And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Multitude; for we are many."

Science Was Born Cyborg I – Foucault’s Path to Discipline

What does it mean to belong to a discipline? To be the continuation of a pre-determined body of knowledge?, the extension of a preceding set of methods? To be part of a discipline: is it not then to be its embodied extension? Does one enter discipline or is one taken by it? Where is the active subject? Wh@ is handling and wh@ is being handled?

Machines, devices and instruments – do they belong to disciplines just the way we do? Is modern science a human affair? Or may the cyborg take the floor?

“Education” doesn’t seem to leave much free time or energy. Once again, what I have to present you with is [pseudo]academic work. Once again, it is an essay written for my master’s degree, and hence often shows traits that are not mine, respects a limit of words that maimed the writing, and presents a form and shape closer to that of the ready-made academist article than I’d would like. [at points, it’s true, i start getting confused between what is the mask I wear and the face I pretend to have].

This text is divided in four parts: -I. Foucault’s Path to Discipline (on which I had already written when discussing interdisciplinarity), II. The Production of Scientists, III. Scientists as Instruments and IV. The Values of Cyborg Instruments.

I usually post stuff about what I have been thinking about, so it’s likely that you find some ideas here that I had already posted.

«If I could express my whole being like an engine!

If I could be complete like a machine!

New metallic and dynamic Revelation of God!»[1]

preliminary questions

What does it mean to belong to a discipline? To be the continuation of a pre-determined body of knowledge?, the enunciator of a given discourse?, the extension of a preceding set of methods?, to relate  with objects and instruments in ways that were already there? To be part of a discipline: is it not then to be its embodied extension? Does one enter discipline or is one taken by it? Where is the active subject? Wh@ is handling and wh@ is being handled?*

We have not known modern science without knowing industrialization; and we haven’t known either without knowing discipline. There where it all changed, what can we say of their relationships? How were bodies, instruments and truths entangled? Did one precede the others? Do bodies have a history – just as truths? Are truths constructed – just as instruments? Do instruments have agencies – just as bodies?

Machines, devices and instruments – do they belong to disciplines just the way we do? Is modern science a human affair? Or may the cyborg take the floor?[2]

the ordaining discourse

In the winter of 1970, Michel Foucault was to address the prestigious Collège de France, one of the grandest intellectual establishments of its country – he had been chosen as its new member. Foucault did not have a straightforward relation with discourse, and was now confronted with the need to deliver one invested in formality, full of tradition and value, a ritual of passage that was simultaneously a eulogy of professorship and an act of ostentation: the Inaugural Lecture, which marked the beginning of each new affiliation. In front of the solemn audience, he thus begun:

«The discourse I must give here today .. – I would have wanted to insert myself into it surreptitiously. .. Beginnings, then, there would be none; .. There are a lot of people, I believe, with a similar desire to find themselves, straight from the start, on the other side of discourse, .. To such a common aspiration, the institution responds in an ironic fashion; it makes beginnings solemn, it surrounds them within a circle of attention and silence, and .. it imposes on them ritualized forms.»[3]

It was by pointing out how the institution domesticates discourse by making it pompous, isolating it and marking it, and by doing so precisely at his Inaugural Lecture, in front of a reputable audience who surrounded him with silence and solemnity, that he found a ‘possible lacuna.’ It was by making the act confront itself, that he was allowed to recognize discourse from its insides; that he was able to create an estrangement from within.


discourse on discipline

Foucault’s work, thus far, had consisted in a reading of history through discursive formations, and his main point had been to show that ‘discourses’ should not be treated «as groups of signs .. but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.»[4]

In the midst of the complex set of relations established between different shapes of knowledge, what Foucault aims to disrupt, what he seeks to wound with a violent affectivity[5] are, from the start, certain unities he addresses, unities that – he writes – intend their own historical continuity and rational coherence, that seek permanence either in their object, or in their style, or in a system of concepts, or in their identity and theme.[6] These unities are none other than certain kinds of discipline – a term which would soon become definitive for much of Foucault’s work.[7]

Though not the sole objects of an Archeology of Knowledge, disciplines appear as «groups of statements that borrow their organization from scientific models, which tend to coherence and demonstrativity»[8] and cannot survive unscathed from a collision with the refusal to do a “history of the referent”, a refusal that wishes «to dispense with ‘things’. To ‘depresentify’ them.»[9]

His lecture to the Collège also mentions disciplines, this time presented as limiting and controlling discourse:

«[A] discipline is defined by a domain of objects, a set of methods, a corpus of propositions considered to be true, a play of rules and definitions, of techniques and instruments .. But there is more; and there is more, no doubt, so that there can be less: .. it repels to its margins a whole teratology of knowledge. … a proposition must fulfill complex and heavy requirements to be able to belong to the grouping of a discipline; before it can be called true or false, it must be ‘in the true’»[10]

Until 1970, Foucault’s discipline was a part of archeology’s analytic toolbox; disciplines constituted historical objects but, as a notion, were not historically situated – they had a logic of their own, but not a machinery.

This is not to say its use didn’t have a critical value: far from being an innocuous criterion for the divisions of knowledge and its objects, discipline was presented as a coercive procedure in what concerned discourses. And its nature was not purely limitative or repressive: discipline took part in the engendering of branches of knowledge, it set requirements of validation, it established a horizon beyond which no truth-value could be traced, and, ‘out of the true’, it birthed monstrosities.

the discursive and the powerful: discipline

In the five following years the concept of discipline went through radical transformations, becoming central in Foucault’s cartographies. His lectures at the Collège witnessed the decline of discourse as an analytic tool. Foucault’s involvement in the Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons[11] attests to an important shift: at the beginning of 1971, power starts being a common theme in his lectures.[12] In the following academic year, 1971-1972, Foucault dedicates himself to the study of Penal Institutions in France and, with it, to the study of measurement, questionnaires, and exams.[13] Then in 1972-1973 the Punitive Society[14] starts being framed in relation to the concepts of disciplinary power and disciplinary society. And by 1973-1974[15] the concept of discipline was already predominant, and discourse reappeared as part of the disciplinary apparatus, rather than as the foundational stone of archaeological undertakings. This is to say, discourse was now used not as a central analytic tool, but in its plural form, as the several discourses (psychiatric, medical, punitive) mobilized by the operationality of discipline.


In sum, what we see is a displacement of the analysis of discourses, which went under the name of archeology, to an analytics of power and its relation to knowledge, which will later be called genealogy. This transformation is not one to be dismissed as merely semantic or symbolic. The archeological program is being confronted with a strong demand: that its description of discontinuous sequences of discursive formations does not collapse back into a History of Ideas. Genealogy in no way came to replace archeology; it was already archeology’s program «to determine how the rules of formation that govern [discourse] may be linked to non-discursive systems: it seeks to define specific forms of articulation.»[16]  But the way in which Foucault engaged with the prisoners’ brutal confrontations with the western penal system could not be subsumed to a mere archeological isomorphism[17] or as a dissonance within a formation. The movement and riots precipitated the need for regimes of truth to be articulated with something beyond discourse: there needed to be power, so that resistance could be accounted for.

That «the prison belongs to a political technology of the body is a lesson that I have learnt not so much from history as from the present. In recent years, prison revolts have occurred throughout the world.»[18] This ‘political technology of the body’ was where the discursive and the non-discursive came to meet, losing their binary and mutually exclusive nature;[19] and this technology was no other than discipline itself.

c’est cela qu’on peut appeler les ‘disciplines’[20]

The gaze is now on the turn of the nineteenth century, when discipline could be seen emerging as a new technology of power:

«The historical moment of the disciplines was the moment when an art of the human body was born, which was directed not only at the growth of its skills, not only at the intensification of its  subjection, but at the formation of a relation that in the mechanism itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely. .. The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it. A ‘political anatomy’, which was also a ‘mechanics of power’, was being born.»[21]

The temperament of discourse should not go unremarked. The transformations of anatomical technique and applied mechanics in the decades around 1800 should not be taken as part of an analogy for the new forms of power: the work of disciplines is a technology in its literal sense. Systems and techniques of control and direction of movement and posture, regulation and surveillance, are to be understood as mechanisms developed through machinery and technique. And, decisively, one of the most important aspects of this technological development and of the intensification of the government of bodies was their relation to the maximization of productivity.

Foucault’s technological account of disciplines seems to be the more adequate, and the less innocent, given its early nineteenth century conjecture: its discourses on factory systems, on the dispositions of laboring bodies and on the machine design and application, its mechanization, massification and reorganization of production,  the period of a greater division of labour, that of a new capitalist economy. This is the period of industrialization. Disciplinary technologies were not separate from, but on the contrary enabled and form a crucial component of, the social machinery in the process of its development. If the accumulation of human bodies that followed the accumulation of capital is to be accounted for, this disciplinary technology cannot be taken as separate from the social machinery that was germinating.[22] Power, as we’ll explore, «was not the guarantee of a mode of production but precisely the constitution of a mode of production.»[23]

As to scientific disciplines, they must be said to be as much a condition for discipline as they were its result. This linguistic affinity is neither a ‘pun,’[24] nor lack of clarity, nor an appeal to etymological authority. It is not a wordplay, its significance being found at a semantic rather than at a semiotic level: it is a productive affinity. And if it does resonate in that place where words get entangled, let us say that the resulting rumbles might not be casual, but are certainly not causal.[25]

[1] Campos

[2] (Haraway, 1985)

[3] OD

[4] AK,pp.48-49

[5] Veyne, 1979,p.241

[6] AK,pp.31-39

[7] AK,pp.178-197

[8] AK,p.178

[9] AK,p.47

[10] OD,pp.59-60

[11] Eribon, 1991.pp.224-237

[12] Foucault, 2013

[13] Foucault, 1989.

[14]Foucault, 2015

[15] Foucault, 2008

[16] AK,p.162

[17] AK,p.160

[18] DP,p.30.

[19] Goldstein, 1984,p.181

[20] DP,p.137

[21] DP,p.137-138

[22] DP,p.220-221

[23] PNN.p.61.

[24] Walzer, 1986,p. 64

[25] Kelley, 1997. Shumway and Messer-Davidow, 1991. Goldstein, 1984.


3 comments on “Science Was Born Cyborg I – Foucault’s Path to Discipline

  1. Pingback: Science Was Born Cyborg II -The Production of Scientists | MODO DE VOLAR

  2. Pingback: Science Was Born Cyborg III – Scientists as Instruments | MODO DE VOLAR

  3. Pingback: Science Was Born Cyborg IV -The Values of Cyborg Instruments | MODO DE VOLAR

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This entry was posted on 31/01/2016 by in ENG, Sem categoria and tagged , , , , , , , .
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