The Problem with Paradigms – Day Three

Carol A. Hand

Once again I begin with gratitude to Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.

The rules of the challenge are:

1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One and Two. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers. No one volunteered on Days One or Two, so I hope that Day Three will garner more interest.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)

On Day One of the three quotes challenge, I focused on Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) work.

“Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.”

Day Two quotes were drawn from Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) important theories about the challenges involved in shifting paradigms.

“Paradigms, those taken-for-granted ways we analyze problems and identify solutions, provide blueprints for action that we have been dressaged to perform without thinking…. According to Kuhn, change comes from those who have not yet been completely socialized into the paradigms of a discipline, sometimes leading to a long struggle he refers to as a scientific revolution. He uses a comparison with political revolutions to illustrate the process of change.”

Today, Day Three of the Three Quote Challenge, focuses on Michel Foucault’s work. His ideas address a central question that has routinely surfaced during my life as someone who has never really fit into socially constructed categories. Some by choice, like refusing to learn how to cook or type or avoid studying science because that’s what was expected of women. Others emerged by virtue of birth as a person of mixed ancestry exposed to different cultural paradigms from an early age, who was later exposed to experiences and education that provided opportunities to think critically about those differences.

I encountered Michel Foucault’s work in a rather round-about way. It wasn’t in a classroom. It was after I agreed to be part of a University Medical School team evaluating a rural health education project. In the process of negotiating how to focus the evaluation with the educational partnership institutions overseeing the project, the principal investigator of the evaluation team asked agency staff what they wanted us to explore. He encouraged them to think carefully about their goals and identify which ones they wanted us to highlight. We would tailor our evaluation to their unique approach to explore information that would be the most helpful to them. Then, he shared a slide included in Foucault’s (1979) work.

Photo Source: Drawing by Carol A. Hand (based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170)
Drawing by Carol A. Hand
(based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170)

The drawing above is my attempt to capture the symbol that sparked an epiphany for me that day. Suddenly I had an image that helped me understand my experiences as someone on the margins. Up to that point, I had almost always felt judged by “straight” standards of normality that didn’t fit with someone who was quite different.

It’s an image that resembles my life experiences. Although ongoing attempts to constrain me by trying to force me to accept universal standards of artificial “normalcy” were ultimately unsuccessful, they were often painful and scarring experiences. Oddly, Foucault’s message brought me a sense of peace – it defined being different as an admirable quality and inspired me to undertake the long challenging process to learn more about his ideas.

Unlike the other two essays in this challenge, I decided to describe Foucault’s message about power in a poem. If you’re interested, you can find a more scholarly approach in an older post: Differential Power and Indian Child Welfare – Part Two.

The Problem with Paradigms

Legitimate authority

What is it?

Where does it come from?

That is, who has the power to define it?

How is it conferred?

Power in capitalist societies is economical

Because it is like a capillary system

Interwoven throughout all of a society’s institutions, values, assumptions

It’s programmed into all citizens

generation after generation, though ever-finer capillary-like vessels

It’s what Bronfenbrenner’s (1970) ecosystem is comprised of

What every professional discipline dressages its candidates to unquestioningly adopt

It’s the legitimate “scientific” paradigms Kuhn highlights –

standards for identifying, labeling and solving problems

We never need to experience a questioning moment or try innovative approaches

It’s not the theory or intervention that fails when our science goes awry –

it’s the people or phenomena we were trying to control that failed to perform as expected


Thanks to Foucault (and many others)

I always think about creeping charlie when I’m dealing with bureaucracies


By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia
By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia


Like the fine root systems that spread everywhere

lockstep groupthink is finely woven throughout every policy and procedure and staff member

Each new member who joins is already dressaged to follow procedures without question


Have you ever tried to keep creeping charlie from choking out everything else in a garden?

I suspect it’s impossible

even if you resort to poison and kill everything else

even the smallest segment of adventitious root can survive and grow a new plant on its own –

it’s internally programmed with the ability to replicate for species survival


Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), Public Domain via Wikipedia
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), Public Domain via Wikipedia


Now I finally understand why titles and degrees got me in the door of bureaucracies

Allowing me the momentary illusion that socially constructed credentials mattered

And then failed to be legitimate enough to awaken others to question, take initiative, and resist

Because the mechanisms of preserving the existing order are programed within us all


Foucault’s view of power is not easy to describe

and it’s not possible for me to do so in three quotes

But I do think his work remains relevant and important.

I leave you with some quotes and hope they encourage you to read his work.


The economy of this new power technique could not be matched by older technologies.

“There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising [sic] to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over and against himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be a minimal cost.” Foucault, 1980b, p. 155)

By means of surveillance techniques, disciplinary power pervaded all aspects of the capitalistic society.

“The workshop, the school, the army were subject to a whole micro-penality of time (lateness, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behaviour (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of the body (‘incorrect’ attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency). At the same time, by way of punishment, a whole series of subtle pressures was used, from light punishment to minor deprivations and petty humiliations” (Foucault, 1979, p. 178).

The application of these disciplinary measures was referred to by Foucault as “dressage,” translated from French as “taming” or “breaking in” (Atkins et al., 1987, p. 232), or in English usage, “the art or method of training a horse in obedience and precision of movement” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1989, p. 435).

“What developed, then, was a whole technique of human dressage by location, confinement, surveillance, the perpetual supervision of behavior and tasks, in short, a whole technique of ‘management’ of which the prison was merely one manifestation or its transposition into the penal domain.” (Foucault, 1988, p. 105)

Disciplinary techniques and differential power are interwoven throughout the institutions and organizations of politics, law, production, education, and social welfare.

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. This carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observations, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of normalizing power.” (Foucault, 1979, p. 304)


Note – A little background about Creeping Charlie.

Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, is a perennial creeper of the mint family commonly known by many other names – ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away-robin. It is native to Europe and southwestern Asia and was carried around the world by European settlers. It is now common in most regions of North America other than the Rocky Mountains. (Wikipedia)

Creeping Charlie in the snow - December 18, 2016
Creeping Charlie in the snow – December 18, 2016

“Creeping charlie plant is most easily identified by its growth habit. It is a vine that grows close to the ground and will form a mat-like ground cover if allowed to. The vines have nodes at each of the places where leaves grow and these nodes will form roots if they come in contact with the soil. This is part of the reason that creeping charlie weed is so frustrating, as you cannot simply pull it up. Every rooted node can turn into a new plant if left behind.” (Gardening Know How)

Creeping Charlie in the snow - December 18, 2016
Creeping Charlie in the snow – December 18, 2016

The above-ground runners are stems, known as stolons in botany. Creeping charlie stolons have many nodes, each of which can form new plants when they come into contract with moist ground. A stolon is a plant propagation strategy. The complex of individuals formed by a mother plant and all its clones produced from stolons form a single genetic individual, a genet, or a colonal colony that originates from a single ancestor. (Wikipedia – Stolons and Genet)


Works Cited:

Atkins, B.T., Duval, A., Milne, R.C., Lewis, H.M.A., Sinclair, L., & Birks, R. (Eds.) (1990). Harper Collins Robert French Dictionary (2nd ed.). Glasgow, GB: HarperCollins Publishers.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)

Foucault, M. (1980). The politics of health in the eighteenth century. In C. Gordon (ed.) Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writing 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault (C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham, & K. Soper, Trans.), pp. 166-182. New York: Pantheon Books. (Original work published 1976)

Foucault, M. (1988). On power. In L.D. Kritzman (ed.), Michel Foucault: Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings 1977-1984 (A. Sheridan & Others, Trans.), pp. 96-109. New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1984)

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Webster’s encyclopedic unabridged dictionary of the English language (1989). New York: Gramercy Books.


I am truly grateful to Rosaliene for her thoughtfulness. But I am also grateful that my part of this challenge is now complete.

I do encourage volunteers to carry on the challenge, each a node in the propagation of knowledge, beauty, peace, solidarity, and joy. Please consider volunteering and exploring Rosaliene’s important work.


19 thoughts on “The Problem with Paradigms – Day Three

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bruce. I don’t like to weed – it feels a bit oppressive to impose my will on nature, but creeping charlie is incredibly invasive and takes over, so I do what I can to keep it under control. When I do, the similarity with bureaucracies always comes to mind as I clear space around other plants – a never-ending task. 🙂


  1. An interesting and thoughtful post. I encountered Foucault long before experience could illuminate a great deal of what he said, and now I am encouraged to revisit his work and words. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your important comments, Michael, and kudos to you for making it through Foucault. It’s a labor of love (or desperation?) to decipher his important insights about the nature of power and control. It is transformative, as you point out, “for those on the edge.”


    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Lorna. I did really wonder about the wisdom of tackling such “heady” topics in a world that is increasing anti-rational and anti-intellectual. But after struggling to engage students to rise to the challenge of understanding what “theory” meant this past semester, I felt it was important to try to do the same on this blog. The first two attempts (Day One and Two) taught me that I needed to frame a message that might be less intimidating. Your feedback is especially important to me given that context. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In this day of sound-byte information seeking, trying to explore anything in detail seems an onerous task. I miss the days of pondering, wondering, and stretching ones brain for the sheer delight of the intellectual challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I miss those days, too, Lorna. Teaching helps me remember what it’s like to explore everything and inspires me to try to leave that legacy for a younger generation who didn’t get that opportunity in pubic school.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol, thanks for taking on this challenge and for sharing such insightful quotes. Thanks, too, for exposing me to the work of Foucault. The quote from p. 178 also describes well the role of the church in maintaining the power of the capitalist system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the honor of nominating me to participate, Rosaliene. It wasn’t an easy challenge for me to undertake. Two contextual factors influenced my decision to take a more academic approach. First, as a teacher this semester, I was concerned about the effects of decades of No Child Left Behind on students’ ability to think critically. Second, the trend in social media, including blogs, seems to be focused ever more on superficial content. It’s made me question whether to continue blogging.

      I hoped you wouldn’t be disappointed by my humble attempts to tackle more challenging topics. Foucault, Kuhn, and Bronfenbrenner opened up new worlds of thought and possibility for me and I hoped they might do the same for others. I’m grateful for your comments throughout, and I’m glad to know that you found Foucault’s insights useful.

      Chi miigwetch for your kindness, Rosaliene, and for the important issues you continue to raise.


  3. Fascinating analogy and some worthwhile meditations on social conditioning. However, Foucault’s work has in recent years come under fire since many of the assumptions he bases his work on are not verifiable or even consistent. Its assumption that “it’s all nurture (or conditioning) not nature” has been disproven by recent developments in the neurological and evolutionary sciences. I think as a social critic he was important, but as a social theorist his ideas are not holding up well in the light of current science. If you leave out the role of epigenetics and history in the formation of character and culture and assume it’s all a social construct, you’re missing at least half the equation. A good critique of Foucault can be found in Keith Windschuttle’s 1996 book ‘The Killing of History,’ which challenges the relativist approach to the writing of history.


  4. Excellent post dear Carol…
    I love the drawing and your interpretation concerning Foucault´s concept of “Normality”…. Normality is the main key to control people through biopower…
    Here is a great qute from his master book “Discipline and Punish”:
    “…If you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing” …
    Wishing you happy holidays 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments a great deal and I’m glad to hear that you found this post interesting and accessible. I do my best these days to try to overcome the aura of elitism that surrounds “education” and avoid the jargon that masks the meaning of so many ideas that are really quite simple.

      Foucault’s book, Discipline & Punish, was not an easy read but it is one of my all time favorites and was well worth the challenge. (I remember sitting with my 8-pound unabridged dictionary in my lap as I read it so I could look up all of the words I didn’t know.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I got a chuckle from your reply because it reminds me of the first time I read a book by Noam Chomsky. I love that man, but I need a dictionary to get through his books. 🙂 I saw him speak a few years ago in Harlem and actually got excited – like a little kid.

        I will look for Discipline & Punish. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

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