Social Discipline and State Formation: Weber and Oestreich on the historical sociology of subjectivity

05 May 2006

The concept of discipline has come to be associated with the work of Michel Foucault, but Max Weber and Gerhard Oestreich also made extensive use of it, and this paper explores their contribution to our understanding of the historical sociology of subjectivity in terms of an increasing disciplining of subjectivity. For Weber the discipline associated with ascetic Protestantism played a crucial role in the development of Western capitalism, and this central concern with the historical psychology of capitalism and the disciplined character of the modern self makes Weber’s work the intellectual precursor of the more recent discussions. Gerhard Oestreich provides a different kind of analysis by drawing our attention to the role of both the intellectual movement of neo-Stoicism and its associated forms of state intervention in spreading the discipline of the newly reformed armies in Western Europe throughout the rest of European society. The paper concludes with a discussion of the difficulties that remain in the work of both writers, and the implications of some more recent historical research for their theoretical orientations.