Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 23-28
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2013.31005
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 23
Foucault’s Discourse and Power: Implications for Instructionist
Victor Pitsoe, Moeketsi Letseka
Department of Educational Leader ship and Management,
College of Education, University o f So uth Africa, Pretoria, South Afri c a
Received October 23rd, 2012; r evised November 27th, 2012; accepted December 8th, 2012
This article picks up on Foucault’s radical reconceptualisation of concept “power”, and presents a signifi-
cant challenge to contemporary discourses surrounding instructionist classroom management. We critique
his approach to instructionist classroom management on the basis that it conceptualises power as domina-
tion in dealing with disruption in the classroom. We argue that power and discourse are interrelated con-
structs that the teacher uses to perpetuate Taylorism, Fordism and bureaucratic domination in an instruc-
tionist classroom setting. Drawing on Foucault’s and Bourdieu’s works, this document reviews: 1) ex-
plores Foucault’s theory of discourse; 2) argues discourse as an instrument of power; 3) captures the phi-
losophical perspectives on instructionist classroom management; and 4) argues a teacher’s power as a tool
for social reproduction and domination in instructionist classroom setting.
Keywords: Discourse; Power; Instructionist Classroom Management; Bureaucratisation; Taylorism;
Fordism; Social Reproduction
Michel Foucault’s work is not alien to the field of educa-
tional management. As noted by Deacon (2006: p. 177), his de-
tailed studies of madness, punishment, sexuality, and the hu-
man sciences have provided educational theorists with a whole
new array of concepts (like discipline, and problematisation,
analytical techniques (such as archaeology, and genealogy) and
arguments (as pertaining to the intimate embrace of knowledge
and power, and ways in which human subjects relate ethically
to themselves and others). Foucault’s work also offers nuanced
understandings of the manifestations, functioning and effects of
contemporary educational institutions and practices, more spe-
cifically in classroom management. Classroom management is
a collection of theoretical ideas, teaching strategies and tech-
niques utilised for the maintenance of classroom (school) order
or “institutional equilibrium”.
With this in mind, in the field of education, particularly in
teacher training, the idea of “classroom management” occupies
a central place in educational institutions and among practitio-
ners. Exceptionally, its persistence is indicated in the rise of
research on classroom management, as teacher training shifts
from what were once considered “control” practices to an em-
phasis on “management” practices. Another indication of class-
room management’s status is the number of classroom man-
agement workshops available in educational fields ranging
from special education to in-service teacher training. For many
teachers, the shift from “controlling” to “managing” represents
a progressive and unambiguous improvement.
This article picks up on Foucault’s radical reconceptualisa-
tion of the concept “power”, and presents a significant chal-
lenge to contemporary discourses surrounding educational ma-
nagement practices, especially with regard to instructionist
classroom management. Power is not something that is ac-
quired, seized or shared, something one holds on to or allows to
slip away (Foucault, 1972: p. 94). In this article, we critique his
approach to instructionist classroom management on the basis
that it conceptualises power as domination in dealing with
classroom disruption and discipline. We argue that power and
discourse are interrelated constructs which the teacher uses to
perpetuate Taylorism, Fordism and bureaucratic domination in
an instructionist classroom setting. This article explores the
poststructuralist theory of discourse, power and its implications
on instructionist classroom management. It captures how post-
structuralist theory can produce politically useful understand-
ings of the production and reproduction. Drawing on Foucault’s
and Bourdieu’s works, this article: 1) explores Foucault’s the-
ory of discourse; 2) argues discourse as an instrument of ef-
fecting power; 3) captures the philosophical perspectives on
instructionist classroom management; and using Bourdieu’s
work; and 4) argues teachers’ power as a tool for social repro-
duction and domination in an instructionist classroom setting.
Lastly, some concluding remarks are offered.
Foucault’s Theory of Discourse
Michel Foucault’s discourse theory has been an important
ground on which educational debates, policies, and scholarship
have focused. Much of Foucault’s thinking drew on elements in
French anthropological thought from Durkheim and Mauss to
Callois and Bataille about sacred collective representations as
structural preconditions of cultural reproduction (Harrington
2006: p. 39). He continues to stand as an intellectual giant in
the field of social and cultural inquiry—his works have far-
reaching influence. Interestingly, Foucault’s theory of discourse
occupies a place of comparative stability, especially when com-
pared with the work of other (more controversial) post-modern
icons such as Jacques Derrida’s theories of “deconstruction” or
V. PITSOE, M. LETSEKA
Jean Baudrillard’s contentions of “hyperreality”. For example,
Foucault’s theory of discourse has been studied by other think-
ers, such as Giorgio Agamben, Anthony Giddens, Judith Butler
and Kai Alhanen who have combined Foucault’s thought with
that of Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt. Within social con-
texts, discourse theory is concerned with issues of power and
domination. Hence, this article perceives Foucault’s theory of
discourse as both generative and illustrative of an intellectual
tradition that provides certain breaks with the ordering princi-
ples of critical traditions dominating Western Left thinking
since the turn of the century. Foucault’s work illustrates a move
within critical traditions to focus on knowledge as a material
element in social life (Popkewitz, 1997: p. 288). Foucault’s
ideas, as noted by Harrison (1992: p. 84), offer both radical
epistemological decenterings of knowledge and t r u t h.
The concept “discourse” is multidimensional, broadly per-
ceived and has several definitions. A plethora of literature notes
that in the study of language, discourse often refers to the
speech patterns and usage of language, dialects, and acceptable
statements within a community. It is a subject of study about
people who live in secluded areas and share similar speech
conventions. Sociologists and philosophers tend to use the term
“discourse” to describe the conversations and the meaning be-
hind them by a group of people who hold certain ideas in
common. The concept “discourse” originates from Latin “dis-
cursus”, meaning “running to and from”, and generally refers to
“written or spoken communication”. In the simplest sense, dis-
course is conversation or information. For Foucault (1977), it is
through discourse (through knowledge) that we are created; and
that discourse joins power and knowledge, and its power fol-
lows from our casual acceptance of the “reality with which we
Discourse, as a social construct, is created and perpetuated
by those who have the power and means of communication. For
example, those who are in control decide who we are by de-
ciding what we discuss. Foucault holds that truth, morality, and
meaning are created through discourse. In every society the
production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organ-
ised and redistributed according to a certain number of proce-
dures, whose role is “to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope
with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materia-
lity”. Weedon (1997: p. 105) asserts that discourses, in Fou-
cault’s work, are ways of constituting knowledge, together with
the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations.
Discourse transmits and produces power; it undermines and
exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it
(Weedon, 1997: p. 107). For Foucault (1972), discourses are
about what can be said and thought, but also about who can
speak, when, and with what authority. They embody meaning
and social relationships, they constitute both subjectivity and
power relations; and are “practices that systematically form the
objects of which they speak. In addition, discourses are not
about objects; they do not identify objects, they constitute them
and in the practice of doing so conceal their own invention”
(Foucault, 1972: p. 49).
Discourses exist both in written and oral forms and in the
social practices of everyday life (Weedon, 1997: p. 108), and
are inherent in the very physical layout of our institutions such
as schools, churches, law courts and homes. As observed by
Foucault, language plays a powerful role in reproducing and
transforming power relations along many different dimensions
(of class, culture, gender, sexuality, disability and age, etc.) and
is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in
the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged
with saying what counts as true. Hence, Foucault suggests that
each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of
truth: that is, the types of discourse it accepts and makes func-
tion as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to
distinguish between true and false statements.
Discourses are constituted by exclusions as well as inclu-
sions, by what cannot as well as what can be said. These exclu-
sions and inclusions stand in antagonistic relationship to other
discourses, other possible meanings, other claims, rights, and
positions. This is Foucault’s principle of discontinuity: “We
must make allowance for the complex and unstable powers
whereby discourse can be both an instrument and an effect of
power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of re-
sistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy” (Foucault,
1978: p. 101). Power and knowledge are two sides of a single
process. Knowledge does not reflect power relations but is im-
minent in them.
Poststructuralists see power as a form of hegemony. In he-
gemony, the oppressed class literally “gives” the oppressors the
permission to oppress them. Much of the hegemony occurs
through social practices and beliefs which neither the oppres-
sors nor the oppressed are aware of, thus the necessity for rais-
ing the consciousness of people as a prerequisite for true free-
dom. Although Foucault sought to develop a new theory of
society, he doubted through most of his career that this freedom
could actually be achieved.
To sum up, discourse is interwoven with power and know-
ledge to constitute the oppression of those “others” in our soci-
ety, serving to marginalise, silence and oppress them. They are
oppressed not only by being denied access to certain knowledge,
but by the demands of the dominant group within the society
that the “other” shed their differences (in essence, their being,
their voices, their cultures) to become “one of us”. Control of
knowledge is a form of oppression—only certain groups have
access to certain knowledge. Those in positions of power are
responsible for the assumptions that underlie the selection and
organisation of knowledge in society. The task for the educator
is to discover the patterns and distributions of power that influ-
ence the way in which a society selects, classifies, transmits,
and evaluates the knowledge it considers to be public. Thus,
discourse ultimately serves to control not just what but how
subjects are constructed. Language, thought, and desire are re-
gulated, policed, and managed through discourse.
Discourse as an Instrument of Effecting Power
Modern discourse about power began with Nicollò Machia-
velli (The Prince, early 16th century) and Thomas Hobbes (Le-
viathan, mid-17th century). Their books are considered classics
of political writing. With this in mind, Foucault’s notion of
discourse is a vital methodological concept in unraveling power
in the poststructuralist era. It is in discourse that power and
knowledge are joined together. As Hutcheon (1991) observes,
discourse is not merely a tool of domination, rather, it is an
instrument of power. In addition, it is both an instrument and an
effect of power. According to a widely accepted view, power is
a tool for the social construction of reality. According to this
view, discourse is seen as an instrument of power and ideo-
logical control, but also as a hindrance, a stumbling block, a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
V. PITSOE, M. LETSEKA
point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy.
Foucault (1978) asserts that discourse can transmit, produce,
and reinforce power, but at the same time discourse can under-
mine and expose power, rendering it unstable and possible to
thwart. Discursive practices are practices that a subject embod-
ies, lives, and experiences as s/he interacts with discourses. For
example, the discourse of femininity inadvertently informs, in-
fluences, and shapes women’s identity to the point where wo-
men act out and behave according to what has been labelled as
acceptable and true about females.
The concepts of discourse, power, culture and language are
dialectically interrelated—they complement one another. Dis-
courses, in turn, are shaped and informed by practices. Dis-
course and practices then enter into power relations. One does
not have more or less power than the other but each equally
shapes the other (Foucault, 1977). Discourse can be seen in the
everyday practice of humans. Therefore, discourse is not only
text but also action. Discourses are not once and for all subser-
vient to power or raised up against it We must make allowances
for the complex and unstable process whereby a discourse can
be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hin-
drance, a stumbling point of resistance and a starting point for
an opposing strategy. Discourse transmits and produces power;
it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it
fragile and makes it possible to thwart (Foucault, 1998: p.
It is worth commenting on the aspect of language. Corson
(1995) conceives language as an instrument of power and a
useful tool for deconstructing power discourse. In a similar vein,
Bourdieu (1977) notes that language is not only an instrument
of communication or even knowledge, but also an instrument of
power. For Ball and Goodson (2007: p. 176), at one level, po-
wer can readily be understood as coercive force or restraint.
What is much more difficult to comprehend, is the idea of
power being exercised through consent, through what Antonio
Gramsci called “ideological hegemony”. In most societies, the
education system is controlled by the state, but it works to
maintain relations of power throughout the society as a whole.
Hence, the official discourses of the state relating to educational
policies (e.g. core curriculum, transition education, systems of
assessment or school management) are obvious instances in
which discourse becomes the instrument and the object of po-
wer (Ball & Goodson, 2007: p. 177).
Societal discourse mediates its power and control through in-
stitutions and elites “who are charged with saying what counts
as true” (Talbani, 1996: p. 67). Each society, according to Fou-
cault, has its regime of truth, its “general politics of truth, that is,
the type of discourse it accepts and makes function as true”. He
sees society as an arena for a struggle to establish and pass on a
regime of truth and develop techniques and procedures to in-
culcate and transmit cultural values considered to be true.
Hence, a discourse could be an “instrument of power or an
effect of power,” as well as “a point of resistance and a starting
point for an opposing strategy”. Societal discourse mediates its
power and control through institutions and elites “who are
charged with saying what counts as true”. A regime uses po-
litical, economic, and social apparatuses to control and domi-
nate (Talbani, 1996). In addition, truth is established through
the discourse of power that is relayed, pre-served, and legiti-
mised. This involves a struggle around political debate and
social confrontation—an ideological struggle (Talbani 1996).
Hence, the creation of educational or social institutions is part
of the power struggle to establish, expand, and sustain a par-
ticular notion of truth through control over the power of legiti-
macy. Foucault (1972) notes that truth should be understood as
a “system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation,
distribution, circulation, and operation of statements”.
As Foucault (1972) states, every educational system is a
means of maintaining or modifying the appropriateness of dis-
courses with the knowledge and power they bring with them.
Education may well be, as of right, the instrument whereby
every individual, in a society like our own, can gain access to
any kind of discourse. However, we well know that in its dis-
tribution, in what it permits and in what it prevents, it follows
the well-trodden battle lines of social conflict. Every education
system is a political means of maintaining or of modifying the
appropriation of discourse, with the knowledge and the powers
it carries with it (Foucault, 1972).
Power is both a social and multi-layer construct. Also, it is a
product of social relations and is culturally, socially and sym-
bolically created. As Foucault (1978: pp. 42-43) puts it, power
would no longer be dealing simply with legal subjects over
whom the ultimate dominion was death, but with living social
beings, and the mastery it would be able to exercise over them
would have to be applied at the level of life itself; it was the
taking care of life, more than the threat of death, that gave
power its access, even to the body. The idea that the body is an
important site for the exercise of power can be located within a
Foucaultian framework in which the rise of capitalism can be
seen to create a new domain of political life, referred to by
Foucault as “bio-power” (Kehily, 2001). Here, power is con-
ceptualised as decentralised and productive of social relations
in common-place encounters and exchanges. From this per-
spective, the politics of the body plays an important part in dis-
ciplining individual bodies and regulating collective bodies
such as populations or specific social groups (Kehily, 2001).
For Foucault, the body is discursively constructed, realised in
the play of power relations, and specifically targeted in the
domain of the sexual. Foucault, in his work History of Sexuality,
saw sex as a political issue, crucial to the emergence and de-
ployment of bio-power: It [sex] was at the pivot of the two axes
along which developed the entire political technology of life.
On the one hand, it was tied to the disciplines of the body: the
harnessing, intensification and distribution of forces, the ad-
justment and economy of energies. On the other hand, it was
applied to the regulation of populations, through all the far-
reaching effects of its activity.
Against this backdrop, Foucault’s thoughts offer a fairly
structuralist account of the effects of discourse, knowledge, and
power on society. Foucault’s work is, thus, neither truly struc-
turalist nor post-structuralist (at least according to the most
common definitions of these terms), nor is it phenomenological,
but rather seeks to transcend these approaches (see Dreyfus &
Rabinow, 1983). To sum up, in fundamentalist discourse, in-
structionist classroom management is an ideological tool by
which the education system extends its hegemony over students.
The instructionist classroom management theory advocates that
all subjects must re flect bureaucratic beliefs and values. This is
implied in objectives, curricula content, pedagogy, and other
aspects—because all textbooks are perceived as being imbued
with the ethical values of Fordism, Taylorism, behaviourism
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 25
V. PITSOE, M. LETSEKA
Philosophical Perspectives on Instructionist
To start with, instructionist classroom management, among
others, draws on the positivist paradigm, Fordism, Taylorism,
behaviourism and bureaucracy. Instructionist classroom man-
agement conceptualises power as domination. For Foucault,
power is “ubiquitous” and beyond agency or structure. On the
other hand, Bourdieu sees power as culturally and symbolically
created, and constantly relegitimised through an interplay of
agency and structure. The main way this happens is through
what Bourdieu calls “habitus” or socialised norms or tendencies
that guide behaviour and thinking. “Habitus” is “the way soci-
ety becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting disposi-
tions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think,
feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them”
(Wacquant, 2005: p. 316). With this in mind, instructionist
classroom management qualifies as “habitus” and can be per-
ceived as a set of socialised norms. It plays a central role in
societal power relations, as this provides the means for a non-
economic form of domination and hierarchy.
The ideas of Foucault, Lacan, Anglo-Saxon cultural studies
and the debate about Fordism, Taylorism, scientific manage-
ment, and bureaucracy, underpin instructionist classroom man-
agement theory and practice. At philosophical level, instruc-
tionist classroom management is informed and guided by a
traditional or classical viewpoint of management principles, be-
haviourist and objectivist tradition. It thus flows from theo-
retical frameworks of mechanistic worldview (bureaucracy,
Taylorism, Fordism, behaviourism, objectivity, etc.). In practice,
the activities are largely dominated and characterised by a top-
down approach. In this article, instructionist classroom man-
agement is explored from an organisational perspective, where
modernist organisational theory will be employed. The follow-
ing key aspects of bureaucratisation (power and control), Tay-
lorism (productivity and outputs), and Fordism (production)
will form the pillars of the discourse. Each of these aspects is
underpinned by a deeper philosophical understanding of what it
means to manage (exerting power and control, achieving results
through well organised processes, etc.).
Bureaucratisation (Po we r an d Co nt rol)
Outstandingly, bureaucracy is an instrument of power, a so-
cial system to effect it (power), and a tool of political hegem-
ony. The concept “bureaucracy” is most closely associated with
Max Weber, a German social historian. It was intended to stan-
dardise far more than the conduct of public business (Bottery,
1992: p. 35). Bureaucratic organisations or systems are char-
acterised by rules, impersonality, division of labour, hierarchi-
cal structure, authority structure, lifelong commitment and ra-
tionality. Bottery (1992: p. 35) asserts that the functions of bu-
reaucracy are two-fold: to impose upon the society the kind of
order which perpetuates its domination; and to conceal this
domination by means of unending flow of form-filling, task
division and constant supervision.
Control is an essential element in any organisation manage-
ment. For an organisation like a school to function effectively
and efficiently in monitoring the achievements and objectives, a
form of control should be adopted. At the heart of bureaucracy
are four primary mechanisms of social influence and control,
namely authority, power, persuasion and exchange. These me-
chanisms of social influence and control represent the fun-
damental tools for teacher professional development. Power is
reflected in “the probability that one actor within a social rela-
tionship will be in position to carry out his own will despite
resistance” (Spady & Mitchell, 1979: p. 99). Du Preez (1994: p.
295) defines “power” as the ability a person has to influence
others. In addition, the element of “influence” causes beha-
vioural change that results directly or indirectly from the ac-
tions and/or examples of individuals or groups. Thus, power
and influence are fundamental to change the behaviour or atti-
tudes of an individual or a group. Power-based control is initi-
ated directly through interpersonal demand and in st itutional man-
date, or indirectly through specific manipulations of resources
(Spady & Mitchell, 1979: p. 99).
Persuasion operates on the basis of acknowledged legitimacy,
and it involves presenting the subordinates with reasons for ac-
cepting control from the subordinate (Spady & Mitchell, 1979:
p. 102). The primary preconditions for successful persuasion
are for the persuaders to have at least one established base of
legitimacy and for the subordinates to trust them. Exchange is a
control process closely related to power. According to Spady
and Mitchell (1979: p. 99), exchange occurs when resources are
more evenly distributed among the competing parties so that no
one actor is able to establish a clear dominance. Thus, power
and exchange exist on a continuum, with total domination pos-
sible only if the subordinate party has both a true monopoly of
critical resources and the necessary capacity to enforce their
distribution (Spady & Mitchell, 1979: p. 100).
Authority is only a subset of power relationships in which
the use of power is limited through social endorsement or justi-
fication (Spady & Mitchell, 1979: p. 101). For Hellriegel and
Slocum (1991: p. 320), authority is basically the right to decide
and act. It is rooted in personal orientations and experiences
that tie the superordinate who is “in authority” to a subordinate
who is “under au thority” (Spady & Mitchell, 1979: p. 101). Fur-
thermore, people respond to influence as authoritative when
they perceive in an encounter the opportunity to realise their
own significance, not merely satisfy the intentions of someone
else because of the attractiveness or threat of external resources.
Thus, authoritative control is characterised by supportive and
collaborative rather than competitive interactions (Spady &
Mitchell, 1979: p. 102).
Given that authority is universal, the authority of the policy-
maker or bureaucrat in the education system is unique and is
based on the rules that apply to the education system as a social
relationship. Also, the authority of the policymaker or bureau-
crat is based on his/her professional status as the holder of au-
thority. The policymaker or bureaucrat, as supervisor, is part of
the official authority structure of the education system and is
given discretionary power by the department to give programs
on professional development. It must therefore be kept in mind
that authority is not solely “power or right to enforce obedience
or give orders and make orders”.
Taylorism and Fordism (Pr oduction, Product ivity
Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) is viewed as the “Father of
Scientific Management” and was nicknamed “Speedy” Taylor
for his reputation as an efficiency expert in America from
1900-1930, but his influence stretched beyond that. Among
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
V. PITSOE, M. LETSEKA
others, scientific management’s philosophy is that management
practices should be based on proven fact and observation, not
on hearsay or guesswork, and focuses on individual worker-
machine relationships in manufacturing plants. His writing em-
phasised standardisation, time and task study, systemat ic selec-
tion and training and pay incentives.
In motivating the employees to work to their fullest capacity,
Taylor maintained that higher productivity would be main-
tained if productivity and remuneration were combined (Hell-
riegel & Slocum, 1991: p. 48; Van der Westhuizen, 1995: p.
67). He also believed that increased productivity ultimately
depended on finding ways to make workers more efficient (Bot-
tery, 1993: p. 24), and he was convinced that efficiency could
be increased by having workers perform routine tasks that did
not require them to make decisions (Hellriegel & Slocum, 1991:
p. 48). Taylorism and Fordism are characterised by emphasis
on productivity, output and profits; pyramid and structure (Ford
—production line); control and efficiency (Taylor); and effec-
tiveness and efficiency. Productivity, according to Van Niekerk
(1994: p. 216), is the relationship between output and input,
where output is usually measured in physical units whilst input
is measured with regard to labor in terms of man-hours and
with regard to capital in monetary or physical unit. The Taylor-
ist ideology and approach were not confined to industries. They
were also applicable to various fields of study, inter alia to
politics, psychology, science, and more specifically, teaching
and education. For example, education management theorists
have traditionally borrowed ideas from industrial settings.
In light of the above, instructionist classroom management
practices do not happen in a vacuum—they constitute a kind of
order which perpetuates Fordist, Taylorist and bureaucracic
domination. These practices are undergirded by particular theo-
ries and particular conceptions of humankind. Among others,
instructionist classroom management is rooted in positivist, ob-
jectivistic/modernistic and/or behaviourist and Christian-ori-
entated (Calvinist) philosophy. Within this context, instruc-
tionist classroom management then becomes one station in a
production line that needs to fit into a larger machine like-or-
ganisation. From an organisational perspective, it could be in-
ferred that instructionist classroom management is hierarchi-
cal with all the power centralised in the teacher as the carrier of
the knowledge that needs to be transferred to learners, and it is
organised around the results to be achieved—curriculum and
evaluation dominated. Instructionist classroom management is
bounded—certain tasks to be completed in specific time-frames
—and it is teacher-centred as the initiator, organiser and man-
ager of the learning that must take place, and learners are re-
cipients of knowledge to be absorbed and regurgitated in exams.
Hence, in Fordist (scientific management) discourse, classroom
management is an ideological tool by which education system
extends its hegemony over students. The instructionist class-
room management theory advocates that all subjects must re-
flect scientific and/or behaviourist beliefs and values. This is
implied in the objectives, curricula content, pedagogy, and other
aspects. In the scientific paradigm, textbooks are perceived as
being imbued with the ethical values of behaviourism.
Teacher’s Power as a Tool for Social
Reproduction and Domination in an
Instructionist Classroom Setting
There is a strong connection between power and social re-
production. Power as a tool of social reproduction shapes indi-
viduals (students) to be able to play a part in power’s opera-
tions. Schools are institutions for social reproduction and the
classrooms are key sites for the reproduction of social identities
and unequal relations of power. On the one hand, classrooms
serve the purpose of social phenomena of reproduction and
transformation. On the other hand, classrooms become sites for
students’ struggles and oppositional practices that however,
often lead students to participate in their own domination. This
article assumes that the theoretical notions of cultural capital,
symbolic violence, and social capital articulated by Bourdieu
(1973, 1977, 1991, 1986), and Bourdieu and Passeron (1977)
can serve as analytical tools for achieving a greater under-
standing of social phenomena of reproduction and transforma-
The concept of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1973, 1977, 1991;
Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) refers to language use, skills, and
orientations, dispositions, attitudes, and schemes of perception
(also collectively called habitus) that children are endowed with
by virtue of socialisation in their families and communities.
Bourdieu defines “habitus” as a system of lasting, transposable
dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at
every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and
actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diver-
sified tasks, thanks to analogical transfers of schemes permit-
ting the solution of similarly shaped problems.
Conspicuously, cultural capital exists in three forms: 1) as
incorporated in the “habitus”, and is to a large extent created
through primary pedagogy, that is, in (early) childhood; 2) cul-
tural capital is objectivised in cultural articles; and 3) it exists
institutionalised in cultural institutions and is expressed in
terms of certificates, diplomas and examinations (Bourdieu,
1977, 1979; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Bourdieu argues that
through familial socialisation, children of the socioeconomic
elite receive both more of and the right kind of cultural capital
for school success (i.e., their “habitus” becomes their cultural
capital). Hence, the notion of cultural capital describes the dis-
advantaged position of ethnic and linguistic minorities and to
problematise the notion that state-run education in modern so-
cieties is built on meritocracy and equal opportunity.
Bourdieu’s (1984) idea of symbolic violence concerns how
the disadvantaging effect of the schooling system is masked or
legitimised in people’s consciousness. School failure can be
conveniently attributed to individual cognitive deficit or lack of
effort and not to the unequal in itial shares of the cult ural capital
both valued and legitimised at school:
The dominated classes allow [the struggle] to be imposed on
them when they accept the stakes offered by the dominant
classes. It is an integrative struggle and, by virtue of the initial
handicaps, a reproductive struggle, since those who enter this
chase, in which they are beaten before they start... implicitly
recognize the legitimacy of the goals pursued by those whom
they pursue, by the mere fact of taking part (Bourdieu, 1984: p.
Symbolic violence, according to Bourdieu, is the imposition
of representations of the world and social meanings upon
groups in such a way that these representations are experienced
as legitimate. This is achieved through a process of misrecogni-
tion. This article acknowledges the critics of the concept “social
capital”. However, Bourdieu’s concept of social capital puts the
emphasis on conflicts and the power function (social relations
that increase the ability of an actor to advance her/his interests).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 27
V. PITSOE, M. LETSEKA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Social capital has become a popular concept in development
policy partly because it seemingly specifies a resource to be
tapped, a productive asset that can be strategically mobilised by
individuals and groups for particular ends (Cleaver, 2005: p.
Against this background, teachers may be regarded as agents
of bureaucratic hegemony, for good or for ill, in any society.
Bourdieu’s theory about the role of schools and teachers in the
transmission of intergenerational inequalities rests on a number
of assumptions about the teacher population and the school
context. The role of the school is to promote arbitrary cultural
values (classroom discipline, classroom order) via teachers; and
on the grades teachers give in assessing student progress net of
teachers’ cultural capital and demographics (Tzanakis, 2011: p.
81). Teacher assessments of students, however, are argued to
reflect not only students’ aptitude and performance, but also
their work habits, basic communicative and other non-cognitive
skills. There is a fundamental relationship between notions of
cultural capital, symbolic violence, and social capital and the
state. The nature of this relationship demonstrates the role of
power, politics, and ideology in accounting for historical trends
in social capital formation and deterioration.
Discourse and power, as social interrelated constructs, can
serve as analytical tools to achieve a greater understanding of
instructionist classroom management. Instructionist classroom
management practices constitute a kind of order which perpetu-
ates Fordist, Taylorist and bureaucratic domination. These prac-
tices are undergirded by particular theories and particular con-
ceptions of humankind. Within an instructionist classroom set-
ting, the teacher’s power as a tool of social reproduction shapes
students to be able to play a part in power’s operations. Hence,
teachers can be regarded as agents of bureaucratic hegemony,
for good or for ill, in any society.
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