou, http://info.interactivist.net/node/5400)

Michael Hardt characterizes Deleuze's argument in "Postscript on the Societies of Control" as suggesting a generalization of discipline, rather than its eradication: "Social space is smooth, not in the sense that it has been cleared of the disciplinary striation, but rather in the sense that those striae have been generalized across society. Social space has not been emptied of the disciplinary institutions; it has been completely filled with the modulations of control. The relationship between society and the State no longer primarily involves the mediation and organization of the institutions for discipline and rule. Instead, the relationship sets the State in motion directly through the perpetual circuitry of social production" (Hardt 1995: 35). Hardt is arguing that the relationship between society and the State is no longer based on mediation through disciplinary institutions.

Beyond Deleuze


Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Trans. Alan Sheridan, (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

Hardt, Michael. The Withering of Civil Society in Social Text No. 45 (Winter, 1995), pp. 27-44.