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  • Writer's pictureTidy Content

On the structures that shape us

Power isn’t just held by individuals.

Social institutions, systems and organisations distribute power across their structures - producing, in turn, a certain type of individual.

In the 1975 book Discipline and punish, French Philosopher Michel Foucault analysed the birth of the modern prison in line with that of the school, hospital and military barracks.

And with them, the modern ideas of ‘disciplinary power’ and ‘power technologies’.

The prison wasn’t just a place of punishment: it reinforced social norms to produce obedient and productive citizens. Not necessarily just through repression, but regulation, normalisation and conformity.

Disciplining the mind through the body to produce obedient subjects.

Beyond buildings, processes and systems, organisations define and control how people relate, interact and behave - shaping those within them.

A strong vertical structure gives people at the top power and control over those below them. And they exercise it through normalisation and surveillance techniques, including strict performance monitoring and rigid rules and regulations.

As the deviation from the norm is punished, the pressure to meet demands and expectations leads to a culture of conformity and obedience.

Agency is taken away, and centralised in the hierarchy.

Perhaps we can reimagine organisations as systems of fairer power distributions. Structures that lead to creative, curious and courageous individuals: more adaptable, resilient and free.

Fluid organisations to navigate the shaky grounds of the 21 century.

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