Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Accounting, Economics and Finance


This thesis presents some of the key ideas of Michel Foucault and uses Foucault’s ideas about discipline as a lens to examine welfare reforms in the past three decades in Australia. In particular, a detailed analysis of Foucauldian disciplinary techniques employed in the Howard government’s Welfare to Work (WTW) reform is made in regard to single parents. The research is focused on the increased requirement of accountability, specifically concepts of mutual obligation (MO), placed on Parenting Payment Single (PPS) recipients, who were one of the main groups targeted by the WTW reform. The recent changes to entitlement under the Gillard government are also reviewed. The relevance of Foucault’s ideas in this area are analysed, as they provide a lens to examine the implications for recipients of the requirements for receipt of this payment. Recipients’ attitudes were also surveyed to see which elements of discipline they provided that were attached to this payment, and how they considered that this affected them.

This study suggests that while the government might see MO as a tool to direct Parenting Payment Single (PPS) recipients into employment, the recipients may see this quite differently. There is evidence of the use of techniques identified by Foucault as disciplinary techniques within the structure of MO. This research found that several disciplinary techniques and punishment schema are applicable, such as: surveillance, punishment, partitioning, timetable, the normalization technique, signalisation, the examination technique, and the technique of dressage.

Foucault (2007) addressed three forms of power: sovereignty, discipline and governmental management, which he referred to as a ‘triangle’ of power. Evidence of disciplinary techniques is also an indication of the existence of power relationships within the discourse of MO under the WTW welfare reforms. Discipline and dominance/control are linked in a way that places discipline as a form of power.

The results of this study suggest that the recipients of PPS payments may experience the techniques outlined above as disempowering and counter-productive rather than as an aid to escape welfare dependency.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.