Philosophy Today

Volume 61, Issue 1, Winter 2017

Special Topic on Heidegger and Paul Klee

Robert S. Leib
Pages 189-210

Spaces of the Self
Foucault and Goffman on the Micro-Physics of Discipline

This article argues that the works of Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman are complementary, specifically in their analyses of disciplinary power. This analysis would be what Foucault calls a ‘micro-physics’ of power. Micro-physics is an important concept even in Foucault’s later lectures, but it remains a sub-discipline of genealogy Foucault himself never pursues. Goffman’s works, which rely upon notions of social performance, personal spaces, and the construction of the self through these, fulfill the conditions of micro-physical analysis well. Using Goffman’s works, I argue that his style of ethnographic analysis helps clarify certain fundamental questions about disciplinary power left unquestioned in Foucault’s works—namely, the ‘internalization of the gaze’ and its ‘spontaneous’ efficiency. I conclude that disciplinary power is not actually a process of internalization at all, but a systematic divestment of the subject’s access to the external processes and spaces on which the production and performance of his ‘self’ depends.