Category Archives: Power and control

Identity – Identities


So the conceptual framework for my PhD research is framed by the work of Foucault and I have been immersed in Foucault for some time now (every morning 8-9am to be precise).  Foucault has a permanent slot in my calendar and it would seem a permanent slot in my mind whilst I’m at work.

For someone that didn’t want to be known as a theorist or have any theories attributed to him, he certainly had a lot to say on power and control and how people are influenced by it.  This is of interest to me both personally and academically as I am bound into, and a part of educational discourse from an employee and student perspective.  There are expressions of power all around me and this has made me think more recently about how this shapes my work and personal identity.

I suppose thoughts about this started last summer when I attended a Doctoral study school.  There was a fairly innocuous workshop on time management and planning, little did I know the meaningful impact this would have on me and the thought processes that have continued to follow on from this after participating.  In the workshop we were individually asked to select as many coloured paper circles as we wanted and then write one thing or part of you on each circle that gets in the way of spending more time on studies.

I started with 5 circles and wrote on each what immediately came to mind: teaching, running a business, family, socialising, procrastination, social media, other studies.  I soon ran out of circles as I started to think of more and more things which were barriers or excuses as to why I wasn’t engaged with my PhD.  It was easy to see how I could do so much more if I got my priorities right.  But… this activity also got me thinking about who I am, I have so many identities (8 at the last count!) and who is control of these people inside me as most of the time it is not me.  Which brings me full circle to Foucault.

Foucault (2002) suggests that as humans we are not inherently free and are fenced in by social determinations.  These determinations exist with or without the individual, they are there, existing.  As a result of this, the self is a product of cross cutting discourses and practices and identity evolves in those that we are enmeshed in.  I am enmeshed in many discourses and practices which I previously considered as a whole but now this seems impossible.  Yes, I am one person, but I have many identities and this surely must impact on how I see myself and others view me.  Tied into this are the mechanics of power which operate independently, sometimes in unison, but mostly at odds and competing with each other.  As Layder (1996) rightly argues, the self is a fragmentary and multiple phenomenon that varies according to social circumstances, social position and unconscious forces’ (97).  So now I have a genuine reason for my ‘identities crises’ which I originally thought was only an identity crisis.

Following on from this, I am now aware of something I hadn’t realised before…  There’s only one of me but I am bound by many capillaries of power which operate alongside my multiple identities.  I am yet to discover the strongest identity in me but I am reassured by Foucault that power exists with or without me so I don’t have to worry too much about the exertion of power being only aimed at me!

I’d really like to know what you think about this in the comments below.


Foucault, M. (2002) Power: Essential works of Foucault 1954 – 1984, Volume 3.  London: Penguin Books Limited.

Layder, D. (1996) Understanding Social Theory.  London: Sage Publications.