Free University of Los Angeles


aberration is power


Saturday July 24th 2004


Flor y Canto

6 PM

aberration is power


At the risk of being repetitive and hence possibly boring, for those who have already read these notes, I chose to post them before the presentation in order to counter the traditional power dynamic between presenter and participant, teacher and student, lecturer and audience - where the one up front often tries to increase her/his significance by maintaining scarcity of information.



- Depending on where we are located within society, we are all governed and managed by a multiplicity of institutions – schools, TV, factories, prisons, etc. One of the main goals of the institutional hierarchy and structure is to render us docile and manageable = useful.

- They use different mechanisms of power to accomplish this. One of the more common and least discussed mechanisms of power is the disciplinary power of normalization = the production of useful individuals.

- This mechanism has become so well developed that it is now seen as essential for successful management.

- Now there are new sets of crimes = stepping outside of the norm, executed by all of these diverse institutions.

- In the application of this power, such institutions use the truth/knowledge produced by Human Sciences (Psychology, Cognitive Science, Biology, Physiology, Sociology, etc).= there is a mutual relationship between knowledge and power (truth often has the opposite effect of setting you free). These ARE apparatuses of knowledge - it is up to them to decide the character of the prisoner (“good behavior”.), student (aptitude), population (criminal), worker (stressed), child (ADD), etc. = KNOWLEDGE/TRUTH and POWER are in this context never separate from one another = production of truth/discourse is a bloody political battle field full of contesting power relations. One cannot discuss truth without considering POWER – whom does this truth serve? !

The point about talking about this is:

1. recognize and respond – so far most of the focus has been on repression and exclusion. With the recognition of the everpresent link between knowledge/truth and power, our strategies can become so much more sophisticated (not “truth will set you free”, or “speak Truth to Power”!).

2. it is a useful way of thinking about the world and is a useful language since it allows one to work with other without feeling like forcing them to line up under one flag = it is a respectful language of peace. Hence it also counteracts all totalizing forces who do try to institute homogeneity of views, languages, cultures, desires, etc. (e.g. liberals, conventional leftists, various monotheists,)

3. so that we don’t reproduce this – careful attention needs to be paid to our own structures. Because, the use of this technology is not necessarily outcome of megalomanial desires – rather, it is a response to difficulties of management.
Consequently this form of power (and power in general) is not centralized in any one location – no master base.1 It is a diffused practice across society – although, due to its usefulness it has often been linked up in networks (which is where it become more visible – e.g. courts and psychiatry, psychology and factory). Generally, it is based on the knowledge produced by the small number of truth producing institutions (universities, sciences, media, etc) – apparatuses of knowledge.


- This mechanism became prevalent by the end of the 18th c . Some of this existed before (e.g. monks), however, there is a difference in methods and scale.

- one of the earliest representations of this power is seen in military. Before the introduction of firearms, groups of foot soldiers were seen/used as projectiles (= no individuals). Rifles à necessity for skilled soldiers à view/use/production of INDIVIDUAL soldiers as machines capable of being shaped. = need to focus on every minor movement, Psychology, etc. à control/production of soul rather than just the body. = PRODUCTIVE/POSITIVE POWER.

- similarly, in capitalism we are not exploited for our land, grain, resources, etc (we don’t have any!), instead the target is our labor à need for control of the soul to produce a disciplined and docile ( = NORMALIZED) proletariat. It’s necessary for management and extraction of labor.

- of course, since then this mechanism of power has spread into various other types of arenas – the production (for management/control) of students, children, wives, clients, audiences, populations,

- and even CRIMINALS. In Abu Graid prisoner photo controversy, it is more ok to have used the whole thing for psych control rather than just sadistic torture (“oh, they were just gonna use the photos to embarrass them”). The target is not just the body but also/especially the soul.

Foucault takes a close looks at prisons to show the development of this power mechanism – it was one of the first places where it was explicitly thought out – they are at the forefront in many ways for the past 200+ yrs. Which is why schools, factories, offices, etc have been more and more resembling prisons.

- PRISONS have always horribly failed at accomplishing their stated goal (“reduction of crime”). Since their inception they have escalated the rate of recidivism! But the reason why they have been constantly spreading is because they are excellent mechanisms of control/normalization.

- They produce a certain body which is useful and is fruitfully invested by laying down the limit of tolerance, of giving free rein to some, of putting pressure on others, of excluding a particular section, of making another useful, of neutralizing certain individuals [and communities] and of profiting from others. In short, penalty does not simply ‘check’ illegalities (if at all); it ‘differentiates’ them, it provides them with a general ‘economy’.

- Punishments are a strategy of illegalities. They are useful in producing a drug trade $, elimination of dissent, elimination of common criminals ( who have sympathy from public) by transforming them into career criminals (feared by public), prison labor $, keeping whole communities in check, etc. A manageable prison ends up also being useful to manage large sections of the population outside of its walls = a network of management. What is good for the warden also ended up being good for the mayor, GE, LAUSD, etc.


- Under the pretext of explaining action they keep defining the individual (e.g. In prison, the offender is transformed into a delinquent. In other institutions they have the insane, the addict, the gifted child, etc). Thus, they don’t only focus on the acts but try to change individuals to fit wherever in the society the are supposed to fit. Then they trim our edges so that we will stay within the appropriate box.

- They look at the individual’s biography, compile thick file folders in order to produce a body of knowledge to determine what about the individual leads them to be where/who/what they are. Where to intervene with punishment, reward – inclusion or exclusion, in order to position the particular body in a desired location.


1. At the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism, modeled after the courts but more nit-picking at small details (e.g. efficiency expert teams, grades).

2. The ‘offences’ are also of different kind within these systems. They were not just negative (breaking a rule), but also positive – of not measuring up.

3. Disciplinary punishment in such institutions has the function of reducing gaps. Punishment is often directed toward building up the individual to where they should be in the particular task (e.g. endless training seminars).

4. In discipline, punishment is only one element of a double system of gratification-punishment. The people at the bottom are encouraged to perform to get the reward as much as the people on top perform out of fear of punishment. Consequently, all behavior falls between the poles of good and bad, instead of just prohibition. It is a whole math of punishment. This ends up differentiating not just acts by individuals themselves but their nature, their potentialities, their value (e.g. honor’s students).

5. Ranks and grades (hierarchical organization) not only marks the gaps and hierarchies of qualities, but it also acts as reward and punishment.

Out of this, with extensive use of examination, emerges the individual – a creation of discipline and normalization – individual case, rank, file, cell, station, grade, position, number – the ‘individual’ is the outcome of all of this.

Surveillance – knowing that you are being watched but being unable to verify has become an important aspect or discipline/normalization

- The one who is monitored, eventually starts monitoring oneself knowing that s/he is always being watched… even when they are not (e.g. non-monitored security cameras, emails, etc).

- The control mechanism is not pain, but the surveillance itself – along with an array of judges at every point: teacher-judge, supervisor-judge, social worker-judge, doctor-judge, show host-judge. These judge the soul (not just the act), which leads to the application of disciplinary power through micro-management.

- The new forms of more prevalent constant electronic monitoring systems (electronic traces [credit cards], cameras, etc) require a more precise definitions of the norm in order to know what to spot as ‘out of ordinary’. à narrowing down the little boxes in which we are supposed to fit.
The individual and even institutional intentions are irrelevant. Yes some security cameras are there to prevent rape, some social workers want to help those who are in a very bad condition. What matters are the methods used (disciplinary power) and the consequent outcomes that the produce (normalization = docile, manageable bodies).

- This is one of many mechanisms. Currently, it seems like the institutions keep shifting between normalization/discipline (productive) and control/exclusion (restrictive) – which is less useful but is cheaper. Here race, gender, class, etc, come into play in a major way.2


- people always have and will keep resisting such colonization by creating instances/situations where they are unmanageable (e.g. prison culture, truancy, cheating, gluing locks, hacking, etc) – which is why Knowledge/Truth are constant battlefields. Consequently these institutions often have to fall back on the cruder mechanism of control/exclusion. [maybe minorities are excluded and controlled more not just because we are simply hated/“other”, but also because maybe we have more tools for resistance – e.g. due to support networks, family size/cohesion (kinship dynamics), awareness of alternatives, cynicism, etc.]

- Therefore, different mechanisms of power are exercised depending on what works in the particular circumstance – focusing only on one will keep us running in circles. White people need to liberate themselves as much as the rest of us need to liberate ourselves. If they are so much better off, what’s up with all the anti-depressants?

- Depending on where we are within society, we find yourself under the reign of a different monsters (employers, patriarchy, schools, racism, etc) à different groups put priorities into different battles. In more diverse areas (e.g. LA), the coexistence of multiplicity of such concerns is in itself an issue. Many try to oversimplify things and propose that all monsters are the shadows of just one monster (capitalism, or racism, or patriarchy, or bad parenting, or lack of religion/spirituality, etc) and try to bully us all to march, in a disciplined fashion, under one flag. Imagining that they have found the one “Truth” for everyone, these little monsters try to make it big through totalization à normalization.

- by understanding and actively opposing the mechanism of normalization (especially the cop in our own heads), we can have easier time producing solidarity (not unity! Fuck unity and its one flag!) between those who are ready to respect us in our difference.

- One of the main targets of change has to become the institutional regime of the production of Truth, which is presently attached to social, economic, and cultural hegemony. The political question is truth itself.

- it’s not about telling “the Truth”, but about paying attention to
whom does the given truth serve?!?


- Voting is made possible because of the existence of discipline – otherwise, they wouldn’t let us. The whole structure of rights and defenses from tyranny are a mere façade when considering that behind them lurks the ever-present disciplinary forces of everyday life – the cop in our head. Hence, power is rendered asymmetrical by individualizing and “correcting”. This whole representative democratic system is dependent on disciplinary power in order to maintain cohesion – otherwise how else can you convince 200mil people to accept a decision as a “right” one. The people who are supposed to decide on social laws are molded by disciplines who proclaim to be based on “natural laws”.

- POWER is only tolerable when it masks a substantial part of itself. It’s success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms. Obedience is only likely when people think of power only as restrictive, thereby thinking that they at least have some measure of freedom (through “choice”).

Anticipated criticism:

“Look, society is complex – now – there are a lot more confusing challenges that people need help with in order to be able to function without hurting themselves and/or others. They need to be empowered to produce a kind of a life for themselves that they themselves want. These aren’t happy go lucky people, the helping professions more often than not only intervene into the life of those who are miserable and themselves want to be able to adjust, to be outside of the horrific conditions in which they find themselves.”
--- Yes, those who do not measure up, who do not normalize become punished in a very harsh way (à keeps the rest of us scared straight). Of course some of them want to adjust, disciplinary institutions are the only game in town – not adjusting generally leads you to the skid row.
The end outcome (not necessarily = intention) of the human professions is to keep this population accounted, measured, located, and arranged in a manner that will maintain them manageable (“managing cases”:).
Human professions within institutional contexts utilize disciplinary power and contribute to the production of docile and manageable bodies – the only kind of bodies that can adjust to the workplace and the school (with the possible exception of tricksters).
(ALSO, they act as pressure valves when tensions build up – like Roosevelt).

= They contribute to the current functioning of this society. Like the concentration camp doctors, they keep the wheels turning. Our alternatives to this are not that different from the alternatives that were/are available to those doctors.
There are many uses to a scalpel – I choose to use mine toward the production of alternatives à the elimination of dependency on such institutions and discourses.


According to Foucault there is no ‘Truth’, instead there are truths, all of which are produced within mechanisms of power. Power is everywhere, and it arises out of the disparity between various forces that are always at war, that always contest over claims to the truth. Nobody, no group exclusively possesses it over any group/one else. It’s like a chain – it’s never localised in any one’s/group’s hands.

People are not only the target but also always the elements of its articulation – its vehicle. Power establishes a network through which it freely circulates, but this does not mean that it is equally distributed, or that it is centralised up top and penetrates into the base, “rather one must conduct an ascending analysis of power” (p 96). Each body (individual, or group) has its own techniques, trajectory, tactics, and mechanisms of power (p. 96).

The various groupings of elites colonize, invest, utilize, transform, displace, extend etc. by ever more general mechanisms and forms of global domination. Each unit of society has some power (tactics, techniques etc.) but these are invested and annexed by more global phenomena in a subtle fashion – the more general powers of economic interests are able to engage WITH these technologies that are at once both relatively autonomous of power and act as its “infinitesimal elements” (p. 97).

One way in which this is done is through the very concealment of the way in which power works. By making people think that power is simply restrictive (through propaganda, the way in which laws are explained – ‘the juridical discourse’, etc.), power conceals its most important element – its ability to crate.


2 CONTROL SOCIETY is one of constant and never ending modulation where the modulation occurs within the flows and transactions between the forces and capacities of the human subject and the practices in which he or she participates. One is always in continuous training, life-long learning, perpetual assessment, continual incitement to buy, to improve oneself, constant monitoring of health and never-ending risk management. Control is not centralized but dispersed, it flows through a network of open circuits that are rhizomatic and not hierarchical. In such a regime of control, we are not dealing with subjects with a unique personality that is the expression of some inner fixed quality, but with elements, capacities, potentialities. These are plugged into multiple orbits, identified by unique codes, identification numbers, profiles of preferences security ratings ands o forth: a ‘record’ containing a whole variety of bits of information on our credentials, activities, qualifications for entry into this or that network.

In our societies of control, it is not a question of socialising and disciplining the subject ab initio. It is not a question of instituting a regime in which each person is permanently under the alien gaze of the eye of power exercising individualising surveillance. It is not a matter of apprehending and normalising the offender ex post facto. Conduct is continually monitored and reshaped by logics immanent within all networks of practice. Surveillance is ‘designed in’ to the flows of everyday existence. In these circuits of inclusion, the calculated modulation of conduct according to principles of optimisation of benign impulses and minimisation of malign impulses is dispersed across the time and space of ordinary life. What is entailed here is the calculated instrumentalization and enhancement of control features that are potential within a whole variety of practices in the service or specific projects for the management of conduct.

[the shift is partly due to the failures of the machines to enforce normalization (e.g. they never succeeded in stomping out prison culture) which made it costly à control is cheaper]. Nicholas Rose


Suggested readings:

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
by Michel Foucault

The History of Sexuality: An Introduction
by Michel Foucault

Foucault, Marxism, and history: Mode of production versus mode of information
by Mark Poster

(you can find the full text at

Governing the Soul: the shaping of the private self
by Nicholas Rose

Political Parties
By Robert Michels

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