Tasha & Alex, “Foucault, Power, and Education” ch. 2-3 and Boldt, Failing Bodies

1. Pedagogy: Failing Bodies and Foucault’s Lectures In “Failing Bodies”, Gail makes a very brief comment that prompted us to think about pedagogical power relations. Referring to a teacher’s strict expectations and technique, Gail writes –

“This teacher may have been harsher than many but she was not doing anything that other teachers (including myself) don’t do in friendlier, perhaps less obvious (and perhaps therefore more manipulative or insidious) ways” (Boldt, 95).

There was an evident shift from teacher-centered to child-centered (learner-centered) curriculum approaches in the twentieth century. Students are seen as passive and considered the sole learner within the relationship and education/knowledge is conveyed from teacher to student in a traditional didactic manner in the former teacher-centered curriculum in contrast to the child-centered curriculum where students are more active and agentic in the learning process, instead of knowledge primarily transmitted from teacher to student students are encouraged to use communication, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. to construct knowledge. The child-centered approach is seen as a co-learning experience between the teacher and students. But has this shift in curriculum really dissolved or suppressed the power relations? Or just reorganized them?

Foucault gives an interesting perspective on a similar topic. By substituting ‘teacher-centered’ with ‘lecture’ and ‘child-centered’ with ‘seminar’ (or, even still interesting, leave the lecture/seminar concept) this Foucauldian view could be used to inform the idea of a reformulation of power relations.

  • “.. (Foucault) argues that the lecture, that apparently non-reciprocal and unequal power relationship, is more honest and less devious than the seminar about the relationships of power which inevitably invest each of them. A lecture which is tentative about its truth-claims and which exposes itself to criticism might neutralize power relations by rendering them more visible; whereas the ostensible freedom and reciprocity of the seminar may disguise power relations to the extent that students uncritically absorb what is only the informed opinion of the teacher. On this basis Foucault felt that seminars, whilst necessary, might be better suited for training in methods than for the development of free and critical thinking. It follows that one-on-one tutorials, group research programmes and group work are at least as likely to manipulate students as a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ method. Tutorial politics depend inordinately heavily on personal qualities, amicable interaction, and firm commitments, and are not well-suited for the average learner; group work, though less elitist, may enhance inter-peer politics at the risk of promoting unequal participation and domination by a few ….. In the lecture, he says, in spite of appearances, there is less of a relation of power between the teacher and the students than in a seminar. The auditors of a lecture can freely adopt a take it or leave it approach to the content and could admire the lecture (or not) as one would admire a well-crafted shoe” (Deacon, 2006).


  • ‘I see myself more as an artisan crafting an object and offering it for consumption rather than a master making his slaves work’. On the other hand, seminars with discussion meant that by the end of the series, students could no longer be sure whether their ideas were their own or had been subtly and insidiously moulded by the seminar leader during the course of discussion.’  (Foucault, ‘Conversation avec Michel Foucault’, Dits et Ecrits, vol II, p190-191.)

We have a few seemingly unrelated discussions here  (failing bodies & lecture/seminar, social hereditarianism in ECE, eugenicist thought in social welfare & nonprofits) but we hope to discuss each in terms of some of these big concepts in Foucault & Ball’s work.

  • Critique: Foucault’s critique reveals “unconsidered modes of thought [on which] the practices that we accept rest…” (Foucault in Ball 82)- “not to uncover the development of rationality, but the ways new forms of control and power are legitimated by complex discourses that stake a claim to rationality and that are embedded in diverse institutional sites” (Olssen in Ball 81). The purpose of critique is “not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are,” but rather “a matter of pointing out… assumptions” (Foucault in Ball 85). We don’t seek to criticize pedagogical strategies or private non-profits (today, anyway), but rather to come to new understandings of the discourses and power relations involved. We’re left thinking, again, that ‘everything is dangerous’, in some ways, but we’ll ask – how do these educational and welfare services sit with you, now?
  • Problematization: Dan Goodley (2010) explains Foucault’s problematisation in a particularly succinct and accessible way: “…methodology of problematisation poses two questions: How did something become constructed (e.g. the self)? How did something become a problem (e.g. the disabled self)?” We trace instances of social hereditarianism in ECE and eugenicist thought in a private non-profit to understand how particular individuals, behaviors, and physical, mental, social, and environmental conditions become constructed as problematic. Foucault was also concerned with why something becomes a particular kind of problem and why a certain way of problematizing appears at a given point in time, within his broader concern, pursuing a ‘history of truth’. For each of our applications, we may also consider how these problems come to matter differently for each involved party, and how problematization might be used to justify present practices instead of critical attitudes toward them.
  • Our practices as always Implicated (as members of this society, but especially as academics, as teachers, as non-profit workers): to return to our discussion from two weeks ago, we may revisit the way that certain knowledges take hold over others: how things came to be the truth or better truths than others. Ball writes that “our own knowledges and practices as sociologists, pedagogues, policy analysts, are historically implicated, and continue to be implicated, in the practices of the management of the population, and the construction and maintenance of social and racial divisions” (88).
  • The question of Intent and Intentionality: again, there is a difference between an individual’s intention and what affects the actions that are the result of those intentions. Sources of intention are diverse and result in unintended consequences.
    • Eugenicists vs. Sociologists: what are the problematics? what did the work of each produce? “Both positions sit firmly within the problematics of the population as a resource to be managed” (Ball 90, more through 91).
      • While the decision to exercise power is always intentional, the mechanisms of power that individuals use to exercise power are inherently non-subjective, because they do not depend on the existence of those individuals for their own existence.  Power mechanisms, because they are structured and reproduced by a multiplicity of power-relations that are not reducible to the individuals who exercise them, are necessarily incapable of being controlled by any particular individual
      • “individual’s use of power can be non-subjective” as well due to the “inevitable disjunction between an action’s intention and its actual effect
      • “While constantly being injected with aims, purposes and calculation, power is not reducible to the ambitions and decisions of any individual subjects. Nowhere can one find an all-powerful individual, a master under whose control the working of power might be.”
  • Eugenicist Thought/ Eugenicist Strands: Ball points out that the “interventionist/welfarist/disciplinary approach” and education policy today are rife with eugenicist influence: “alongside the residues of genetic accounts of normality and difference, forms of culture, lifestyle and relationships within the family, were identified by sociologists as a new grid of intelligibility within which educational success and failure could be located” (91).
  1. Social Hereditarianism in ECE (primarily elementary education): Burt, Ball (92), describes “cycles of disadvantage” whereby “the failures of the family are ‘passed on’ as a form of social heredity”. Certain homes are perceived as fostering “an educative climate”, with “attitudes and orientations” that  “are congruent with the demands and the aims of the school”. In contrast, we see some working-class or poor families:
  • In “Failing Bodies”, Gail (2001) highlights an experience involving a minority family whose practices and views conflicted with that of the child’s school. A student teacher complained of a student who only attended school a few days out of the week while going to the beach and watching t.v./playing video games at home the other days. The few days the child did make it to school she could be found sitting off to the side unable to participate in the current lesson with the rest of her peers because of the make-up work she was assigned to complete. Because of this, the opinions of the father were less than favorable among the teachers with the student teacher going as far as saying, “Her father is wrecking her life by not making her come to school” (102).
  • Expectations of working class family support outside of school… not helping with homework, lack of tutoring resources related to SES, and associated values
  1. Nonprofit Social Services: using critique, problematization, implication, intent, eugenicist thought and social hereditarianism to newly consider a range of programs. In addition, we want to pay particular attention to the ways in which families and individuals are managed, and the use of language for different programs and social groups served. What “entanglements and blindness” are at play? (Ball 82). Also important here is Graham and Slee’s (2008) idea that “to include is not necessarily to be inclusive”, or “the inclusion paradox” (Ball 84). Using Foucault to examine social work is not a new idea… there is work about managing welfare and particularly social hereditarianism and controlling women’s reproductive rights.
  • “… biopolitics have given birth to technologies, experts and apparatuses for the care and administration of life for each and all, from town planning to health services to schools… there is, he argues, little clear distinction between preventative medicine and eugenics, between the pursuit of health and the elimination of illness, between consent and compulsion” (Rose, of Foucault, in Goodley 107).
  • “… the regulation, control and management of ‘welfare clients’ has been managed through neoliberal paternalism, which shifts the locus of social responsibility – responsibility for collective welfare or well-being – onto the individual, family and community. It also aids understanding of how service professionals, such as childcare workers and social workers, become complicit in disciplining and managing service users” (Webb & Grey 177).
  • “… under the neoliberal social investment regime, social workers are increasingly enlisted to discipline, blame, and target disadvantaged social groups, especially single mothers, through welfare-to-work and child protection programmes” (Webb & Grey 177).

Family Service Association of Bucks County: a private, 501 (c)3 nonprofit celebrating 60 years in the Bucks County (started in 1953 – we might consider the trajectory of these programs alongside other timelines of social policy and exclusion.) and surrounding communities with the following programs:

    • AACES (Aspergers Awareness Education and Support Program), where I spent most of my time as an FSABC employee
      • Clients “must have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS or High Functioning Autism)”, “be able to attend programs independently and navigate adjoining mall without support” and “have an IQ score of 70 or above”.
      • “Techniques of post/modern biopower – statistics, demographics, assessment, education, measurement, and surveillance – expand as knowledge from the human and social sciences grow and institutions of society become more pronounced. These techniques generate discourses of the self that people have come to know and constrain themselves by” (Goodley 106).
      • “Testing used to identify different ‘ability levels’ matched to ‘appropriate’ learning experiences” (Ball 96). In classifying learners or people based on definitive objectives, asking what children/people are capable of obtaining a particular result
      • “one might argue that disability is a product of modernist bio-power (Foucault 1981), that is, an effect of the medical management of people with impairments. One could conclude, in other words, that impairment itself is a product of medico-welfare discourse” (Tremain, 82)
      • Coffeehouse, workshops, job counseling and placements: “interventions that are designed to ‘fix and repair’ divergence from the norms of pacing knowledge” (Ball 100).
  • Teen Center: “The Bucks County Health Improvement Project identified ‘adolescent problems’ as a major area of concern during a 1993-1994 health assessment. This prompted the opening of a Teen Center at the Oxford Valley Mall. We are the Management Agent and coordinator of this initiative”.
    • AIDS Program (started in the 1980’s in response to the AIDS epidemic) and Bucks Villa


  • “Bucks Villa is an independent living facility for people who are HIV positive or living with AIDS… Residents are single men and women eighteen years of age and older, all of whom are living with a disability documented by the Social Security Association. All residents are capable of self-care and join in the spirit of communal living. The Villa is an environment free of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

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  • “…overlapping genealogies of classifications and of blood, or what Foucault calls ‘the model of exclusion’ and its concomitants ‘disqualification, exile, rejection, deprivation, refusal and incomprehension… an entire arsenal of negative concepts’… arise despite and in part because of their articulation with ‘positive’ techniques of ‘intervention and transformation” (Foucault in Ball 84).
  • The exile and the leper
  • Emergency Homeless Shelter: taken over from the Red Cross in 2012, when I served as Volunteer Coordinator: “as a result, shelter residents now receive intensive case management services… a new Electronic Medical Records platform that will expand opportunities for communication with our clients and other health care providers”.


Sources Cited

Ball, S. J. (2012). Foucault, power, and education. Routledge.

Boldt, G. M. (1999). Failing bodies: Power and identity in the elementary classroom.

Deacon, R. (2006). Michel Foucault on education: a preliminary theoretical overview. South African Journal of Education26(2), 177-187.

Foucault, M. (1994). Conversation avec Michel Foucault. Dits et écrits, 2, 182-193.


Goodley, D. (2010). Disability studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. Sage.

Gray, M., & Webb, S. A. (Eds.). (2013). The new politics of social work (pp. 209-225). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

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