Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foucault / Panopticism: Disciplinary Society - Summary

In the final part of "Panopticism" Foucault argues that the mechanisms of discipline which have formed within certain institutions like prisons and hospitals have expanded outside of them and into society at large. This disciplinary or normalizing society is the foundation of modern panopticism. Foucault goes back to Jeremy Bentham's idea of the "Panopticon" - a model structure for a jail with a watch tower in its center and separate cells around it. 

Prisoners in the Panopticon jail can't see each other or the guard, but the guard can see everybody and in fact does not even have to be there in order to discipline the prisoners.
Both Bentham and Foucault say that the great advantage of the panopticon is its efficiency. The organization of space allows for firm control with small efforts (you only need one guard to supervise many prisoners, and maybe even no guards). The prisoner, not knowing if he is being watched or not, must at all times act as if he is being watched by the guard and in time he himself becomes his own guard. This type of power is for Foucault long lasting, anonymous and highly disciplinary. The Panopticon is also an instrument for the transformation of individuals since it allows the system to observe, document and study them (see previous summaries of Foucault's "Panopticism", links below).

Foucault says that Bentham's Panopticon is not a singular architectural model but rather a paradigmatic case of a technology of power which he calls, after Bentham's model, Panopticism. Panopticism organizes (social) space and individuals within it in order to make it more efficient and productive while gaining and retaining cooperation of subjects. Foucault argues that Panopticism as a technology of discipline moved out of prisons and hospitals to schools and even the whole market economy which becomes a "disciplinary society".            

Panopticism / Foucault - summary 
Part 1:Foucault's notion of discipline
Part 2: discipline  and the production of individuals
Part 3: human sciences
Part 4: disciplinary society
Foucault's panopticism explained

More on and by Foucault: 
Foucault - "Of Other Spaces" - summary   
Foucault's concept of discourse
Foucault on power and knowledge
technology of power

Recommended books by and on Foucault: