Does the Internet shape a disciplinary society? The information-knowledge paradox
First Monday

Does the Internet shape a disciplinary society? The information-knowledge paradox by Indhu Rajagopal

In the post–modern era, knowledge is being understood as information. In reality, knowledge is commoditized and objectified as decontextualized representations. More information may mean that the society is drawn into a critical phase where loss of knowledge occurs with the unlimited flow of information. Such ubiquitous information could lead to less understanding, less trust and less truth, which would erode rationality in the governance of the society. Using a framework based on Michel Foucault’s archeological methodology, i.e., unearthing how information and communication technologies (ICT) came to be viewed as a source of truth/knowledge, this paper explores the question: Do ICT contribute information that can be construed as knowledge? Does this knowledge contribute to truth or to power? Do ICTs push an information society towards Foucault’s disciplinary society, where the so–called knowledge speaks ‘truth to power’?


Foucault’s methodology and truth/knowledge
Foucault’s disciplinary society
Archeology of knowledge




T.S. Eliot asks, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” In response, we must analyze the relationships between information, knowledge and truth/wisdom. In this context, this paper attempts to critically explore Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of power/knowledge and truth. Foucault’s power/knowledge is a dyad, as he inseparably ties the two to mean that control elicits knowledge, and knowledge is used for control. Foucault’s argument is that the ruling/regulating power in society ultimately decides and develops the knowledge systems for managing and controlling people: e.g., in different periods, power creates or changes the way people are managed using the knowledge that provides the tools of control. Those in power, e.g., experts and professionals who produce knowledge, institutionalize different types of ‘knowledges’ as accredited knowledge systems.

Foucault explains that, in the different historical periods in ‘knowledge’ construction and dissemination, different powers created and shaped knowledge. First, from the medieval period, priests controlled knowledge and its dissemination. After Reformation, besides the state, private endowments set up universities and curricula, which professionals as experts, accredited and regulated as ‘what’ is knowledge and how it is disseminated. As Foucault argues, experts and professionals contribute to the ‘expert systems of knowledge’, i.e., accredited, specialized, codified, abstract knowledge. Currently, information and communication technologies (ICT) create and disseminate information as so called ‘knowledge’. Corporate funding regulates and impinges upon the university that is avowed as the repository of pure knowledge, and interferes with its autonomy, and controls it. Knowledge, therefore, has become subjected to so many forces that it has become indistinguishable from the powers that create information/knowledge and disseminate it as truth/knowledge.

In the contemporary period, Foucault’s ‘power/knowledge’ dyad has further implications because the information society is often thought of as a knowledge society since knowledge has come to mean information. Tsoukas (1997) explains why Foucault links knowledge and power: if you see knowledge is all that is embedded in information, it makes social engineering an alluring process of powers that be, to influence and control an individual’s thinking and behaving, which Foucault referred to as ‘governmentality’, i.e., the power of governing through a growing body of certain knowledge. This knowledge represents itself as “scientific,” and expands the power of the government to create individual subjectivity which one conforms to or resists. After the decline of absolute monarchy, under the ruling powers of the day, the public has been disciplined to internalize conformity to the laws of the ruling power, the government. With the increase of institutional structures under the government, governmentality further expanded to professional institutions and experts who claimed the knowledge necessary to command the authority to evoke discipline and conformity of individuals under their purview. The public has come to assume that by using this knowledge, those in charge ‘know’ the solutions for problems, and can solve them. “To ‘know’ in this context means having information on the variation of certain indicators that are thought to capture the essence of the phenomenon at hand” (Tsoukas, 1997).

Using Foucault’s ‘archeology of knowledge’, i.e., the methodology by which Foucault discovers how the various professional ‘knowledges’ are created, this paper explores why, and how, an information society is being turned into a ‘house of certainty,’ i.e., where biopower commands control over the society, with public consensus. Foucault refers to the political technology as biopower that emerged during the seventeenth century to discipline and control the subjects. Biopower’s first dimension is its scientific categorization of human beings as species, race, population, gender, and according to sexual practices, and other socially normative behaviours. To maintain social control over individuals, biopower constitutes confessions, a technique to elicit the ‘truth’ from individuals. The people are taught that they should confess or tell the ‘truth’ to the hierarchically superior authority (e.g., a priest, a psychoanalyst) in the society, so that they may be set free from their sins (wrong doings) [1]. These methods were used to ensure the people’s conformity to social norms. The second dimension of biopower is disciplinary, i.e., power is not seen as a “property, but as a strategy” to evoke discipline, and attain certainty of control over individuals without the need for punishment [2].

Foucault describes the stages by which the individual ‘Self’ becomes a part of the “house of certainty” [3]. Individual social bodies inscribe in themselves the disciplinary power relations with a power that is external to oneself, which is a non–corporeal totalizing force. One, who spontaneously designs her/his own subjection, causing constant, profound and permanent disciplinary effects on the Self, constructs certainty of control. These effects produce a ‘disciplinary’ society where control over the individual ‘Self’ is continuously present through three expressions of invisible power: hierarchical surveillance (e.g., surveillance in schools or prisons where maximum observation is possible); normative judgment (e.g., judge whether individuals are normalized, and discipline and correct the slightest deviation from the rules); and tests and examinations (constantly observe and examine individuals’ compliance to being the object of power/knowledge). Thus, a modern system of disciplinary power is deployed in a seemingly innocuous way, through a multitude of capillaries of control. The disciplinary power produces a ‘disciplinary’ society where the Self is constantly disciplined.



Foucault’s methodology and truth/knowledge

Since 1900 [4], we have empowered science as knowledge and applauded the progress of scientific discoveries and scientists’ objective to dominate nature. It has been a ‘modern era’ of rise of ‘will to power’ and emergence of science as a controlling discursive formation, an age of classical certainty in our ideas about knowledge. It is the quest for ‘power to truth’ that led Foucault to unfold his archeological methods in search of truth. Discoveries of truth/knowledge lead to undecipherable creativity and serendipitous discoveries in art, music and poetry. However, the progress of scientific discoveries has created foundational cracks in the classical certainty of our ideas about knowledge. Although we still continue the older processes of gathering information and testing it for objectivity in order to finding knowledge, we face an end to objectivity and an urgency to realize that we are, in fact, a part of all that we study Thus, in the post–modern era, the search for true reality ends our notion of ‘objectivity’ [5].

Foucault avoids causal theories of change in constructing his archeological methodology for examining a set of discourses on a subject, a practice, or an institution, by researching the related discursive events and their effects on society, power, the Self, etc. Archeology or digging into the past of events and expression of power and control, is being engaged in exploring things, and in determining differences and similarities between each existing object or social practice, in order to organize them and produce forms of knowledge. Foucault’s genealogical approach analyses the design that goes to a further level to explore on how expert ‘knowledges’ produce power/control, i.e., by examining the mechanisms of power, one can distinguish between true knowledge and the false (Shawver, 2006). When we institutionalize certain professions, e.g., if psychiatrists were to be accredited with the expertise and role of dealing with mentally ill patients, the powers in charge, constitute the psychiatric profession. Until the institutionalization of such knowledge, there is no such expert or expertise. The genealogical exploration reveals the process of how those in power institutionalized such knowledge. Thus, while archeology is Foucault’s methodological framework of analysis [6], he traces the genealogy of the discursive events that determine the way knowledge, power, rationality, or the Self are constituted:

Genealogy is both the reason and the target of the analysis of discourses as events, and what I try to show is how those discursive events have determined in a certain way what constitutes our present and what constitutes our ‘selves’: our knowledge, our practices, our type of rationality, our relationship to ourselves and to the others. So genealogy is the aim of the analysis and the archaeology is the material and methodological framework. [7]

Pursuing Foucault’s genealogical reasoning to inquire into the events/discourses that determine what is truth, knowledge, power and the Self, and how they are constituted, we further uncover the totalizing discursive practices of the modern disciplining institutions that control the whole society and the Self.



Foucault’s disciplinary society

Foucault’s modern “disciplinary” society, as described in his Discipline and punish (1995), is hierarchically organized so that a single guard from above within a structure (Panopticon) specially designed for the guard, can observe unseen by the observed, conduct surveillance of the whole public with an aim to discipline them. The ‘disciplinary’ society [8], as noted earlier, has three primary means of control (Foucault, 1995):

  1. Hierarchical power: Surveillance through the Panopticon [9]
  2. Normative judgment: Normalization of the individuals, not by torture, but by reform, disciplining and correction, to turn ‘abnormal’ individuals into ‘normal’ ones.
  3. Tests and examination: Testing and examining, e.g., the hospital patient or clinical subject for biotechnological procedures, elicits ‘truths’ through their confessions.

In contrast to Francis Bacon’s interpretation of knowledge as an instrument of power (i.e., ‘knowledge is power’ [10]), where the two have independent existence, Foucault studies social bodies controlled by the inseparable vicious dyads of power/knowledge: control elicits knowledge, and knowledge is used for control. In the post–modern era, knowledge is being misconstrued as information. In reality, knowledge is commoditized and objectified as decontextualized representations. “More information may lead to less understanding; more information may undermine trust; and more information may make society less rationally governable” [11].

Foucault’s (1980) definition of power is amplified as: power that is neither positive nor negative; it is both repressive and productive; power as relations rather than power as an object; power is exercised throughout the social body (rather than in one locale, i.e., the state, government., etc.); it is present at every part and layer of the social body; at each and every micro level of social relations, power operates; power is exercised in ways that resemble military strategies. A central feature in Foucault’s discussion of power is his distinction between information/knowledge and truth. Those institutions and experts who are socially authorized, produce ‘knowledges’, i.e., different types of knowledge. Using power as a mechanism, information is collected, collated and organized on people’s lives, activities, behaviours, presence, absence, etc., and these become types of knowledge. This information, or creation of ‘knowledge,’ reinforces further exercise of power by the instruments of power. In Foucault’s view, if one assumes ‘knowledge is power,’ it would undermine the critical, and much needed, examination of the relations between power and knowledge. Thus one needs to differentiate between the ‘gathered information’ and the ‘methods of gathering it’ on the one hand, and ‘its relationship to what is claimed as knowledge’, on the other.

Following Foucault’s discussion on the dyad of power/knowledge, I argue that the production of commercialized/market information uses the power of information and communication technology (ICT) — through “technologies of surveillance and individuation” — to construct the consumer as an object of knowledge [12]. Through these technologies, each individual is surveilled to capture her/his unique tastes, habits and interests for mass customization of products, to suit individual peculiarities as a customer. This process of individuation, self–formation of a person as a whole, and catering to her/his unique needs, is made possible through ICT’s surveillance for building a knowledge base on each individual. Foucault analyzes technologies of power in the context of the prison. We can extend Foucault’s paradigm of the prisoner as “object of knowledge” to a comparable paradigm of the consumer as “object of information” using the discourse analysis based on (market–consumer) commercial power relationship. ICT thus becomes a conduit for a network of power/knowledge relationships.

Just as the subjugation and formation of the prisoner are achieved through discipline, the consumer of information is constructed through ICT’s surveillance. Just as punishment represses the prisoner and objectifies the human body, surveillance at once manipulates and objectifies the consumer in order to subjugate her/his power to know the truth. In contrast to the prisoner’s repression, ICT promotes desire, and an illusion of choices based on increased consumer knowledge. The consumer is not aware that she is but a link in the commodity chain. The market discourse persuades the consumer of information that technologies, as products of scientific ‘inventions,’ have enhanced individual freedom and choice. Information operates by product rationality, i.e., without finite ends, but only as a means to further information. Disguised as a rational search for easily accessible information provided by ICT, e.g., the Internet, the products (i.e., information) persuade the consumer that they would enrich her rationality (means) and knowledge (end). Even if individuals resist this process of being grouped, under ICT’s surveillance, resistance becomes futile, as the surveillance expands to rope in even such resisters through meeting their unique desires [13].



Archeology of knowledge

Extending Foucault’s (1972) archeological methodology to ICT, we will explore the genealogies of the new forms of knowledge, e.g., information and scientific expertise, which are continually being produced. Adopting his distinct genealogical analysis, we will examine how the information/knowledge dyad operates as power/control and describe its mechanisms of power. To unpack the information–knowledge paradox, we will construct three genealogies: Genealogy of Power/Information; Genealogy of Power/Knowledge; Genealogy of Power vs. Truth/Self–Transformation.

Genealogy of Power/Information (Chart I)

How does information become power/control? Foucault’s Biopower [14] is metaphorically presented as Bentham’s Panopticon that embodies disciplinary powers (Foucault, 1995) [15]. ICT, as does the Panopticon, objectifies people as scientific categories, in order to manage them. Its instruments are the technologies of digitization. Foucault’s paradigm of the prisoner applies equally to the consumer, if we examine how consumers are ‘seen’, rather than how they ‘see’, as ICT’s new technologies can make consumer surveillance invisible. Production of commercialized information uses ICT power as technologies of surveillance and individuation, e.g., spyware, adware, cookies, data encryption and spatialization, to construct the consumer as an object of knowledge. If the consumer of information is a techno–optimist, he may use ICT willingly without being aware of its totalizing experience and its coercive discourse that target the individual consumer. ICT becomes a conduit through which consumers internalize the ‘commercialized’ authority.


Archeology of knowledge Chart I


With ICT being used as a Panopticon, surveillance’s location is not important because its monitoring eye is ever present in society through bio–technologies. The disciplinary techniques used in this context are surveillance, total infiltration and minute monitoring of consumers of information. The Internet, as a Panopticon, constructs and disciplines consumers. Identification, classification (normal/abnormal), assessment and behaviour alteration of the consumers of information, are the goals of the technological surveillance. Such instances abound on the Web. Spyware, a panoptic tool, intrusively extracts user information for various individuals and authorities. Adware pop–ups breach privacy and invisibly intrude Web users. Carnivore, a sophisticated eavesdropping program developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation examined online activities (Carnivore has been replaced by a more thorough system, NarusInsight).

Chart 1 portrays how institutionalization of information as knowledge occurs in seven phases: the Instrument (ICT) that informs the individual Self in locations, i.e., Place (homes, society, computer); the Self is objectified through Mechanisms and Techniques of discipline that infiltrate and normalize the Self through hierarchically superior power systems (State, Corporations, Experts of knowledges); the Historical process is evidenced in the genealogy of the Discursive practices on the Self conforming to power, e.g., how the total control of the individual is achieved.

Chart I illustrates ICT’s disciplinary processes or mechanisms: its objectification of the consumer; its invisible oligarchy of power (à la Orwell or Kafka); the Internet being used by authorities of state, corporations, etc., for spying and probing into citizens’ interests; ICT’s data–mining through which it totally shapes individuals — their tastes, hobbies, work and existence; archiving mined data as a body of knowledge to coerce captive consumers; the Internet, being an authoritarian gaze that the user cannot identify, locate or evade as it continues to collect data and coerce him (Winokur, 2003).

ICT creates what Foucault calls ‘instrumental knowledge’, i.e., scientific knowledge and expertise related to new technologies and their operation — soft or hardware, rather than real awareness and intellectual knowledge/wisdom. Use of instrumental knowledge may entrap unaware users. States/corporations, could legitimize the erosion of individual’s privacy under the false pretext of ‘public good’. The discourse surrounding ICT can be seen to be one of power and control of individual Self by states or corporations as it is often not a public discourse, or a discourse of community life. State/corporations possess ICT’s various tools around which subjectivization discourses (i.e., one becomes the subject of or to a discourse) are constructed. Foucauldian historical processes of disciplining individuals unfolds into three steps: Objectification, e.g., Facebook postings; Loss of Self, e.g., enticement of technological representations of Self; Totalization, e.g., ICT’s imperceptible lure and control. In Foucauldian terms, the information–providing Internet becomes conduits of control over the Self. Thus, one can see that information cannot liberate the Self.

Genealogy of Power/Knowledge (Chart II)

How might knowledge wield power/control over Self? Foucault’s works on disciplinary body practices ( Discipline and punish) and on sexuality (History of sexuality) as well as his lectures and courses expand on the notion of “biopower”. As he sees the Self as being entangled in the web of power that works through discourses, institutions and other cultural practices, his genealogical explorations uncover the processes of hegemonic societal power. Foucault’s ‘Power’ oppresses and manipulates human bodies to become subjected and practiced bodies, and the exercise of power is through a calculated policy and action of coercions and surveillance of the Self. To be free of control, Foucault wants the Self to be alert to Immanuel Kant’s premise: ‘What might be contingent in the necessary truths’? Instead, the Self must reject the Kantian premise, by asking ‘what necessary truths are but might seem contingent’? (i.e., the Self must be aware which power has produced the knowledge and accredited the expertise, and which power has dictated what we deem as truths).


Archeology of knowledge Chart II


Chart II illustrates the seven phases of how biopower is exercised to shape the Self into a docile body. The instrument is governmentality (the power of governing through a growing body of knowledges) that operates in Places, e.g., hospitals, clinics, etc., where people are provided cure for or improvement to their bodies) employing the mechanisms, e.g., techno–scientific inventions that experts’ knowledges create. Using these knowledges and mechanisms, techniques of disciplining are deployed in regulating individual bodies undergoing the treatments. Foucault argues that, through these phases, the individual Self willingly accepts the subjectification of the body to the disciplinary processes, e.g., medical and genetic tests.

In this analysis, we extend Foucault’s cautionary note to new knowledges, e.g., knowledge of biotechnologies. They perpetuate/extend biopower, and expand biopolitical intrusions into society/individual. The disciplined society surrenders to this exercise of biopower as it evokes “consensual conformity” in society.

Foucault’s biopower that accredits expertise, produces ‘knowledges’ of various scientific and technical fields. These knowledges, for Foucault, control the whole gamut of a population’s life cycle: births, deaths, reproduction and illnesses. The instrument of control is ‘governmentality’, or the power of authorities that turns the Self into passive, docile and normalized object. In the twentieth century, the techniques of discipline are fear/desire, e.g., fear of finitude or of childlessness; desire for improved health, which allows experts to exercise control over one’s body. In hospitals, clinics, biomedical labs and in bio–political research, a subject’s body is treated to normalize the ‘abnormal’ Self or social body, using techno–scientific expertise and inventions.

Scientific discourse of ‘treatment and cure’ expresses the instrumental knowledges of experts in the various technical specializations. Expertise becomes synonymous with power. The exercise of expertise becomes an invisible force in the medical and genetic analysis of a population. Empowerment of knowledge is a given, when a doctor uses reified biotechnology in the prenatal screening process — a form of disciplinary power governing choice. The patient becomes an object through biotech/genetic/psycho–social manipulation in the form of treatment. The authority of medical experts, settings of isolation and procedures of routinization seriously manipulate a subject’s consciousness.

“Docile bodies” [16] of medical patients are, with informed consent, put through procedures that can be likened to a prisoner under the gaze of the Panopticon. The patient is examined, tested and isolated by experts. The authority of the medical expert, setting of isolation, procedures of routinization and location in a clinic/hospital, are all adequate enough to seriously manipulate a subject’s consciousness. Even if patients make decisions based on the advice of their doctors using a patient–centered model of medicine, doctors, by virtue of their specialized ‘knowledge’, retain their authority of diagnosis and treatment. The symbiotic operation of a doctor’s power/knowledge and reified biotechnology act as a disciplinary power.

As experts control scientific knowledge and its use, the public and the Self live under their regime, as they are subjected to such ‘true’ knowledges that discipline them. Can mere awareness of this control lead to internal self–transformation and freedom?

Genealogy of Internal Self–Transformation/Truth (Chart III)

How can the Self become aware of the disciplinary powers of acknowledged experts’ knowledge? How does truth become power as Foucault claims, rather than power dictating what truth is? Foucault contrasts biopower and bioethics as: Propositional knowledge vs. Knowledge of Self; Codified rules vs. Ethics. The Self is differentiated either as homogenized or as reflective. It is “normalized” to conform to the social construct of norms in schools, workplace, etc., as opposed to the Self being transformed through bioethics. In this transformation, mechanisms that operate are disciplinary institutional practices, such as in Fordism [17], e.g., knowledge becomes commoditized; technology shapes social order; and discursive practices reveal conflicts in the electronic social milieu, between power/knowledge and freedom (Dennis, 1993). Foucault searches for the ‘dispositifs’, i.e., he uncovers the genealogy of certain practices besides analyzing texts or discourses. He examines established practices in the form of institutions, rules, regulations, scientific statements, etc., e.g., institutional practices/policies that intensify surveillance and control, as they police and discipline society. In order to counter these powerful practices, the Self would need multiple forms of effective resistance against routine functions.


Archeology of knowledge Chart III


Chart III differentiates between power and ethics that the Self would have to pursue to distinguish truth from power/knowledge dyad. Foucault warns that as power is totalizing, the Self must deconstruct the authority that subordinates it through the instrument of self–transformation, to free itself from power/knowledge. Through ethical reflexivity and resistance to routinization of obedience to biopower’s narratives and unethical practices, the creative Self can deconstruct its own subjectivity and docility.

Techniques and discourses of discipline are embedded in business practices, e.g., Total Quality Management (TQM), that are used for purposes of extracting personal information while being disguised as sharing personal knowledge for the Self’s well–being (transparency of sharing information) (Kelly, et al., 2007). To prevent this subterfuge, Foucault demands that the Self internalize self–regulation against such techniques. The Self’s fear of failure would lead to torture and control (as opposed to freedom) that resists conditioning through the Self’s creative destabilizing representations against conditioning.

Propositional knowledge (codes, rules, obedience and conformity) can effectively control the Self. For example, a large organization can utilize a workplace health and fitness program to produce employees who would imagine themselves as corporate athletes with (corporate) sportsmanship. The corporate ‘truth regime’ was that the fitness program would advance ‘knowledge of the self’ (as defined by the organization), enhance self–performance and productivity. Globalized workers’ life worlds could be shaped through a process of individuation and normalization as a corporate athlete. The workers are not compelled, but drawn into these processes by their own work ethic/desire to enhance themselves and the organization. The powerful processes of individuation and normalization are teleological in requiring an individual to attain a corporate specified ‘knowledge of self’.

Exploring the physical fitness of workers in corporate organizations through archaeology, we find that ICT promotes historical business practices of digitization, documentation and worker exploitation, as opposed to the Foucauldian self–reflexivity and self–forming activity and asceticism, i.e., renunciation of some parts of the self to be socially rational [18]. Corporate monitoring of the body is a common practice that promotes workers’ health registration, documentation and certification of bodily test scores for the good of their bodies at work. Foucauldian ‘confessions’ are at work when health experts hear workers’ or their athletic members’ confessions of behavioural/attitudinal sins of non–observance of health practices. The corporate code requires, and demands individual responsibility for health measurement and bodily appearance. Workers provide self–data through mutual observation and assessment of each other that the corporation routinely monitors. The penalty for missing the target is a range of material consequences related to the ways in which workers are able, or willing, to practice their freedom as corporate athletes.

According to Foucault, individuals in this sort of situation should challenge/defy through Self’s reflexivity and self–forming activity. These are the modes of constituting the Self as an ethical being, that have four self–conduct dimensions: determining ethical substance; subjecting oneself to following ethical mode; pursuing ethical work; attaining ethical subject’s telos [19]. Foucault warns the individual to shape his moral conduct through self reflection, self–knowledge, and self–examination of Self as subject, which would provide the ways to reconfigure the means of unclenching the Self from objectification by power.

Foucault’s archeology concludes that the idea of justice is an effect that “has been invented and put to work in different societies as an instrument of certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power” [20]. Far beyond embodying the power to interdict breaches of rules, the law extends to governing the totality of individuals’ lives. The legal system disciplines the field of lives through trivial moments of exercise of power. Successive stages of such trivial intrusions in constructing and manipulating individuals, subject them to subtle strategies, unconsciously experienced but cumulatively reinforced as control over bodies. Law is complicit in the dominating form of modern power. While disciplinary power is used in collecting information about individuals, governmentality operates on particular groups, using the gathered information with statistical analysis, financial reports and population registers. Disciplinary power directly produces ‘normalized’ subjects by homogenizing them under the same norm and ensuring that any deviation would define the individual’s place among the group. Any deviation from this norm is not regarded as a minor transgression, but as a loss of an individual’s status [21].

Foucault argues that the Self’s creative representation must resist, destabilize the recognized structures of internal conditioning, and use resistance to gain individual autonomy. His notion of freedom is precisely a freedom to deconstruct authority. Foucault’s archeological and genealogical paths emphasize the urgency for self–reflexivity and resistance to transform and free the Self from docility. The powerful processes of individuation and normalization are teleological in that they require an individual to attain a corporate specified ‘knowledge.’ For instance, knowledge management (KM) is a corporate cultural technique used to condition the workers to share and disseminate their knowledge of production throughout the system. Technicians are tapped for procedural knowledge that is then added to the codified knowledge. Using ICT, workers’ tacit knowledge can be digitized and stored in a database which may be turned into information manuals or training materials for an organization.




The question whether knowledge can be understood as information has been examined here, through a Foucauldian framework of the dyadic relationship of power/knowledge. Deconstruction of the notion of knowledge as information requires that real knowledge cannot be a product of biopower, e.g., governmentality, as power objectifies, oversees and controls the individual to inevitably become a docile ‘Self’. The impact of power in shaping information as knowledge strongly seems to shape a society as one of control and obedience, i.e., Foucault’s “house of certainly” as the process silences voices. Seeking information that would lead to true knowledge and pure wisdom seems to be a hazardous journey in today’s ICT entrenched society. In this context we may join Foucault in turning Max Weber’s question to stand on its head so as to know what is involved in the Care of the Self:

“Max Weber posed the question: If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit? I posed the opposite question: How have certain kinds of interdictions required the price of certain kinds of knowledge about oneself? What must one know about one–self in order to be willing to renounce anything?” [22]

What is the cost of freedom and real knowledge? End of article


About the author

Indhu Rajagopal, Professor at York University in Toronto, researches in the areas of political philosophy (with a special theoretical focus on Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze) and political economy.



Thanks to Nis Bojin, Ph.D. (abd), who drew the charts.



1. Foucault, 1990, The history of sexuality, pp. 58-65.

2. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1995: 26.

3. Foucault: “A real subjection is born mechanically from a fICTitious relation. So it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convICT to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of the regulations. Bentham was surprised that panoptic institutions could be so light: there were no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks; all that was needed was that the separations should be clear and the openings well arranged. The heaviness of the old ‘houses of security’, with their fortress–like architecture, could be replaced by the simple, economic geometry of a ‘house of certainty’. The efficiency of power, its constraining force, have in a sense, passed over to the other side — to the side of its surface of application. He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact, the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non–corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual vICTory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance” (Michel Foucault, 1995, Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Second Vintage Edition Books, pp. 203-204; also online, on Panopticism — Michel Foucault.

4. In “the watershed year 1900 ... Lord Kelvin, the President of the Royal Society, in an address to the Royal Institution claimed that in principle everything that was to be known in science was already known. The combinations of Newton’s and Maxwell’s theories were capable of explaining every phenomenon in the physical universe” (Peat, 2007, p. 921).

5. Peat, 2007, pp. 920–929.

6. “Geneaology defined the target and aim of the work. Archaeology indicates the field in order to do geneaology” (Foucault replies to questions from the audience at Berkeley’s History Department in 1983,

7. “I used these two words in very different meanings and in order to indicate two different sets of problems. I would say that when I used the word archeological research I want to differentiate what I am doing from both social history, since I don’t want to analyze society but facts of discourses and discourses, and I also wanted to disassociate this analysis of discourses from what could be philosophical hermeneutics, which is something like the interpretations of what has been said or for the deciphering of something which wouldn't have been said.

With the term archaeological research what I want to say is that what I am dealing with is a set of discourses, which has to be analyzed as an event or as a set of events. Something has been said, such and such things have been said, and in a way it is in this kind of discursive events that are like any other events, but they have special effects that are not similar to what can be economic events, law or demographical change. That is what I mean by archaeology: it is the methodological framework of my analysis.

Genealogy is both the reason and the target of the analysis of discourses as events, and what I try to show is how those discursive events have determined in a certain way what constitutes our present and what constitutes ourselves: our knowledge, our practices, our type of rationality, our relationship to ourselves and to the others. So genealogy is the aim of the analysis and the archaeology is the material and methodological framework (Foucault replies to questions from the audience at Berkeley’s History Department in 1983,

8. He approximates it to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. However, one guard scanning a whole society is not feasible, observers who monitor are hierarchically organized for sending their observed information from lower levels to the higher.

9. Jeremy Bentham’s (1785) Panopticon diagram illustrates a prison control tower designed for observing the prisoners without their knowledge that they are being watched. In designing it Bentham’s aim was to show a new mode of power of mind to control others’ minds.

10. “scientia potentia est”, translated as “knowledge is power”, is found in Francis Bacon’s Meditationes sacrae (1597).

11. Tsoukas, 1997, p. 827–843.

12. Humphreys, 2006, p. 296. Humphreys applies Foucault’s paradigm regarding the prisoner, to that of the consumer and examines how consumers are ‘seen’ rather than how they ‘see.’

13. Although groups follow ascetic or ethical life styles, the Internet information targets their unique preferences and turns them into archival commercial information.

14. In the late eighteenth century, this technology appeared for managing populations, i.e., to manage reproduction, diseases, illnesses, births, deaths, etc. While disciplinary power trains and regulates bodies and their actions of bodies, biopower manages population growth, decline, etc. “Bio–power emerged as a coherent political technology in the seventeenth century. It has two poles or components. First is the pole of scientific categories of human beings (think of species, population, race, gender, sexual practices, etc.). This pole is tied to the practice of confession. The second pole is disciplinary power (which he analyzes in Discipline and punish, ch. 7)” (Shawver, 2006).

15. See chapter 7 of Foucault’s Discipline and punish.

16. See “Docile bodies,” Chapter 1 in Part 3 of Discipline and punish.

17. “The nature of knowledge as a routinely exchanged commodity in post industrialized societies & traces productive forces & signs that comprise management practices & corporate signifying strategies ... technology influences social orders and discourses, and that electronic social fields are the battleground for clashes over power, knowledge, & freedom. The implementation of total quality management [leads to] surveillance & confessional technologies.” Dennis, 1993, pp. 48–69.

18. Foucault refers to Max Weber’s question: “If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit?” (Foucault, 2000, p. 224)

19. Foucault, 1985, pp. 26–28.

20. “Justice v. Power, Chomsky v. Foucault,” YouTube, at

21. Foucault, 1995, p. 192.

22. Foucault, 2000, p. 224.



Francis Bacon, 1597. “Quote from Meditationes sacra, de hæresibus,” at accessed 20 June 2011.

Jeremy Bentham, 1995. “Panopticon (preface),” In: Miran Božovič (editor). The Panopticon writings. London: Verso, pp. 29–95.

Ian Coday, n.d. “Justice v. Power, Chomsky v. Foucault,” YouTube, at, accessed 20 June 2011.

Dion Dennis, 1993, “License and commodification: The birth of an information oligarchy,” Humanity & Society, volume 17, number 1, pp. 48–69.

T.S. Eliot, 1934. “Quote from The Rock,” at, accessed, 20 July 2011.

Michel Foucault, 2000, “Technologies of the Self,” In: Paul Rabinow (editor). Michel Foucault: Ethics: Subjectivity and truth. London: Penguin, pp. 223–252.

Michel Foucault, 1998. The history of sexuality. Volume 1: The will to knowledge. Translated from the French by Robert Hurley. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Michel Foucault, 1995. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Second Vintage Books edition. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.

Michel Foucault, 1990. The history of sexuality. Volume I, An introduction. Translated from the French by Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.

Michel Foucault, 1985. The use of pleasure. Translated from the French by Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon.

Michel Foucault, 1980. Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972–1977. Translated by Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon.

Michel Foucault, 1972. The archaeology of knowledge. Translated from the French by A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon.

Ashlee Humphreys, 2006, “The consumer as Foucauldian ‘object of knowledge’,” Social Science Computer Review, volume 24, number 3, pp 296–309.
doi:, accessed 25 February 2014.

Peter Kelly, Steven Allender, and Derek Colquhoun, 2007, “New work ethics? The corporate athlete’s back end index and organizational performance,” Organization, volume 14, number 2, pp. 267–285.
doi:, accessed 25 February 2014.

F. David Peat, 2007, “From certainty to uncertainty: Thought, theory and action in a postmodern world,” Futures, volume 39, number 8, pp. 920–929.
doi:, accessed 25 February 2014.

Lois Shawver, 2006. “Dictionary for the study of the works of Michel Foucault,” at, accessed 7 July 2011.

Haridimos Tsoukas, 1997. “The tyranny of light: The temptations and the paradoxes of the information society,” Futures, volume 29, number 9, pp. 827–843.
doi:, accessed 25 February 2014.

Mark Winokur, 2003. “The ambiguous Panopticon: Foucault and the codes of cyberspace,” CTheory at, accessed 25 February 2014.


Editorial history

Received 9 August 2011; revised 14 June 2012; accepted 27 January 2014.

Copyright © 2014, First Monday.
Copyright © 2014, Indhu Rajagopal.

Does the Internet shape a disciplinary society? The information–knowledge paradox
by Indhu Rajagopal.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 3 - 3 March 2014

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.