Industry, Enterprise and the Dominance of the Body

The rise of industrial capitalism around the turn of the 18th century brought with it major political and social overturns. The power of the church and aristocracy was supplanted by a new dominating class, the industrial capitalists, and the feudal system of production and ownership was replaced by a system in which the increasingly powerful few owned the means of production needed by the working class. While this more obvious domination by the owning class is omnipresent in marxist theory, a handful of later philosophers expand upon the more simple dominations portrayed by Marx to include methods of domination such as mass advertising and educational conditioning. One such philosopher is Michel Foucault, who published Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison in 1975. In his work, Foucault examined the historical structures of control that eventually built up to and maintain the modern French prison system. Amongst the major structures of control is the pacification of bodies, the idea of controlling minute movements and patterns in the body in order to achieve maximum efficiency and repeatability, a somewhat frightening system of control that is increasingly re-emerging in our contemporary service economy.

One of the major elements of Foucault’s theory on punishment and control is the creation of the docile body, a body that may be “Subjected, used, transformed and improved.” (Foucault 136) The goal of creating a docile body, as we see here, is always to create utility and function in a person. This utility relies not only on being able to use and improve the body, but also on the bodies ability to be subjected. The body of the industrial worker, soldier or monk must be able to listen to orders and follow through with tasks without saying no or giving in under exhaustion or pain. He analyzes the implementation of the docile body in a selected body of examples before exploring how a body is made docile. For the sake of brevity and concision, this essay will specifically explore the example of the soldier and the industrial worker.

Foucault sees the rise of dominance of the body first in the figure of the soldier. While the warrior class at one point was someone of aristocracy and, in the early seventeenth century was noted by specific signs of aptitude like posture and stature, by the late eighteenth century, the soldier was manufactured from the untamed bodies of conscripts and made through basic training into a soldier. Foucault begins with the soldier in part because it is the most easily visible example of the pacification of bodies. The goal of basic training in all military and paramilitary groups around the world is to achieve the subjugation, obedience and function in a body of recruits that, unlike the feudal warrior class, have likely never fought or killed before. However, the conscripts are not simply taught the technical tasks of military duty, but also the specific mannerisms and movements associated with their positions. In short, the soldier is not only taught how to aim and fire, but how to walk, stand, hold his head, switch his firearm between arms and perform most other tasks. His simple motions both in time and space are controlled, as there is not only a specific way but a specific time at which to perform tasks. While this sort of discipline is perhaps best said to originate in the military, it is not long after the rise of the regimented conscript army across all of Europe that the centralization and regimentation of manufacturing begins.

Much as the military commander seeks to regiment and control the movements of his troops, so too does the factory owner and foreman have a vested interest in controlling the precise movements of the factory worker. Under a new structure of ownership, the capitalist factory owner demanded a vastly different type of labor from the underclasses than did the feudal lord. Whereas the serf would have paid his tribute of crop to the lord without question of how it was harvested, the industrial capitalist is increasingly invested in the specifics of movement and precision in the production of goods. The capitalist’s interest in discipline has driven him to not only train his workers to specific tasks and movements related to their position in the division of labor, but to concentrate production into one area. Just as the monk is concentrated in his cell and soldiers in their barracks, the industrial proletariat is, for all of their working day, concentrated within the confines of the factory. This is not merely a choice of convenience for the owner, but furthermore a method of surveilling and controlling the workers. In this way, centralization of production is a way of knowing, mastering and using the bodies of the workingman.

In order to exert control and create a docile body, Foucault argues, there are a handful of important elements to control. The first of these is the time-table. In order to create a docile body, it is necessary to establish rhythms to be followed, and to regulate cycles of repetition. As the need to control workers increased, so too did the extent to which the time-table was controlled. Contrary to a system of labor determined by the movements of the sun and harvest seasons as was commonplace under feudal rule, industrial capitalism demands time be broken down into smaller units in order to more closely control the movements and activity of workers. Second, the controller, in this case the factory owner, must control the temporal elaboration of the act. This is to say that the owner must dictate at exactly what rhythm the task is done. This may appear as the pace at which machinery moves, or in a quota system that requires a worker perform a task at a certain rate in order to produce x units of a product.

The next thing to be controlled is the correlation of the body and the gesture. For the owners it is not enough to teach a series of gestures. The workers must also learn the best relation between the gesture and their body position. In imposing the proper relationships between the body and the gesture, the owner imposes the most efficient and productive use of labor-power. He makes possible though the optimum use of the body the optimum use of time, and therefore the most productive labor. Additionally, the owner must control the body-object articulation, the relationship between the body and the manipulated object. Just as a soldier must articulate the relationship between himself and his rifle until he can aim and fire accurately and reliably, the worker must be trained to operate his portion of machinery with reliability and efficiency. Finally, we arrive at exhaustive use. The owner must fundamentally be interested in extracting as much profit from every second of productive labor as possible. In pursuit of profit, the owner is driven to segment time as much as possible, and use each of these segments to the point of exhaustion, the fifth of a series of principles capable of being used to make men wholly controllable and mechanical in their labor and engagements.

However, while Foucault refers primarily to military, monastic and industrial life in his analysis of the docile body, structural control of employee movement and body articulation is present, if not intensified, in our contemporary western service economy. As we see in “The Spy Who Fired Me” by Esther Kaplan, the control of workers today comes not only from training and traditional supervision, but has evolved to utilize modern computers to collect mass data on employees. By using the computer program Cornerstone, employers can collect mass data on anything from your words per minute as a typist to your searches on any company devices. As a reward for good performance, employers can reward their workers with digital badges and achievements, an even less valuable equivalent of the wooden medals given to scabs during the age of industrial capitalism. What data Cornerstone collects, it converts into metrics to be used in workplace analysis, informing decisions on employment and pay rate. In spite of the overarching implications of workplace surveillance, and the fact that 66 percent of employers practice some form of employee surveillance, only 2 states, Delaware and Connecticut, have laws in place that require employees be informed of surveillance tech in place. One poignant example of the use of employee surveillance is seen with UPS, which employs over 200 sensors on their trucks to trace everything from how long a truck is stopped, how quickly it backs up, and how long the driver is out of their seat. Through this example, we see the implementation of Foucault’s theory on docile bodies taking hold in our contemporary service economy.

First we see the use of surveillance technology, which UPS refers to as telematics, altering the time-table of employment. Whereas before, the UPS driver could work more or less at his own pace, and spare time to drop packages with increased care, after implementing telematics the driver is forced to adhere to a breakneck pace in order to stay on schedule during his delivery route. His cycle of repetition within the time-table has been hastened, and has had several repetitions added due to the increase in efficiency. Telematics also allows the employer, while far away from the driver and his truck, to control the temporal elaboration of the act. The exact timing of the delivery and the rhythm at which packages must be removed from the truck and delivered to the door has increased severely, and regimented across all drivers. Where an individual could have previously performed each task at the speed most comfortable to him, telematics has broken down deliveries into an allotted amount of time, irrespective of the task at hand. Furthermore, the correlation of the body to both gesture and object has fallen under supervision as well, with the new restraints on time and monitoring of speed dictating not only how the delivery truck is piloted, but how quickly and therefore how safely and properly packages can be moved. All of these regimented behaviors add up to the peak exhaustive use of the driver’s labor-power. As time is broken down into smaller units between deliveries and cycles of repetition are increased, the extraction of the surplus value generated by the employee increases, and the efficiency of the use of time increases as well, a true indication that the discipline of the factory floor articulated by Foucault may be just as profound in the decentralized places of production seen in a service economy as they were in the confines of the factory grounds.

The rise of industrial capitalism around the turn of the 18th century brought with it major political and social overturns, and new systems of governance and domination, drawing the analysis and criticism of countless philosophers. One such philosopher is Michel Foucault, who published Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison in 1975. In his work, Foucault examined the historical structures of control that eventually built up to and maintain the modern French prison system. Amongst the major structures of control is the pacification of bodies, the idea of controlling minute movements and patterns in the body in order to achieve maximum efficiency and repeatability, a somewhat frightening system of control that is increasingly re-emerging in our contemporary service economy.

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