Prison, Church, Football pitch (article)

Anders Fogh Jensen

Prison, Church,Football pitch

– or how society became a project society

Published on the occasion of Leisure, Discipline and Punishment
Contour 2013, 6th Biennial of Moving Image, Curator: Jacob Fabricius, Contour, Mechelen






The disciplinary society

It has been claimed that the prison was the template for the architecture of the modern world. To clarify this claim, the “Panopticon” prison was used as the model for the way in which a form of social organisation based upon control, surveillance and co-ordination moulded itself into a more effective society [note below].It was a prison whose very architecture, long before the era of the surveillance camera, made it possible to see into, and indeed through, all its cells. If all the cells were organised around a control tower in such a way that the light passed through the cells and into the tower, it would then be possible for an observer in the tower to register every movement. As if this were not enough, if it were also impossible for prisoners within the cells to see whether the tower was manned, they would have no option but to behave at all times as though they were being observed. Bentham’s architecture did via the prison what God’s all-seeing eye had done via the conscience: it intensified the exercise of power by means of a reduction in the exercise of power. The Panopticon was, like the conscience, an economy of power.

However, it was not only as a surveillance tool that the prison became a template for other institutions in the period 1650-1800. It was also significant in its organisation of space. The very fact that its space was divided into cells, and the position of its subjects fixed, was precisely the rationale underpinning the model for other institutions: the hospital, the orphanage, the barracks, the home and (not least) the factory. The notion that everything was in its place, divided and subdivided, and that all movement between the subdivisions could subsequently be controlled became the blueprint for the industrial factory. It was a matter, on the one hand, of the division of space and, on the other, the predetermination of movement; these achieved their highest form of expression in military drill – and, much later, in the school prom dance.

It was not, however, in the prison itself that the concept of a strict spatial division emerged; to separate in this way had proved an effective measure in the fight against the bubonic plague during the seventeenth century. Epidemics are outstanding source material for any potential student of organisational studies because they give the population a stark choice: organise yourselves, or die. As long as a city remained free of the plague, visitors were allowed only as far as a camp outside the city, where they would remain for forty days – hence the word ‘quarantine’, from the Italian quarantina, meaning ‘forty’ – in the belief that any plague victim would have died by the end of that period. The plague-free visitors could then be allowed into the city. If, however, the city was already infected by plague – what then? From this situation emerged the idea of building the quarantine into the city itself by fixing the position of its citizens within their houses and creating precise rules regarding all movement and cleansing procedures for forty days. In this way it became possible to survive the plague through the prevention of movement.

It was this parcelling of space that the prison was able to adopt and mould into a template which was distributed into the wider society during the period from 1650 to 1800, formatting its institutions. When, in Surveiller et punir, Michel Foucault asked whether the whole of society had not become prison-like (carcéral), he did not mean by this that the whole of society had become a prison, but that this right-angled architecture, the disciplinary code and disciplined behaviour had spread to the whole society, such that all institutions resembled, and to some extent continue to resemble, prisons. When today’s kitchen has its function zones – washing-up zone, cooking zone, eating zone – its separate cutting boards and its food parcelled out onto plates: there we have a division of space in accordance with the prison.

So far, so good, then, as far as the formatting of space is concerned. However, the organisation of behaviour involved another aspect, that is, the co-ordination of movements. The co-ordination of predetermined movements functioned most optimally and with the most economical use of power if individuals did things by themselves. In other words, repetition disciplined individuals to do the same things automatically again and again. Whether learning to write, learning to load a gun, learning to play or to cook, inculcation through repetition was the means through which the appropriate movement was patterned such that the required movement became automatic.

The disciplinary process has, however, a much older history, leading us back to the fourth-century Church and monastery, which adopted the Stoic principle that a dependence upon the joys and miseries of the world would lead only to an unhappier life, given that one would live according to the chance occurrence of external events. One would, in other words, live in hope and fear. The Stoic division between an outer and an inner life acquired then, in a Christian form, a means to make the inner independent of the outer through asceticism. Asceticism was the exercise of self-discipline, through which hunger, thirst, and such needs as company, sex and sleep should become superfluous in relation to one’s wellbeing, enabling one to concentrate on God. As such, the Church was a medium for discipline and for regular testing in the form of self-examination, designed to secure the correct inner condition, just as penance would offer purification; it was for the clerical more than for the secular, but discipline for all.

What does it really mean to be disciplined here? Yes, it means acting in accordance with a set of rules, as opposed to following one’s desires or sudden impulses. If the set of rules has a foundation, to be disciplined means to follow a plan with a purpose. This purpose might be salvation. Or, if the set of rules is founded rationally, it means following reason. One of the prerequisites for Kant’s moral philosophy was that actions should not be motivated by desire or chance, but through reason – and because reason is universal, to act rationally is to act universally. Similarly, a production plan takes into account the whole; the division of labour is co-ordinated rationally, such that when each executes his movement, does his things in his allotted time, everything functions as a whole.

When a football team plays with discipline, each individual acts not according to impulse and whim or his own inclination, but in relation to the master plan. As a defender, I always want to run toward the opponents’ goal, because it is more fun to be there, because it is there that the spectacular happens; I can score goals. But I don’t, because I would then undermine the master plan, the tactics. We have agreed that, because I am not so good with the ball but can, on the other hand, ensure that my opponent is made to suffer, I must play at the back. To be disciplined is to follow a master plan. The master plan involves assignments: each individual has something he must do in order for the whole to function. As in the factory.

Football has not always, however, been so disciplined. Football means a game that is played from the foot, as opposed to, for example, polo, which is played on horseback. Back in the thirteenth century, football was about using all available means to force the ball through the city gates of a neighbouring settlement. With industrialisation, it became necessary to define bounded pitches in the towns. It was an English public boarding school that drew up the first set of rules. Eton’s rules evolved into football, while Rugby’s laws evolved into…well, rugby. This was in the 1840s.

Originally, football was played in the way that kids often play it today: all the players can be anywhere on the pitch and most run to wherever the ball is. When the ball pops up somewhere else, most of the players run there too. To improve the game on defined pitches, plans were devised, at first by simply crowding a lot of players in front of the goal. Later, more advanced plans – called tactics – were devised, which developed through the fragmentation of the space: defence, attack, right, left, middle. This gave rise to football systems, which have their own history. But let us first state that with the plan, the tactics, came the task, the duty, the discipline: you must do it, and you must do it so that we can do it. Discipline is a mechanical whole that relies on mechanical sub-operations, as with, for example, the automated movements of the factory.

The first systems were rather attacking compared to those we know today. With ten outfield players, teams played a 2-3-5 formation, that is, with two defenders and five attackers (the ‘pyramid’). Later, between 1930 and 1950, the favoured formation was 2-3-3-2 (the ‘W-M’ system), followed later by 3-4-3 and 3-5-2.


Towards a post-disciplinary society: the emergence of the project society

Discipline was challenged in many different spheres at approximately the same time – in the period from 1960-80. Discipline is extremely good at planning, but it is insensitive to its subject. All soldiers are treated the same way, irrespective of height and shape. All pupils must be moulded into the same student. All prisoners are dealt with according to the same set of rules. Discipline was challenged on the grounds of sensitivity: it now became the customer-sensitive business, the patient-oriented medical facility, the pupil-centred school that made the factory, the hospital and the authoritarian school superior.

In adaptability lies also the ability to exploit contingency. Discipline is good at giving guarantees because it plans ahead. But this prevents it from being able to exploit contingency. Discipline therefore strives to eliminate contingency – the fact that one soldier is taller than another, that one client understands more than another – by creating programmes for the unfolding of events, as the dance school creates codes for dances.

Eventually, discipline was challenged on the grounds of flexibility and the pace of adaptation. The factory can make the same thing cheaply again and again, but the factory’s productive equipment is slow at adapting. The permanent employee guarantees routine and provides experience, but it is easier to move staff on than to re-train them if it is necessary to adapt quickly. And it is here that the project comes in.

What emerged from the challenges to disciplinary organi-sation is not what was expected when it was challenged. When families were challenged with communal living arrangements and polygamy, the result was not communes and polygamy, but the single life, where polygamy was redeemed as a temporary project organiser. Today, the single life is among the most project-oriented because it operates emblematically on the basis of interchangeability and temporary organisation. With the dissolution of organisational pyramids, the result was not flat organisations, but project organisations. When authoritarian educational methods were challenged, the result was only a temporarily democratic pedagogy, in which the child secured equal rights with parents now addressed by their forenames; it became instead an unfolding pedagogy, consisting in facilitating the unfolding of the child’s wants, as opposed to taming them. And the same went for the management of the employee.

What I claim, then, is that the disciplinary system emerging during the final third of the twentieth century has given birth to a project-oriented organisational system, i.e. a projective system. The disciplinary system has not disappeared; it stills exists alongside the project-oriented system. The project-oriented system is rooted in modulation rather than form (moule) and in initiative rather than obligation, in networks rather than stable relationships, in probabilities rather than certainties, the stepping stone rather than the foundation.

It is important to note the disciplinary organisation has not disappeared and that it is still widespread, but also that it has had superimposed upon it a projective organisation which constantly confronts, points the way to and exceeds discipline. When I talk of a project society, I mean that a project organisation, a project system (which I will explain below), involves itself in the disciplinary organisation and surpasses it, such that a projective way of living and organising emerges.


The project society

In the network, discipline’s organisation of relations is transformed. With disciplinary organisation, relations existed between those that belonged together: to the colleague working alongside; to the neighbour living next door; to the niece and nephew, the sibling’s children. In the project organisation, these relations are replaced by connections. Here, one enters into connections with those one does not belong with. Here, one carries out projects that transcend discipline as, for example, with interdisciplinary and cross-institutional projects. And since these are short-term projects, we cannot talk of the same types of relations. That is, when the project has run its course, the connections are dissolved again, returned to the network and potentially used to secure other projects. Therefore, what counts is to maintain contacts at an appropriate distance, sufficiently removed as not to generate obligations and sufficiently close as still to be useable.

The temporary character of the project, which results from the fact that the project will not be repeated and that it comes to an end at a certain time, means that participation in the project is not regarded as being a foundation, but rather as a springboard to something new. Formulated negatively, it means that you stand on an ice floe, well aware that it is melting…and you have to find yourself another one before it does so.

And even if one has a permanent job, this merely brings with it the sense that one is stuck, as unstirred milk sticks to the pan; fixed employment is regarded as a resource in order to move on. The organisation is to be flexible. But it cannot be as flexible if it has permanent employees with notice periods. In the project, on the other hand, one has been given one’s notice even before the project has begun, and therefore no-one is fired. But individuals will also be flexible in moving onward, because any failure to negotiate the passage now means that they are in a state of deadlock.

The battle for flexibility reveals itself in the contractual agreement. Just as the representative of the organisational side states that no promises can be made about the future because it is impossible to know how it will be necessary to adapt, so individuals also begin to give expression to this management of uncertainty concerning agreements in relationships with each other. Today, one might wonder why agreements are not binding, but must be confirmed, just as one must confirm one’s flight ticket at the check-in. Seen in the light of the project society, it is not so strange. One does not enter into a definite arrangement two weeks, or even one week, beforehand, because one wishes to retain the flexibility possibly of entering into a better arrangement. If I want to see a football match with a friend, I cannot make a definite agreement, but a probable agreement. Both of us communicate positive intentions in order to keep open the possibility, but if I want to increase the likelihood of seeing the match with someone, I must once again follow the example set by airline companies, that is, I must overbook. My friend must do the same. And in this way, we both increase insecurity within the system, by dealing with uncertainty in an individual way. We can only know at the last minute whether or not we will get to watch the football together.

This phenomenon is seen even more clearly on dating sites, where everyone communicates monogamously with many. Precisely because it is necessary to increase their chances should one date go down the drain, everyone communicates with several others and, precisely because of this, it becomes more difficult to commit themselves to one person at a time; if I knew that she would do the same, it might be sensible for me to stick with her, but as long as the rules of the game dictate self-optimisation in a world of uncertainty, I would be unwise to put all my eggs in one basket.

In such a world, it is no longer the obedient individual that is successful, but the enterprising individual. The one who thrusts – projects – toward the future. This is partly the product of the fact that, as the twentieth century unfolded, the possibility of relying upon preceding generations as a model began to diminish; it became necessary to prepare oneself to hit upon something new. This also applies to identity. One cannot simply form oneself into a form; one must be in a state of constant reformulation. This also applies to the organisation as long as it cannot rely on reproduction, but must invent new products. The organisation passes its development requirements down to its employees in such a way that the organisation’s development can function through the self-development of the employees, that is, by realising themselves again and again through self-transformation in their work. The act of passing through is no longer exceptional, but something that one both has to and wants to do; for when, in a project society, one orients oneself in relation to the future, this will also encompass identity.

We define ourselves less in terms of what we have successfully repeated during the previous ten years and more in terms of what we are doing right now. What we are in the process of becoming right now. Where we are passing at the moment and where we are, at some point, headed for a while.


The disciplinary and the projective

As stated above, the disciplinary organisational principle has not disappeared, but the disciplinary and the project-oriented do not simply co-exist side-by-side.There are at least three ways in which the two interact – which are experienced by the individual in his daily life, not only by having to live up to and navigate the project-oriented system, but by having to meet the demands of both systems.

The first connection consists, within the project-oriented system, in demonstrating that one can transcend the disciplinary system. In education, one must demonstrate interdisciplinarity; in project applications, one must demonstrate an ability to perform across institutions and to transcend institutional boundaries. What compels the singleton to go on a date is that she transcends the bonds of the housewife.

The second connection consists in the project system promising the disciplinary system’s security and routine. What also compels the singleton to go on a date is the hope of finding routine, partner, husband, wife. What compels one to take temporary employment is, in part, the hope of securing permanent employment. To be thrown out of the perpetual passage.

Finally, there is a subtle relationship, in which the project system appears as an exception from the disciplinary, even as it has become a rule. When I was a boy, the supply teacher was a temporary substitute for the teacher who had fallen ill, until such time as the illness had been overcome and we could return to the routine from the exceptional. Today, many temporary posts arise without anyone substituting anyone else, generating instead benefits from temporary structures bypassing the trade union rules applicable for permanent employees. The ‘temp’ has become a regular exception, using the language of discipline for the exception. The same occurs with some war projects that promise that law and order will be restored following the war, whilst, in reality, the war projects simply continue elsewhere.


The project society –space and action

This transformation is not the transformation accompanying capitalism’s drive for greater sales – or at least it is far from being this alone. It is something more fundamental than capitalism, but which capitalism obviously knows how to exploit. It can buy and sell change, initiative, networks, stepping stones and probabilities. No, it is a transformation in the organisational structure of society itself, which we can see occurred in the period from 1960-1980, but which had cultural roots dating further back.

In dance, there was a development from nineteenth century partner dances such as waltz, mazurka and polonaise, via, for example, the Charleston and jitterbug, which underwent the same development. Broadly speaking, the partners in these dances moved further and further apart from each other and back on their heels. During that period, something decisive occurred with the twist, in that the partners let each other’s hands go altogether. In this way, co-ordination between them became redundant, thus paving the way for individual improvisation. The disciplinary institutions – the dance schools – would have suffered a major setback if the 70s and 80s had not fostered such dance movie as Saturday Night FeverFameFlashdance.

On the football pitch, a similar transformation in favour of greater flexibility took place around the same time. Here, it was the ‘libero’ and Holland’s ‘total football’ that constituted the challenge of flexibility to discipline. The libero was a team ploy that worked by freeing a player. When everyone obediently accepted their disciplined role by defending their space and their man, the libero was able to break forward, revealing the inflexibility of the disciplined game. Dutch total football was the dream of ultimate flexibility. The idea was that all the players should be able to play in any position, enabling the team to adapt instantly. If a defender pushes forward, an attacker can drop back to midfield and a midfielder can drop back to the defence. Such a switch can take place much more quickly than is the case when everyone has a fixed position. The problem with total flexibility was that no footballers were intelligent enough to oversee the whole team the whole time, as was required of all the players. As a result, there has been a return today to an organisational structure based upon a static organisation combined with the need for movement and flexibility required by the more dynamic approach to football. With this approach, a defender can no longer simply carry out his obligation qua defender, but must, as an attacker, also take the initiative. Discipline is challenged, then, on the grounds of flexibility, speed of adaptability, exploitation of contingency (a player can move around accordingly) and sensitivity (adjusting to changes in the game and in the opposing team). Occasionally, the traditional disciplined style of play can be seen today, as, for example, when an away team has a player sent off, or when a team is leading 1-0 near the end of the match. This harks back to the traditional disciplined organisational style, in which everyone has a defined role and the most important thing is, not taking the initiative, but simply the avoidance of error. Once again, obedience becomes the most important factor.

Football’s space is one thing. But what happens with other spaces, for example those of the Church or the prison, when discipline is challenged by flexibility? Spatial organisation was, after all, the fundamental organising principle of discipline. What happens is that spaces in the project society are overcoded by functionality. What does this mean?

What discipline did in the period from 1650-1800 was to create what we now call institutions. It made space, time and function fold into each other. By overlaying space with the co-ordinate system, the former could be divided into, for example, the separate subject rooms like the woodwork or biology classroom. By also subjecting time to the co-ordinate system, the timetable came into being, such as French, woodwork and biology classes. Thereby, space, time and function could be folded into each other: biology in the biology room with the biology teacher in the biology period. After this, relocate to another room: French in the French room with the French teacher in the French period. The same applied to the factory: this basic disciplinary organisation made the conveyor belt possible. Disciplinary organisation is engaged in the fixation process, while transportation – the passage between classrooms or between functional spaces in the factory – is really just an obstacle to be overcome. And likewise moving back and forth between institutions, which are also divided according to function: care in the home, leisure at the leisure centre, holidays at the holiday centre, work at the workplace, banking at the bank, coffee drinking in the café, the treatment of illness at the hospital.

The project does not base itself on the co-ordination of space, time and function, but starts out from the activity. The activity opens up the space. The disciplinary space is marked out before the activity, as with a stage upon which the actors perform or a dance floor upon which the dancers’ movements constitute their activity. The project-oriented activity, on the other hand, opens a space by dint of the activity. It opens up a working space in the café when the computer is switched on. It opens up a dance floor in the kitchen at a party when a spontaneous dance starts there, and it closes again when it stops. And the dance floor can be opened up again later elsewhere in the apartment. The project-oriented activity opens up a health space within the holiday space when it builds physical exercise into the holiday, or it opens up a health space within the workplace when vaccinators, ergonomists or occupational therapists come by, or when exercise bikes are installed. It opens up a workspace in the home. It opens up a meeting at dinner. It opens up a welfare space via the staff appraisal meeting.

Obviously, from a disciplinary perspective, this must seem like a lot of nonsense. It is just not disciplined. But, seen from the perspective of the project, it does not seem like nonsense. It has its own order, taking its starting-point in project activities. Rather than understanding society in terms of space, we should understand society as plans. Project activities plane their way through the three-dimensional functional space that discipline had differentiated. The health project planes its way through the hospital, the holiday and the workplace. The work project planes its way through the workplace, the café and the home. Care planes its way through the home, the workplace, the holiday and recreation centre.

In this, neither prison nor Church is an exception. With regard to prison, training, which had previously been re-education, is, for example, planing its way there. The same applies to the drug trade, criminality and the network. But prison is also planing its way out into the home via electronic tagging and into the rest of society via community service.

With regard to the Church, these days we are seeing Church spaces being opened up by other functions. Youth arrangements, lectures, cultural gatherings are some of the functions for which the Church, more or less willingly, more or less of necessity, makes itself available.



Luc Boltanski og Eve Chiapello: Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Paris: Gallimard, 1999.

Anders Fogh Jensen, The Project SocietyAarhus: Unipress, 2012.

Anders Fogh Jensen: Projektsamfundet, Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2009.

Anders Fogh Jensen: Projektmennesket, Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2009.

Anders Fogh Jensen: Epi-demos, En lille bog om store epidemier, (Epi-demos: A Little Treatise on Great Epidemics), Copenhagen: THP,

Michel Foucault: Surveiller et punir, Paris: Gallimard, 1975.



Anders Fogh Jensen (born 1973) is a philosopher, with a Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen based on a thesis about the Project Society. He has also been awarded the Diplomé d’Études Approfondies in Philosophy by the Sorbonne, Paris. He is the author of the books Metaforens magt (The Power of Metaphor), 2001, Mellem ting, Foucaults filosofi (Between Things, Foucault’s Philosophy), 2005, Magtens kartografi, Foucault og Bourdieu (The Cartography of Power, Foucault and Bourdieu), 2006, Hvordan skal jeg leve mit liv, Kierkegaard? (How should I live, Kierkegaard?) as well as the books named above and a large number of articles.


[note]  It was French philosopher Michel Foucault who, in his ground-breaking 1975 work on the history of the prison, Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et punir), introduced us to the notion that modern institutions were modelled on the prison. In order to clarify this idea, Foucault drew upon Bentham’s notion of the “Panopticon” prison. Foucault characterised modern society understood in this way as “disciplinary”. In the article that follows, I draw upon this sense of discipline and apply it to social areas other than those analysed by Foucault in an attempt to demonstrate what kind of society this is and what kind of organisational form has succeeded Foucault’s analysis and which we, together with the disciplinary organisational form, inhabit on a day-to-day basis. This postdisciplinary society I call the “project society”.