Standards and classifications are a central part of our
lives, and establish a social and moral order of which we are largely unaware.
Language can be used to classify people (sometimes permanently) with
some socially charged label: criminals, subversives, terrorists, communists,
As an example, Foucault shows how the discourse on homosexuality shifted
from describing a practice to describing a person or state, and explores
the social consequences of this shift in language. (“The sodomite
had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.” Foucault
citing Carl Westphal, 1870)
Foucault has a great deal to say about the way people
in various settings are dominated and controlled by standard modes of thinking
and doing. This is relevant to various aspects of organizational
management, including management information and process improvement, which
sometimes carry hidden political intentions which may subvert the official
agenda of "efficiency" and "effectiveness". Resistance to change is often
generated by assumptions (which may not always be true) about the hidden
The main source for Foucault's ideas on this subject is his book Discipline
||A part of a process, involving a standard interaction between a person
and a thing, to perform a given task. Training and disciplined practice
produces close alignment (tight coupling) between the person and the thing.
Foucault: Discipline and Punish, p 153.
||A process of supervision that imposes discipline. Foucault's archetype
of surveillance is based on Bentham's Panopticon.
Foucault draws interesting conclusions about identity and power from
the modern ways of talking about sex.
We can draw similar conclusions from the modern ways of talking about
Foucault published several volumes of a History of Sexuality.
One reason for his interest in this topic and the modern discourses
relating to it, is that it allows him to draw some interesting conclusions
about identity and power.
Michel Foucault et al, Technologies of the Self
(London: Tavistock, 1988)