Recoding Sovereignty and Discipline

  • Henrik Paul Bang
Part of the International Political Theory book series (IPoT)


In his lectures on Psychiatric Power in 1973–1974, Foucault begins to recode the relation between sovereignty and discipline for the sake of more succinctly distinguishing the two concepts from one another. Having summarized his earlier analyses of madness and discipline, he enters into a reexamination of the difference between the macrophysics of sovereignty and the microphysics of discipline as two distinct types of political power corresponding to two different systems with two different ways of functioning. His lecture in PP from November 21, 1973 constitutes a magnificent example of his way of blowing up a difference to render it more distinct, in this case the difference between sovereignty and discipline. The point of departure is Pinel’s description of how King George III of England falls into a mania. In order to make his cure more speedy and secure, the king decides that no restrictions shall be placed on the prudence of the doctor who is to direct the cure. What is noteworthy, Foucault shows, is how the absolute king is placed in a situation of complete subordination, with the doctor as the effective agent of his ‘dethronement’ as sovereign (PP: 40):

I started then with this scene of George III confronted by his servants who were, at the same time, agents of medical power, because it seemed to me a fine example of the confrontation between a power, which, in the person of the king himself, is sovereign power embodied in this mad king, and another type of power, which is instead anonymous and silent, and which, paradoxically, gets support from the servants’ strength, from a muscular obedient force not articulated in discourse. So, on the one hand there is the king’s furious outbursts and, facing this, the controlled force of the servants.


Civil Society Political Power Political Authority Discursive Practice Sovereign Power 
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© Henrik Paul Bang 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henrik Paul Bang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Governance and Policy AnalysisUniversity of CanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenDenmark

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