Dr Philip Holden, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore



A pre-modern regime of power where people are the subjects of a sovereign or sovereign institutions. People are forced by violence of the threat of violence to accept the authority of the state. Authority is thus enforced externally.


A modern regime of power where people are citizens of a state. Power operates not externally but internally, by inducing people to aim for "self-improvement" which seems voluntary.

I have attempted a history of the organization of knowledge with respect to both domination and the self. For example, I studied madness not in terms of the criteria of the formal sciences but to show how a type of management of individuals inside and outside of asylums was made possible by this strange discourse. This contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality. (Foucault 18-19)


Foucault illustrates these notions by looking at the way prisoners have been treated in modern and pre-modern regimes of power. In pre-modern regimes of power, people who committed crimes where either locked away for years and forgotten about or publicly executed in gruesome fashion, illustrating the power of the sovereign. In modern regimes of power, criminals are usually put in purpose-built prison whose purpose is at least partly to transform their characters through carefully devised regimes of punishment and self-improvement. This difference can be seen in the names used to describe such places of detention. A medieval dungeon was often referred to as an oubliette, literally a place where someone was forgotten or lost; in the modern USA prisons have been called penitentiaries, places designed to make one become penitent, to repent one's crimes.


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Last Modified: 19 April, 2002