‘The prison of the body’: school uniforms between discipline and governmentality

Jasper Friedrich, Rachel K Shanks* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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This article asks what uniform practices in schools can tell us about how power functions through a comprehensive analysis of the uniform policies of all Scottish state secondary schools (n=357). Against the backdrop of large-scale shifts from disciplinary societies to ones dominated by ‘neoliberal governmentality’ identified by Foucault and others, we investigate how these modes of power seem to be entangled in school uniform policies. The analysis reveals the specification of detailed uniform policies that both homogenize, divide and hierarchize the school body, suggesting that disciplinary techniques are alive and well. However, in the justifications that schools provide, we see uniform policies framed not as a tool to enforce discipline, but rather as a technique for pupils to fashion themselves into respectable and employable future adults. We suggest the rise of a ‘neoliberal governmentality’ has shaped how schools justify their practices of control more than it has shaped the practices themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-29
Number of pages15
JournalDiscourse : studies in the cultural politics of education
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

We wish to thank the students who were involved in the original sourcing and coding of school uniform policies, namely Lucas Adrian Brauns, Agata Kostrzewa, Marton Kottmayer, Kirsten Phelps, Daniel Phillips, Vilma Pullinen, Atyrah Hanim Razali, Cameron Roy, Maria Steiner Simonsen, and particularly Annabelle Eveline Olsson who provided feedback on this work. We also wish to thank Prof Pamela Abbott for her insightful comments on an early draft of the manuscript.


  • school uniform policies
  • school dress codes
  • discipline
  • governmentality
  • Foucault
  • content coding analysis


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