Foucault, Norms, Discipline and Power

“Like surveillance and with it, normalization becomes one of the great instruments of power at the end of the classical age. For the marks that once indicated status, privilege and affiliation were increasingly replace — or at least supplemented — by a whole range of degrees of normality indicating membership of a homogeneous social body but also playing a part in classification, hierarchization and the distribution of rank. In a sense, the power of normalization imposes homogeneity; but it individualizes by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialties and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another. It is easy to understand how power of the norm functions within a system of formal equality, since within a homogeneity that is the rule, the norm introduces, as a useful imperative and as a result of measurement, all the shading of individual differences” (184, Foucault, Discipline and Punish).

Homogeneity is a tool of legibility, examination, discipline, and control. Classification, like that of race, invokes a power relationship.  The one inscribing/objectifying the other becomes a greater knower, and leverages that knowledge as power. Writing is one of the first tools of objectification of people built into in a number of institutions. Writing, for Foucault, was also a way of disciplining the majority into a homogeneous mode of expression subject to standards and norms. It also added a layer to the objectification of humans by creating legible information about them along with the ‘disciplines’.

” Thanks to the whole apparatus of writing that accompanied it, the examination opened up two correlative possibilities: firstly, the constitution of the individual as a describable, analysable object, not in order to reduce him to ‘specific’ features, as did the naturalists in relation to living beings, but in order to maintain him in his individual features, in his particular evolution, in his own aptitudes or abilities, under the gaze of a permanent corpus of knowledge; and, secondly, the constitution of a comparative system that made possible the measurement of overall phenomena, the description of groups, the characterization of collective facts, the calculation of the gaps between individuals, their distribution in a given ·population’. ” (190, Foucault, Discipline and Punish).


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