Foucault and Nietzsche share similar genealogies regarding the relationship of body and power in “modern” humans. However, Foucault adapted Nietzsche’s concepts as stepping-stones for different genealogical theories. Largely in regard as to how moderns were made through the training and discipline of bodies. According to Foucault, the individual is a modern concept, that whose origin, or genealogy was constructed from institutions power. For Nietzsche, the individual is an effect of social relationships, institutions and language.
Nietzsche acknowledges that the individual and the soul are traits from breeding, yet his interests are in the causality of body and psychological development. By contrast, Foucault explores the individual through observing the training process rather than Nietzsche’s explanation of morals. In the first chapter, “The Body of the Condemned,” Foucault analyzed how power affected punishment in premodern context. Punishment was for public display; thus making the body an object, one that stood to reestablish the power of the king. In the modern era, punishment developed into discipline.
A technique used for training the body rather than objectifying it (e. g. conducting torture on). The disciplinary system worked by controlling time and space through creating structured schedule in a panopticon/ prison. Foucault characterized this system as taking away from human capacity and potential, making any normal individual, “abnormal. ” This isolated those individuals from society and coerced them to assimilate to normal behavior. This process of training as Foucault states, indicates the operation of power in modern society, one reminiscent of premodern punishment.
Instead of being publicly tortured, the body is being publicly observed. From constant surveillance, an individual can easily be coerced to change their behavior, to become a docile body. Foucault observed that this process extended beyond soldiers (where the disciplinary system had always existed) and prisoners, this process of training exists in and is enforced on all members within a society. Discipline is an instrument to judge what is normal, how institutions can mass-produce that normality, and more so, how to stimulate self-regulation of this process in the individual.
Foucault called this the economy of body; the idea of the body as a machine, operated by the institutions in power. This process of training and disciplining bodies however, bad, is also beneficial (though Foucault wrote in opposition of that). Discipline increases our capacities both intellectual and physical. It also reinforces institutions, which increases the power of the state, thus self-perpetuating the vicious cycle of assimilation. Despite being harmful to society, in order to the institutions, thus the state to benefit, it relies on the productivity of the individuals.
For example, consider the capitalist system: economic factors (a person’s social position, the individuals/workers or the capitalists) represent the base, while social norms (institutions) are the superstructure. In this system, the base determines the superstructure. Even the political economic theory, the base is emphasized as key to understanding the success and wealth of the state. In conclusion, Foucault may have had negative conceptions (and rightfully so) of this process; yet, it is important and embedded into modern society.