Paper presented at the 1st Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "A spanner in the works of the factory of truth"
20 October 1995, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa


The RDP and me
Nicole Jaff
I was introduced to the works of Michel Foucault late in life and after my initial total incomprehension, scepticism and desperate late night calls to a friend who was a luminary in the philosophy department, I began to see the light and became a convert. Constituted by his discourse, I drove my family and friends mad by perceiving the workings of disciplinary power in every dinner table conversation, in every book and newspaper article I read and in the election posters I saw on the streets. In this talk I would like to discuss how I see power relations in the new South Africa.

In the old apartheid regime in South Africa, power was sovereign or repressive. This enabled progressive South African psychologists to study issues which dealt with the manner in which power subjects had been "damaged" by power holders. Our new government claims to have altered the status quo and created a situation where the disempowered have become empowered, "...it involves a re-organisation of power relations and an irreversible shift in the balance of forces in the direction of the previously disempowered..."(Singh, 1992, p. 52) This still assumes that power is a commodity which can be held and conferred upon the individual or the masses; so that the old paradigms still apply.

However a different discourse might be applied, "the use of democratisation, restructuring, reconstruction, and, of course, transformation are...moving into centre stage within oppositional discourse. The issue is, of course, whether such a reconstruction of the discourse of struggle is a euphemistic accommodation to reform or a creative interpretation of revolution."(Singh, 1992, pp.50-51) Perhaps the RDP in the New South Africa can be better understood in terms of a Foucauldian analysis of a pervasive, disciplinary power which will ultimately change the way in which psychologists will view the individual as constituted within the South African society.

The traditional view of power is that it is a commodity which is held by a "power holder" who used it to control a "power subject". Foucault suggested that history was divided into a series of epistemes, each of them lasting one hundred and fifty years. In the epistemes preceding the Modern Age, the power was sovereign. In a feudal type of society it was held by a ruler, generally a king, prince or some great overlord, who would exercise the power over his subjects with a huge show of force and spectacle: "Its architecture was the massive monoliths of force and respectability: the striking palace, the threatening dungeon, the inspiring cathedral."(Gruber, 1989, p.616)

This type of power presupposed that it was a commodity held by one individual and inexorably exercised over his subjects to maintain the status quo. This was part of a natural order, and "the law, it was held, represented the will of the sovereign; he who violated it must answer to the wrath of kings...More precisely he must respond with excessive force." (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p. 143) This display of power was the restraint that maintained order in the kingdom. It was a "visible" power and though inhumane it was understood by both the power-holder and the power subject.

For Foucault, it is far less insidious and evil than the disciplinary power that characterises the Modern Age and which will be discussed in detail at later stage.

In the old apartheid regime, South Africa was ruled by repressive power. Blacks were acted upon by the Government as though they were a formless mass without basic human rights, which included the denial of franchise. They were taught self regulation but it was, in my opinion, the result of a kind of sovereign power; "...[that] was exercised with unignorable force; it was the occasional outburst of a lightening flash that seared its way into the undifferentiated multitude."(Gruber, 1989, P.615) Some examples would be the shooting of unarmed protestors at Sharpeville; the killing of Hector Peterson; banning and imprisonment without trial; images of Caspers and immaculate uniformed policemen with dogs straining at their leashes; unexplained deaths in prison; and torture to extract confession.

Foucault would argue as I will demonstrate later that this is not sovereign power but "a more finely tuned mechanism of control over the social body, a more effective spinning of the web of power over everyday life." (Couzens, 1983, p.136) But it seems that this power was pure intention and the people acted upon bore a striking resemblance to those "undifferentiated" feudal multitudes. Although, "power, Foucault, prefers to say, is a strategy, and the dominated are as much part of the network of power relations and the particular social matrix as the dominating." (Couzens, 1983, p.134)

This is the type of power we mean when we talk about disciplinary power; the power Foucault believed characterised the modern episteme or period. "Power is no longer the sovereign spasm that expends itself against its undifferentiated object and then is reflected back to show the superiority of its individuality. Instead, power intensifies and reduplicates itself as it circulates endlessly through the nodes of its network; as this power multiplies itself, these individuals are more and more clearly defined." (Gruber, 1989, pp. 617-618)

Whereas sovereign power is a visible entity, "disciplinary power reverses these relations. Now it is power itself which seeks invisibility and the objects of power - those on whom it operates are made most visible." (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1983, p.154) It is absolutely pervasive in our society; taking the individual and imbuing him with a sense of normality and self-regulation that ensures his absolute obedience to the societal body or in other words the state. "Power not only produces subjects, it lies at the bottom of all our social practices: politics, medicine, religion, psychiatry, work. These practices are situated in a context in which power is everywhere...,[as Foucault says] power is coextensive with the social body; there are no spaces of primal liberty between the meshes of the network." (Digeser, 1992, p.980)

It is intrinsically a pessimistic view of modern life; saying in effect that "We are already trapped. This is tolerable only to the extent that power operates behind the mask of law, whereby we presume that the worst power can do is to say 'NO'", [furthermore] power produces - everywhere, yet it does not exist in any substantive sense. Hence, we can never hold power nor can we escape it." (Paternek, 1987, p. 100) The question of power masking itself must be related to discourse which is "conceived of as social parlance or language-in-use, and...[is] both the product and manifestation... of particular social conditions, class structures and power relationships that alter the course of history." (Abrams, 1993, p.262) In other words I might think that I am exercising my democratic option when I choose the candidate I am going to vote for, but Foucault would say that behind the choice is a predetermined discourse that would assume that the choice had been made for me; and that "given that power and knowledge are joined in discourse, realise that discourse is potentially an instrument, an effect, and a point of resistance." (Paternek, 1987, p. 100)

Individuality has become the raison d'etre of society, for in order to function smoothly the state needs what Foucault refers to as "docile bodies", rather than an uncontrollable mass. Thus individuality "is an imposed, inescapable necessity, a forced and enforced requirement. Attaining individuality is not graduating to a subjectivity that would exercise autonomy and spontaneity; in the institutions, discourse and practices of human sciences, individuals are constituted as the particular objects that have a dynamic of subjectivity." (Gruber, 1989, p.617)

Disciplinary power relies on the disciplinary technologies which include, surveillance, power / knowledge, normalization, confession and self-regulation.

Surveillance stems from Foucault's view of the Panopticon which ensures that everyone is constantly observed by an invisible entity that ensures our continued self-regulation and obedience. The Panopticon as devised by Bentham in the eighteenth century, was a circular prison with the cells built round a circular well so that the warders could observe the prisoners at all times without the prisoners knowing at precisely what moment they were being observed. Foucault saw the Panopticon as "a perfect example of a meticulous ritual of power..."(Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p.193) In a sense it is a brilliant form of coercion, for since the person is never sure whether he/she is being observed, an on-going regulation of self is imperative. And according to Foucault, "our society is not one of spectacle, but of surveillance... the individual is carefully fabricated within it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies... We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage but in the panoptic machine." (Paternek, 1987, p. 109)

The normalizing of the individual is another successful mechanism of disciplinary power. It is "the statisticalization of human variability through the use of the normal curve." (Rose, 1989, p. 128) In normalizing a person their subjectivity is reduced and they are encouraged to assume that which the state has constituted as a true identity which "implies that there is a definite answer to the kind of person that human beings should be...[and there] are 'multiple drives to stamp truth' upon the norms and standards that define our identities. The idea of a "natural" identity (eg. a responsible, rational, self-disciplined, self interested agent) establishes a norm to live up to or to fall below." (Digeser, 1992, p. 999)

Perhaps the technology of confession is the most paradoxical of the mechanisms that Foucault embraces to map out his analysis of power. The focus of the twentieth century on psychoanalysis gave rise to the myth of liberation through the insightful expression and interpretation of one's deepest most "forbidden", repressed thoughts and feelings. In other words a combination of the psychodynamic and the pastoral - "and the truth shall set you free." It was "the particular type of discourse and particular techniques which supposedly reveal our deepest selves...in confession after confession to oneself and to others, this mise en discourse has placed the individual in a network of relations of power with those who claim to be able to extract the truth of these confessions through their possession of the keys of interpretations." (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p. 174)

This Modern Age heralded the arrival of the experts; those well versed in the social sciences, which gave a validity to the politics of power by removing those particular discourses into the more neutral realm of scientific language which gave a spurious respectability to the objectifying of power. "The individual is the effect and object of a certain crossing of power and knowledge. He is the product of the complex strategic developments in the field of power and the multiple developments in the human sciences." (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p. 160) The experts were aided in this codification, analysis and manipulation of data that placed the objectified individual on a specific grid, through the use of computers; with their capacity to rapidly process vast amounts of information.

Self-regulation plays an important part in Foucault's analysis of power. It is an extremely economic way of controlling a group of people. "The individual was to be taught to control his own life... This entailed a training in the minute arts of self-scrutiny, self-evaluation, and self-regulation ranging from the control of the body, speech and movement in school... to the Puritan practices of self inspection and obedience to divine reason." (Rose, 1989, p. 113) It was a type of reflexive hermeneutics.

What I have just described is the way Foucault analysed power. These disciplinary technologies can be used to map a certain view of power relations in the new South Africa. In order to illustrate my point I will be quoting extensively from the RDP Programme; the Truth Commission manifesto and various articles and speeches relating to the latter. I have chosen these documents because they are obviously central to the discourses of the New South Africa. They also make extensive use of the politics of transformation which is argued to have superseded the politics of protest" (Singh, 1992, p. 49) and employs normalizing technologies of surveillance and self-regulation to achieve its reconstructive ideals.

The Truth Commission operates from within a discourse in which, as Foucault says "we are constrained or condemned to confess or to discover the truth" (1980). It is in itself a technology of disciplinary power.

Although a repressive, fascist government has been exchanged for one of "national unity", the aims of the state, to have a well-governed country remain in some way the same. It is merely that the discourses used are different. Disciplinary techniques are used to monitor the population, since the new government appears to be aspiring to a more radical agenda of democratically planned change than merely indicating a transitional politics whose outcome is unclear or indeterminate. This means that the smooth running of the state is dependant on the constituting of "docile bodies" who are both objectified and subjugated by the networks of power/knowledge that enmeshes them. "...there is the assumption, both at levels of rhetoric and reality, that transformation requires a substantial and meaningful degree of organisationally-based popular participation in all key initiatives rather than the imposition of the views of elites, leaders or special interest groups, no matter how benevolent." (Singh, 1992, p.51)

This is the language of reform which " is, from the outset, an essential component of these political technologies. Bio-power spread under the banner of making people healthy and protecting them." (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p.196) The RDP makes use of this language to encourage people to participate in the building of South Africa "Millions of ordinary South Africans struggled against this [apartheid] system over decades to improve their lives, to restore peace, and to bring about a more just society...It is this collective heritage of struggle, these common yearnings, which are our greatest strength, and RDP builds on it." (1994, p. 3) The RDP has the praiseworthy aim of building a new South Africa and yet the language it embraces is a perfect example of the reform discourse so intrinsic to a disciplinary society:

"Normalizing technologies have an almost identical structure. They operate by establishing a common definition of goals and procedures, which take the form of manifestos and, even more forceful, agreed upon examples of how a well-ordered domain of human activity should be organised."(Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1994, p.198)

The networks of state that Foucault describes as essential for maintaining the spread of disciplinary power are well in place in South Africa:

"The RDP national coordinating body must also ensure that the structures of civil society are involved in the programme. It must ensure co-ordination between the various ministries, parastatals, labour, civic and other organizations. It must link with existing sectors and development forums at national level, in order to establish effective systems of co-ordination."(1994, p.139) There seems to be a passion for committees and forums in the New South Africa, perhaps as a way of legitimizing state control or of encouraging participation at all levels which will ensure the success of the programmes. The Economist wrote, "South Africa has an extraordinary mesh of civic organisations..."(1995, p. 26

The idea of humans as a valuable resource of the disciplinary state is central to Foucault's analysis of power: "In the expanding arena of the modern state and its administrative apparatus human beings within a given domain were considered a resource."(Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p.139) The RDP concurs specifically with this view: "Our people with their aspirations and collective determination are our most important resource."(1994, p.5) They carefully use the appropriate words to ensure co-operation: "It is about active involvement and growing empowerment..."(1994, p.59) and objectify the subject when they state, "human resources unlike other resources think for themselves."(1994, p.59)

The RDP insists on the rights of the workers to strike, which is a ploy fundamental to the disciplinary society, where in deference to liberal discourse "...the principle of government requires of the governed that they freely conduct themselves in a certain rational way whether in the form of a "natural liberty"..., or as a freedom which is an artifact...Individual freedom in appropriate forms, is here a technical condition of rational government rather than the organizing value of a utopian dream."(Burchell, 1993, p.271)

The RDP also draws on the idea of surveillance and recommends that; "the Democratic government should institute a National Nutrition Surveillance System, which should aim to weigh a statistically significant proportion of children...to establish their levels of growth and wellbeing."(1994, p.42) This well-intentioned aim once again reduces the variability of the individual to a point on the normal curve as well as gathering information in the name of reform.

It is thus that the New South Africa places its individuals on a grid of power. For example in incorporating Umkhonto weSizwe into the SANDF they are being placed on "this grid [which] permits the sure distribution of the individual to be disciplined and supervised; this procedure facilitates the reduction of dangerous multitudes...to fixed and docile individuals."(Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p. 154) Psychologists and other experts are available to help with the integration process and it seems as though the former guerillas are submitting most docilely to the uniforms, rankings and traditions of the SANDF. The breaking down of both Umkhonto into "docile bodies" has ensured their allegiance to the state.

Finally the Truth Commission in its exemplary desire for reconciliation and reparation is an example of a power relation in the new South Africa that feeds right into the dispositif of the disciplinary power. Incorporating the techniques of power/knowledge, confession and self-regulation, it is a wonderful example of "the beautifully illuminated facade of liberal justice [which] rests discretely upon the obscure foundation of disciplinary machinations."(Gruber, 1989, p.619):

"The President believes... the truths concerning human violations...They ought to be investigated, recorded and made known.. Part of our joint responsibility is to help illuminate the way, chart the road forward...We must involve our citizens in debate to ensure that human rights is [sic]...the birthright of every citizen".(1994, p.6) In this one page alone we can see the techniques of record gathering, normalizing and mapping a self regulatory grid.

Kadar Asmal, Minister for Water Affairs tells us "that an essential part of the process [of being a dignified human being] is to get the truth of what happened in those dark days..."(1994, p.2) And, in a paper entitled Reconciliation, Graeme Simpson suggests that "an essential component of building reconciliation and treating the wounds of the past is to offer those who participate in violent acts an opportunity to discuss their motives as well as their fears." He also advocates "the normalizing of the police" as a central function of the Committee.

A final characteristic of the new South Africa is its infatuation with transparency. Perhaps it is a reaction to the covert power and secrecy of the apartheid regime but much of the rhetoric of the new government is involved with this subject. In discussing the proposed legislation Simpson tells us "indeed the growing concern:...with the need to render the activities and internal functioning of policing and other security establishment institutions "transparent", suggests the necessary awareness in this context, the whole question of "recovery of the truth" has a central proactive and remedial role."(1994, p.3)

The pervasive nature of Foucault's idea of disciplinary power strikes at the very roots of our ideology and belief about the freedom of the individual, especially in our "brave new world". However, perhaps there is some hope, for Foucault concedes that "there is indeed something in the social body, in classes, in groups and individuals which in some sense escapes relations of power. Something which is by no means a more or less docile or reactive primal matter, but rather a centrifugal movement, an inverse energy, a discharge".(1980) Perhaps the use of disciplinary technologies is necessary but temporary, and members of the New South Africa realise that "the search for progressive strategies cannot, therefore avoid the issue of tranformatory discipline and the organisational and the other mechanisms through which this could be institutionalised."(Singh, 1992, p.56) Perhaps the "docile bodies" who constitute the New South Africa will discover, in their self-regulated world, that the creative force or inverse energy is the truth that can be implicit in the discourses of power, and society will understand as Foucault did that "power never ceases its interrogation, its inquisition, its registration of truth; it institutionalises, professionalises and rewards its pursuit. In the last analysis we must produce truth as we must produce wealth."(Foucault, 1980)

Nicole Jaff
c/o Department of Psychology
University of the Witwatersrand
PO Wits
2050


Paper presented at the 1st Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "A spanner in the works of the factory of truth"
20 October 1995, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
critical methods society - www.criticalmethods.org - info@criticalmethods.org