In talking about how discipline creates the individual Foucault says:

It is the examination which, by combining hierarchical surveillance and normalizing judgement, assures the great disciplinary functions of distribution and classification, maximum extraction of forces and time, continuous genetic accumulation, optimum combination of aptitudes and, thereby, the fabrication of cellular, organic, genetic and combinatory individuality.

Most of the disciplinary functions he lists here are pretty self explanatory, but the one I have the most trouble understanding is "continuous genetic accumulation". My lack of understanding here also renders the concept of genetic individuality incomprehensible.

Does he mean that, since the individual is defined by the cross section of multiple types of data, he is analogously 'genetic' -- coded? That still wouldn't explain the concept of 'genetic accumulation'. Any authoritative answer would be appreciated.

  • 1
    The listed (including genetic accumulation) are not actual "disciplinary techniques". They're functions resulting from the technique of combined hierarchical surveillance and normalizing judgement.
    – Bread
    Oct 30, 2018 at 10:59
  • @Bread, yeah I see that in the quote; careless reading on my part, will edit my question.
    – Ethan NOPE
    Oct 30, 2018 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


It is the examination [for example, the school test] which assures the great disciplinary functions of:

  • distribution and classification which fabricate cellular individuality

  • maximum extraction of forces and time which fabricates organic individuality

  • continuous genetic accumulation which fabricates genetic individuality

  • optimum combination of aptitudes that fabricates combinatory individuality

By subjecting the social plane to examination, discipline as a suspicious method of power, accumulates information (often through the subject of disciplinary action themselves) about genesis and genetics which allows “discipline” as a relationship to fabricate the existence of individuals in terms of and through their genesis and genes. Bodily and family data is continuously accumulated by hospitals, censuses, births deaths and marriage records, and individual declarations or social assignments of ethnicity or race.

Genetic individuality is a social construction and an element of the construction of “the individual,” which is fabricated by continuous genetic accumulation. The examination of the social plane is the agent which does the accumulation and fabrication. This accumulation and fabrication is achieved by hierarchical surveillance and normalising judgement.

Therefore, the examining agent surveils using hierarchical classification and judges into normative categories the genetic being of society, thereby producing individuals in terms of their “genetic,” composition.

For example:

  • The NSDAP and German state classify people into a hierarchical category of Jewishness based on their genesis in terms of grand parents. This produces a body of individuals they classify and judge as Jews for murdering.

  • The Australian state allows people to nominate Aboriginal and or Torres Strait islander heritage. It also allows people to register themselves as being Aboriginal and or Torres Strait islander. Along side of this techniques of cultural and physical judgement in Australian society produce norms about who is “properly” aboriginal. This data is accumulated. (Accumulation is a pun on physical increase from the Old Testament I suspect)

  • twenty three and me and similar services allows individuals to subject their bodies to analysis in terms of categories. These categories and data are used to make claims regarding the general organisation of populations, and are subsequently employed by social groups to make genetic racial claims about individual’s halpogroups. These claims vary from supremacist to mass murderous

Genetic is a pun as well, covering a persons’ genesis, and their genetic (previously eugenic or racial) classifications. This produces a “genetic individual,” in terms of their specific genesis whether measured by family (NSDAP), declared embodiment culturally (Australia), genetic code (population genetics), or some other example method I’ve not outlined.

Part of the structure of puns here is the use of biological metaphors for the social body. “The individual,” appears lanced upon multiple levels of structural metaphor each of a different way of viewing the biological body. Such puns were current in the French academy at the time. The examination of course being what a doctor disciplines a patient with.

Further reading:

A further exegesis in the context of schooling is here: https://whatsmartgrlsrreadingtoday.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/discipline-and-punish-part-three-the-means-of-correct-training-2-3/


I did a little research and it wasn't easy, but I think I finally understand what Foucault meant by "genetic". He explained how human beings are being conditioned to perform essentially like machines, with really very little emotional interaction at all between the ruling powers and their subjects, 'distancing' those who dominate us from any blame we might feel toward them about being compelled to submit to their rules. Foucault's theory covers not only the current criminal justice system, but education and general citizenship as well.

People are being systematically conditioned to be as self-governing as possible, with what I see as paranoia being the motivating factor: we're never completely sure whether or not we're being watched, we're constantly being judged, and hence subjected to grading/rating of our performance with the possibility of mandatory remedial and/or rehabilitative programming, by those who officially hold authority over us, if we should happen to step out of line. So fear and intimidation are the real motivators. And the goal is to have us serve their best interests: work, stay out of trouble, pay taxes, spend money, etc.

Each one of us is treated like and expected to behave as a machine within a far bigger social structure: the collective human 'machine', which may be managed effectively utilizing just four simple principles:

cellular - the relations between each 'body' (i.e each person is a cell). These must be classified and distributed wherever and however they are needed, for maximum extraction of forces and time. Although human, we must nevertheless be as efficient as any other machine.

organic - the things living bodies (people, "cells") need for sustenance: food, water, medicine, a bed to sleep in, etc. In other words, the basic necessities needed to keep us all functioning properly.

genetic - Foucault must have meant genetic in the second meaning of the word,

relating to origin; arising from a common origin.

...as it is the only way that it makes any sense to me. Because the human 'machine' becomes more powerful with the increase in number of cells (individuals), the bigger the workforce, the more productivity and more gross national product to be gained. So in order to become more powerful, it is necessary to "constantly accumulate" the "genetic" material (i.e. "origin") or labor pool: human beings. So "constant genetic accumulation" simply means they need to get more and more people to cooperate by conforming to their system. More cells equals a bigger, more powerful machine.

And last, but not least:

combinatory individuality - this is the illusion of being an individual when in fact we have merely conformed to the standards of those who have authority over us. Combinatory individuality is the ultimate goal. We may have begun our lives as individuals, but with consistent hierarchical surveillance, normalizing judgement, and regular examinations -- together we all eventually become subsumed within the collective entity: "Welcome to the Machine."

My sources were mainly Youtube, Wikipedia, and Foucault As Educator, by Stephen J. Ball (c.2017)

  • I'm not sure your interpretation of genetic in this context makes the most sense, especially if based only on the dictionary definition; though, admittedly, you make it work. I appreciate the time and effort you put into this answer and the clear rigour of your thinking -- even in just correcting my mistakes in the way I wrote the question -- but I was more looking for an answer based either on the uses of the term common in the traditions Foucault is associated with, french (post)-structuralism and semiotics, or other contexts within which he used the same term that could help clarify.
    – Ethan NOPE
    Oct 31, 2018 at 6:29

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