The have changed dramatically, Foucault’s liberal theory argument

The degree to which individual action is determined by
external structures is disputed amongst sociologists, especially through the
concepts expressed by Ulrich Beck and Michel Foucault. Through the progressive
modernisation of society; the traditional sources of control, under which wider
social structures fall; are losing influence to increased individualisation and
the growing autonomy which allows individuals to determine their own actions. Resulting
in the relation between social structures and the individual to transform, as
now individuals can manipulate their own behaviour and external perceptions to
gain control- threatening social structures, as well as generating pressure for
change. However, the extent to this is dubious as it is argued the influence of
wider social structures remain behind individual’s decisions, and perceived
change is an instinctive continuation of the past.

Traditionally, social behaviour and individual action was
controlled by juridical sources; through the monarchy and public displays of
discipline e.g. executions (Foucault, 1977). However, it can now be argued that
‘the juridical conception of power relations no longer adequately describes the
way in which power predominantly operates’ (Foucault, 1978:88-9). In relation
to contemporary society; individual action, power and discipline now operate
through control over the individual’s body. Control over individual’s behaviour
is deemed to be strategic and necessary in political economy (Foucault, 1977). In
support of this, power can now be influential ‘in the construction of the lives of individuals’ (Tadros, 1998:77)
seen through the increased importance of population size and the government’s
control over birth rate, the individual act of sex is now influenced by wider
social structures (Foucault, 1978). However, although it is true that
disciplinary power has come to the forefront in modern society, the extent to
which juridical power remains intertwined in sources of control is
underestimated (Boaventura de Sousa, 1995). Foucault also argues that despite
the context of society changing, it’s previous characteristics remain; as discourses
and wider structures did not develop throughout linear history but as a
response to isolated occurrences such as the establishment of the class system (Foucault,
1977). Therefore, despite methods of control and influence changing, the
outcome is the same. Yet, although the structure of society can be seen to have
changed dramatically, Foucault’s liberal theory argument seems to be ‘directed
towards an archaic vision of society’ therefore the expression of power can be
seen to have reflected the significant structural change rather than just
transform on the surface. Likewise, the significance of this change is only
minimal as it is agreed that the present is a reflects that of the past.
(Tadros, 1998:78).

Similarly, this continuing period of modernisation has
brought about the formation of a ‘world risk society’ established through the
development of rational thought, as society develops and changes; disaster and
the accompanying risk will increase and become more complex (Beck, 2006). Correspondingly
to Foucault, reflected through social control methods such as discipline, risk
has become a main feature of modern society. Beck (2006) states that risk
describes the way in which individuals are ruled and exist in modern society. To
be able to respond to the consequences of modernisation, risk is argued to
provide ‘a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities’ (Beck,
1992:21), the process of modernisation is undermining traditional institutions,
of which are ‘becoming part of the problem they were supposed to solve’ (Beck,
2006:338). Also, contemporary society can be characterised by increased
rationality which is regarded as ironic as ‘the experience of the past,
encourages anticipation of the wrong kind of risk, the one we believe we can
calculate and control’ (Beck, 2006:330). It can therefore be argued that
responsibility is becoming increasingly individualised, Beck expresses the
process of ‘disembedding without embedding’ in which the person becomes
responsible for their survival yet ‘is blind to dangers’, as the omnipotent
power of institutions is confining despite becoming increasing untrustworthy
(Beck, 2006:336) consequently causing social action to now be controlled by the
individual. However, as emphasised, is dependent on external social conditions
(Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995:7) as ability to respond to risk varies between class
characteristics (Beck, 1992). The
notion of risk is therefore seen as a way ‘in which we govern and are governed’
(Adam, Beck and van Loon, 2000:2). With social action ultimately being
increasingly determined by the individual however remaining under the influence
of wider social structures.

Alternatively, instead of being influenced by wider social
structures and processes; Erving Goffman argues that individual behaviour is
based on previously gained information and wider social knowledge such as
stereotypes, ‘information about the individual helps to define the situation’
(Goffman, 1990:13). Therefore, in dispute with Foucault and Beck, social action
is based minimally on past interaction and increasingly on inference, rather
than the influence of wider social structures. An individual’s level of control
is achieved through perceived levels of status and the ability to define and
manipulate a situation; therefore, society is organised based on a micro scale
of interaction rather than in a broader sense (Goffman, 1990). However, it is
also argued that such inference and an individual’s presence is based on their
position in society, a person who holds ‘certain social characteristics has a
moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate
way’ (Goffman, 1990:24). Individual action therefore is a mechanism in which
control and status can be attained, with conscious decisions about behaviour manipulating
external expressions, presenting the individual with autonomy from wider
forces. Alternatively, Hall also agrees that behaviour is based on previously
derived information, however, he argues that individuals do not have complete
autonomy over such information. Communicative behaviour can be argued to be
controlled by wider social structures such as media institutions. Therefore, individual
behaviour, such as obedience to social order, can be manipulated by the distribution
of messages; ‘the institution-societal relations of production must pass under
the discursive language for its product to be ‘realized” (Hall, 1980:93). As
the media is an increasingly key feature of modern society (alongside
individualisation), this source of control is regarded as providing an illusion
of autonomy, due to it being reliant on the interpretation of the individual to
determine its ideological value (Hall, 1980). Thus, in agreement with Foucault,
Hall regards that action remains to be controlled by wider social structures, yet
sources of this control are now implemented by subtle mechanisms.

Equally, in dispute with Beck and Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu
argues the concept of habitus in which ‘actors act strategically and
practically rather than as conformists to cultural norms or external
constraints’ (Swartz, 2002:625). Bourdieu directly disputes objectivist views
and similarly argues that individuals have autonomy from external social
conditions, with the behaviour of an individual being dependent on previous
experiences and interaction (Swartz,2002). Expanding on this, it can be argued
that behaviour is influenced by habit as it is individual behaviour is influenced
not through instinct but through attainment at different stages of life
(Burkitt, 1991). The idea of habitus reflects the continuation of the role of
socialisation, which was initially performed by wider social structures,
however emphasises that society is reliant on actions of individuals. Relative
to Beck, he argues that action is based on anticipated consequences, with the
result varying amongst class opportunities, ability to respond to such
consequences (such as risk) requires ‘forms of capital’ (Swartz, 2002:655),
which outlines the level of what is ‘possible, impossible and probable for
individuals’ (Swartz, 2002:375). Furthermore, the notion of habitus is derived
from wider social processes such as internalisation that are influenced by
social structures and despite being attached to the individual provide
guidelines for social order (Swartz, 2002). On the other hand, in support of Hall
and Goffman, the perception of autonomy over social action is also supported by
Bourdieu, with alternate behaviour being nothing more than a deviation from the
individual’s assigned collective. (Bourdieu, 1990). Finally, the creation of habits
can be seen that in response to late modernity individuals are forced to produce
their own biographies due to the absence of traditional norms and the prevalence
of continuous change, (Beck, Giddens and Lash, 2007).

In conclusion, the extent to which wider social structures determine
individual action remains a complex issue; however, the way in which control over
individuals have transformed parallel to the modernisation of society itself and
therefore has arguably increased. Methods of discipline as presented by Foucault
express the transition from direct forms of control to indirect individualised disciplinary
processes, in which social control enforces self-regulatory behaviour through laws
and policies based on population information, notably through control over the
body. Risk on the other hand, expressed by Beck, refers to a macro approach in
which changing global context now influences individual action. The prevalence
of increasing risk and anticipation of events link to the changes in discipline;
globalisation and the breakdown of boundaries has resulted in the development
of broader methods of control, such as the media as presented by Hall. Therefore,
the extent to which individual action is determined by wider social structures remains
despite seeming insignificant; as the social structures which previously determined
such control have been altered, from direct justice systems to wider communicative
sources. Providing the illusion of increased individualisation whilst social
action remains to be determined by wider social structures, arguably even more
intensely than before, as the sources of control are now endorsed on a global scale.