Self Regulation: Weber vs Foucault


In this post I would like to discuss the similarities between Weber and Foucault.  Recall that Weber  came up with with the theory of the spirit of capitalism which motivated one to be more diligent and consider  opportunity costs when seeking accumulation of profit. This is deeply rooted in a Protestant ethic that work is valued above all and that good behavior, rationality, and efficiency leads to good credit which therefore leads to money, the semblance of virtue. Thus, this forces the individual hyper organize, discipline and observe oneself in order to effectively gain capital. Foucault has similar aspects in his theory  that true power displays itself not in authority, but in the authority one has when law that originally external has been organized in such a way that the subject internalized, and was able to inflict the law on oneself, so to speak, thus creating a state of heightened self regulation.

Both Weber and Foucault have a strong emphasis on the idea that when one is discipled enough to have control and audit one’s actions in a way that  makes . Weber’s hypothesis on the Protestant work ethic claims that self monitoring must exist in order to satisfy one’s material needs. The Protestant work ethic itself originated in the idea that in order to glorify God one must fill up the day with work such as manual labor and prayer. Since the religious aspect of the is no longer in context in our society today, the approach towards work has remained. Effectiveness has to be internalized in order to survive a harsh, competitive capitalist society. Every minute wasted  not working results in the loss of material gain, therefore micromanagement of one’s own time results.

Foucault’s ideas on self monitoring is the result of his idea of power that is instilled through organization of people, such as the organization  of prisoners in the panopticon. Eventually, because of the structure of the building each prisoner is forced to self examine one’s behavior because he knows that he is being watched by a force he himself cannot see. No matter what the behavior is, there is no escape from the observer. Even when the system of cruel and unusual physical punishment has ceased the panopticon structure of prisons remained and with that remained the institution of constant observation. In rehabilitation time tables, for example,  the observation and organization of the prisoner’s time has proven to be one of the strongest ways to instill self monitoring. When the prison is given time to reflect and analyze one’s actions he must do so in a specific context which is usually that which is presented by the person in  charge of the activity, thus the person in power. Therefore when constructing the time table the individual who is constructing it must include free time for the prisoner to give the idea that he was granted momentary freedom, when in fact the freedom itself is limited by time and the person in power.

Furthermore Foucault’s repressive hypothesis is another example of self monitoring due to the censorship. The idea that sexuality must be repressed triggers two societal  reactions. On one hand, the repression results in the lack of overt conversation on the topic thus the self observation and prevention of one’s desire to reference to the subject in any way. Or, more commonly, discourse heightens which  makes the people participating in the discourse aware of their own actions and the way the information is presented, in order to conform with the appropriate presentation of information about intimate activity. In either reaction the repression that each individual must  cope with has been internalized after years of societal conditioning i.e. institutions to prevent allegedly illicit behavior.

Both theorists have a strong emphasis on self observation and extreme organization. While Weber is concerned  with the organization of time and gaining capital, Foucault focuses on self observation as the result of legal punishment/legal rehabilitation.  Weber is deals with the translation of organization of time from a religious context to a capitalist context. Capitalism itself is the power which forces the people to behave in a materialistic way;  one begins  to construct a tight, coordinated schedule in order to survive and earn his place in the world. Foucault present the idea of self regulation that results from the ultimate control of power which originated from the so-called freedom that it grants its people. Both theories show similar patterns in which there is a critique of artificially latent power – capitalism supposedly gives us the freedom to choose to how to gain/spend money, and the power involved in time tables/legal systems gives prisoners ‘leisure time.’ The relationship between the observer and the observed is blurred when the observed internalize a constant, critical self analysis.




One Response to “Self Regulation: Weber vs Foucault”

  1. givenarnold Says:

    This is a really interesting connection between Weber and Foucault. I think a characteristic difference between the two points you mention is how Foucault’s self regulation is due to external factors, where as Weber’s discipline tends to come from internal, conscious motives. As in the panopticon, the self regulation which follows is a result of power relations forcing prisoners to regulate themselves. However, with the protestant ethic, there is a more engrained interior motive that cause one to be extremely disciplined and self-regulated.

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