Author Archives: amc5909

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

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 3.11.50 PM

  • “…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.

Kalyn & Alex, Discipline & Punish pages 104- 194

There is a dichotomy in schools of mind/body… according to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, modern humanism is political awareness for the control and use of men. Important to this infrastructure is the enclosure. Although Foucault speaks of these bodily disciplines in terms of the past, one can examine the infrastructure and habitus of present day elementary schools to determine how the body is disciplined today.  

Kim Powell spoke about the process of embodiment in her chapter entitled “Inside-Out and Outside-In: Participant Observation in Taiko Drumming.  Through participant observation she conceptualizes embodiment through writing about her experiences participating in Taiko, a Japanese American drumming ensemble.  “It was through these exercises in particular that I began to embody some of the social norms prescribed by the San Jose Taiko” (46). In a literal sense, the institution of the school allows for individuals to digest and perform the social norms of that school, community, culture. Foucault also speaks about exercises in relation to discipline over the body. Exercise techniques that are repetitive and vary in structure can assure that one, in this case student, has never reached their limit or full potential. Embodiment can be understood as a learning phenomenon. What does this mean in relation to the body in school? The disabled body in school?

“In schools, bodies perform a primarily utilitarian function, holding our heads up during class, sitting still in desks, raising our hands to be called upon” (Powell 61). The body is “manipulated, shaped, trained, which obeys, responds, becomes skillful, increases its forces” (Foucault 136).

Early Education’s Discipline and the Disabled Body

Lee Davis Creal, (at the time) a student at York University in Toronto, wrote a paper titled “The Disability of Thinking’ the ‘Disabled Body”, about his brother, disability activist Norman Kunc’s experience in school. Creal asks, “The disabled body or differently-abled body has been largely absent from theoretical discourse on the body. Why? Is it because, as Leonard Davis implies above, it is not seen as chic, sexy or fashionable? Is the disabled body too transgressive and deviant? Does it overstep the boundaries of what is considered allowably transgressive or deviant? Are there theoretical limits? Does it produce in the viewer’s gaze the fear of the uncanny, in the Freudian sense, with the attendant repulsion for the unfamiliar unheimlich or too different ‘other? Does the disabled body not destabilize and disturb notions of the classical body and disrupt the idea of an organized body as theorized by Deleuze and Guattari? Is not the disabled body the most manipulated through the desire of the medical establishment to organize the body in a certain way? Is it not the most disciplined body in the context of Foucault’s theory of discipline in which the body is turned into an aptitude or a capacity that must be increased through discipline?…” Kunc, who has cerebral palsy, was “separated from abled children in a segregated public school for handicapped children and he has a pathology, a physical disability that needs to be rehabilitated, trained and disciplined to increase his body’s aptitude or capacity so he can function better and become a more valued member of society”. In his video “The other side of therapy: disability, normalcy, and the tyranny of rehabilitation”, Kunc describes and performs his experiences in physical “therapy” where his body was undressed, gripped, manipulated, and pushed forward and sideways to “improve reactive balance responses”. (for more, This is one example of how power is exercised through the body of a child to create the utilitarian, docile adult body (or as close as one can get… or fail to do so). In effect, the child can embody and prescribe to the power and ideologies used to discipline him or her.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 2.31.45 PM

The above picture is from the school I taught at last year. The students were expected to walk on the right side of the hallway and stay in the orange line.  The students learn to embody this cultural expectation and soon learn that this is the correct way to present themselves in school. To walk (quietly) in a straight line.  Kim Powell speaks again about how the student’s surroundings discipline the body to create model student behavior: “The body is culturally inscribed by its surrounding environment and thus gives rise to certain forms of representation” (52). The way the body is disciplined in schools affects the quality of both their lived experience and learning.

Power as Producing the Disabled Body: The Carceral State of Education

Shelley Tremain’s (editor) 2005 book, “Foucault and the Government of Disability” is a compilation of essays that primarily draw from Foucault’s other, later work, but do inform us in relation to Discipline & Punish: Martin Sullivan, in “Subjected Bodies: Paraplegia, Rehabilitation, and the Politics of Movement” wrote, “The carceral various institutions, organizations, and associations are the sites in which bodies are compared, differentiated, hierarchized, diagnosed; in which judgments of normality and abnormality are made; and in which appropriate methods of correction and rehabilitation are ascertained in order to restore deviant bodies to the norm. By making it possible to measure gaps between individuals and to render transparent the distinctions that these differences are claimed to signify, normalizing judgments simultaneously impose homogeneity on the social group and individuate certain subjects. In other words, the disciplinary power flowing through the carceral is productive, rather than repressive.” (29)

Moses was a student in my third grade classroom last year who had a behavioral IEP. His parents selectively chose the charter school so that he would have not be required to have a classroom aid. In the event of schools serving as an institution that disables students, I thought back to multiple occasions where Moses was disciplined because of his impairment. Every morning students were instructed to walk to the cafeteria and sit in their assigned lunch seats until their teachers came and lined them up. Moses would constantly sneak out of the cafeteria and walk to my room. After a few occasions of walking him back, I eventually let him stay with me in the morning as I set up the classroom. He has a hearing sensitivity and hated loud noises. One morning the principal came in to talk to me while he was there. She instructed him to return to the cafeteria and also told me that he would not be allowed in the room until he was picked up (like everyone else) from the cafeteria. For the rest of the year, Moses would be sent to the office, or sent to the special education room in the morning after getting yelled at repeatedly by the lunch aid to go back to his seat. Arguably, Moses would not need disciplined every morning if he was able to simply sit in my room in the morning. Unfortunately, this rule of sitting in the cafeteria in the morning was expected and those who did not fit that mold were both different and wrong.

Consider the idea that a punishment may be intended to make the associated crime less attractive (punishment will be inevitable). To return to Creal’s point that the disabled body is not chic, sexy, or fashionable, rather deviant and transgressive, we ask: to what extent is disability unattractive because of society’s discipline of it and not the impairment itself? Further, what messages does the discipline of disability send about what it means to be disabled?

Example: Oralist classrooms that didn’t/ don’t allow children to use sign language, and/ or that are led by teachers that do not sign. Deaf children who previously relied on reading lips are unable to learn from the teacher who intentionally covers his or her mouth, doesn’t face children, and/or demands that children face forward in rows at all times, limiting conversation with and understanding from classmates. At its simplest, deafness is cast as deviance and signing as not socially prepared or functional, because deafness is produced as an inability to learn. (but Foucault wouldn’t say that this is the result of power that the teacher has and the deaf child does not.)

Barry Allen suggests another consequence: “Faced with the choice between permitting congenitally deaf children to live with their deafness by the enabling knowledge of manual language, or expanding professional power/knowledge at the expense of those for whom they are supposed to care, the professionals have preferred resource-intensive and (to hearing people) impressively high-tech solutions like cochlear implants, which are commercially licensed in the United States for use in children over the age of two (Lane 1992, 216–30; Allen 1999a).” The coercive normalizing of welfare regimes, and the enrollment of advanced technological knowledge and apparatus for the intensi‹cation of power, create a tutelary knowledge that disciplines and governs, rather than liberates” (Tremain 97).

Another contemporary issue in Early Childhood Education (and beyond) is the increased pathologization of classroom behaviors, including the production of sensory issues, as one example. Let’s consider the control of children’s bodies amidst what I might call ADHD/ Autism/ etc “scaries” and the push for early intervention, & some argue that kids are overmedicated. When the classroom environment and expectations are not conducive to the performance of utilitarian expectations, teachers, administration, and therapists of all kinds intervene in a way that always seems like necessary help. Children are labeled in ways that imply shameful bad behavior, but these labels are dictated by and in the interests of the aforementioned parties. Foucault describes “a whole micro-penalty of time (lateness, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behavior (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of the body (incorrect attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency)” (179). I’d throw in speech (stuttering), social skills (awareness/ theory of mind, executive functioning), and many, many others. In these instances, “the slightest departures from correct behavior are made subject to punishment… Each subject finds himself caught in a punishable, punishing universality” (178). Many of the behaviors listed on page 178 have been deemed characteristic of specific disabilities. What does that mean? The labels and all consequential ‘necessary help’ justify and perpetuate the discipline itself, including that “the guilty person is only one of the targets of punishment, for punishment is directed above all at others, at all the potentially guilty” (108). You don’t want to be disabled. What I’m trying to get at here is that  these discourses run through students: they are the “vehicles” for power and not the “points of its application”. In this way, education “show(s) the need for punishment and justif(ies) its degree”.

Another important idea is punishment as fitting the crime (i.e. physical punishments for physical classroom offenses). While this isn’t always applicable (think: the child who doesn’t do his or her homework and is physically and mentally disciplined in the classroom during recess), physical punishments for physical classroom offenses, like abnormal activity, are used to justify the restraint and seclusion of disabled students as well as “treatments” like electric shocks. It’s interesting to look at how these and other non-physical punishments are used differently across public, private, and charter school settings. On a negative note, breaking-news-parents-file-federal-civil-rights-complaint-against-success-academy-charters. On a separate conflicting note, there are new ADA rules about assessment of student disabilities and resulting testing accomodations (see What are the positive and negative implications of these ideas in relation to discipline of the disabled body?

On electric shocks as behavioral therapy (which, until at least a few years ago and perhaps still, were used in a local school in State College for disabled children)

I want to point out here a line from the accompanying CBS News article: Part of Msumba’s treatment plan was for staffers to draw up a list of prohibited behaviors, ranging from head-banging to hand movements, for which she could be shocked.”

Briefly, we’ll also mention suspensions and expulsions. Foucault understood “imprisonment as a condition to enable certain punishments to be carried out” (114). What are the punishments that suspensions and expulsions of ALL marginalized students allow to be carried out? We can at least consider the isolation and missed learning opportunities, and perpetuating images of ‘problem children’. These are certainly also examples of punishments that target all of the potentially guilty. If we think of work as learning and classroom behavior, we might also think about suspensions and expulsions along Foucault’s understanding of the relationship between punishments, correction, and work (p. 122).

Implications for Inclusive Classrooms

Foucault: “far more telling than death would be ‘the example of a man who is ever before one’s eyes, whom one has deprived of liberty and who is forced to spend the rest of his days repairing the loss that he has caused society”… not far from the disabled kid made really burdensome in the classroom/ in education in general.

Do teachers and non-disabled students alike embrace the discipline of disabled peers, maintaining themselves/ exercising power over classmates, even if not consciously? Does the work and existence as the productive and efficient subject, in contrast to disabled students, hold up the pervasive discourses? One author draws on Foucault’s “Governmentality” (1991), discussing how abled students are the “gatekeepers” of inclusion (Allan in Tremain, 283).

After an incredibly depressing post… There has been work done (also by Julie Allan, among others) on what we can learn from an analysis of Foucault and disabled bodies: steps that inclusive educators can take. I can’t yet comment on the accurate interpretation and application of Foucault in her work, but I’m looking forward to reading her article, “Foucault and Special Educational Needs: A ‘box of tools’ for analysing children’s experiences of mainstreaming”. The article is in an issue of Disability & Society not currently available through the Penn State Library (stay tuned- I’m waiting on an inter-library loan).

Who can punish who?

As a side, we’re thinking about, especially in relation to the discussion from last week about different rights of parents vs. state, the ‘limits’ of punishment in schools and why that is… It’s interesting that we hear people say all the time “if that were my kid…” which says something about the difference in relationship between teacher/student and parent/kid, because the parent ‘owns’ that kid.

Aside from parents versus teachers disciplining different students in the classroom. One can also ask what teachers can discipline what students? We had many staff meetings which spoke about the discipline of our students and how even though a students was not “yours” it is necessary to correct them. For example, for students to be quiet in the hallway, any and every teacher should quiet down a loud class. In this way, the teachers functioned as a disciplinary team enacting on all the bodies.