|The Governable Person
|by Jack Boulton
The examination combines the techniques of an observational
hierarchy and those of a normalising judgment. It is a
normalising gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible
to qualify, to classify and to punish. It establishes
over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates
them and judges them. (Foucault 1975: 184)
Going to work is no longer as simple as doing a particular
job in a particular place. By taking part in the hierarchical
system of the office, the worker also takes on responsibilities
to other people and departments that are not directly
linked to his line of work. The designer, for example,
indirectly becomes associated with the accountant as soon
as his or her work efficiency comes under scrutiny.
Time management is one of the most important aspects of
the work environment. In the capitalist economy our time
becomes worth money and therefore also becomes accountable
to others. Personal accountability (in particular the
concept of the audit as discussed briefly last issue)
is a relatively new field in anthropology; however there
are several important issues to consider when looking
at this topic: How is efficiency measured? Who creates
these rules? Are they based on historical evidence or
on present day circumstances? This essay will address
these questions using evidence from Douglas, Power and
Strathern, amongst others.
Efficiency in the Light of Failure
When transaction costs mount for one reason or another,
a bureaucratic organisation offers an employment relation
which can produce trust, develop expertise, and provide
flexible continuity, and these combined can outweigh its
insufficiencies. (Douglas 1992: 71)
Douglas points out that regulating bodies are employed
when costs, or outlay, become too high or are unjustifiable
for the product that is being sold. In some respects this
can be seen as the introduction of a standardised system
to regulate a transaction which, at least in terms of
financial efficiency, has failed. In laymans terms,
someone is not doing their job properly to the extent
that costs are spiraling to the point where the finished
product is not worth the asking price.
This is similar to Illichs (1978) idea of crisis.
He suggests that in times of misfortune personal liberties
are withdrawn and supervisory power from further up the
social hierarchy is bought into play in order to rectify
the situation. Perhaps one of the ways that this higher
power takes form is with the audit which, according
to Power (1997), is one of the most important methods
of assessing the efficiency of an organisation. In principle
this is a method of verification and checking, and Powers
defines the crucial aspects of this:
Established, examinable systems of audit exist in the
fields of both health and medicine, and teaching. Whilst
in some ways the implementation of audit systems can be
seen as positive - by imposing clear regulations of high
standards - some people argue that the new managerialism
involved in maintaining these standards instills insecurity
in the workplace (Shore and Wright 2000, Power 1997).
- Independence from the matter being audited
- Technical work in the form of evidence gathering
and the examination of documentation
- The expression of a view based on this evidence
- A clearly defined object of the audit process (Power
It is one thing to suggest that an audit system should
be bought in at a time of crisis but another that it should
remain in place indefinitely. Foucault (1997) suggests
that the consequence of continual observation a
la the panopticon, the glass prison in which the prisoners
are constantly visible to the guards although not vice-versa
is to instill anxiety such that inmates come
to scrutinise their own behaviour and eventually adopt
the norms of conduct desired by the disciplinary institution
whether or not the guards are in the watchtower.
(Shore and Wright 2000: 77).
Strathern (2000) puts forward that by moving from its
birthplace in the world of accounting to the professional
world, the audit brings with it a whole new range of cultural
ideas and values upon which institutions can be rendered
culturally legitimate. Moreover, she suggests that procedures
for assessment have social consequences, locking up time,
personnel and resources, as well as locking into the moralities
of public management. (2000: 2). Shore and Wright
elaborate this, suggesting that audit practices are
agents for the creations of new kinds of subjectivity:
self-managing individuals who render themselves auditable.
The relevance to the modern workplace is obvious; as we
are given criteria to fit into for example, spending
x amount of time doing y on a particular day, between
particular times we either conform and keep our
jobs, or we do not, and run the risk of losing them. By
conforming we are constructing an idea of a professional
person, which is by no means natural, and, perhaps more
disturbingly, is based on meeting someone elses
We can see then than one of the clearest ways of measuring
efficiency is the audit: a systematic and controlled method
of verifying externally that all systems within an organisation
are operating in the most efficient manner. If they are
not, then inefficient or financially overburdening elements
can be identified and steps taken to correct this.
The audit has many peculiarities, with its explosion
over the years, we can see that as the extensiveness of
these cultural processes increases, patterns of behaviour
change with it. However, as Shore and Wright point out,
the audit is not a voluntary scheme. Therefore we are
constructing an idea of an efficient, professional person
using coercion (2000).
Perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of implementing
an audit is its effect on trust. Although Douglas
(1992) implies that bureaucratic systems are employed
when, essentially, trust has broken down, Shore and Wrights
argument would suggest that their utilisation actually
works to break down trust relationships even further.
Therefore it seems that these imposed methods of checking
and verification have consequences that are more far-reaching
than simply keeping the accountant happy. As the audit
and the concepts behind it become commonplace, so cultures
change, and new moral codes are created with it.
Douglas M. Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory.
1992; London, Routledge.
Foucault M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.
1975; London, Penguin Books Limited.
Illich I. The Right to Useful Unemployment and its
Professional Enemies. 1978; London, Marion Boyars Publishers
Power M. The Audit Explosion. 1994; London, Demos.
Power M. The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification. 1997;
Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Shore C and Wright S. Coercive Accountability: The Rise
of Audit Culture in Higher Education. IN Strathern M (Ed)
Audit Cultures. 2000; London, Routledge.
Strathern M. New Accountabilities: Anthropological Studies
in Audit, Ethics and the Academy. IN Strathern M (Ed)
Audit Cultures. 2000; London, Routledge.
About the Author
Jack Boulton is the editor of Stimulus Respond, the E-Zine
for Urban Anthropologists (www.stimulusrespond.com). You
may reproduce this article with permission (obtained by
emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) and on the condition
that the author is credited along with a link to Stimulus