Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Summary: Panopticism by Foucault

(This summary runs the length of Foucault's chapter on "Panopticism", if you want the short simple way try Foucault's panopticism explained)

"Panopticism" is a chapter in Michel's Foucault's book "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison" (1975). The book examines developments in Western penal systems and the formulation of contemporary prisons. Foucault's main argument in "Discipline and Punish" is that measures that presumably serve to "rehabilitate" offenders and thus society are in actual fact power mechanism of discipline which is not unique to prisons and can be found to be employed by other institutions like armies, schools, factories and so on.

Foucault claims in " Discipline and Punish" that modern prisons are in fact paradigmatic of a wider social process that changes to way power is wielded. According to Foucault the need to oversee a growing number of people in production systems of growing complexity has led to the development of elaborate systems of power, a new range of control tactics and new forms of knowledge and knowledge production. Discipline for Foucault is "a technology of power" aimed at turning the human multitude into something manageable and controllable. Discipline produces docile and obedient bodies in a manner which is useful for the needs of large scale systems of modern production. But when Foucault says "production" he does not mean only economics (this is a difference between Foucault and Marxism) but also the production all forms of power such a knowledge (see Foucault on power and knowledge). In "Discipline and Punish" Foucault shows how discipline works together with discourse to produce the modern individual who is apparently unique and independent but is in fact controlled. The chapter "Panopticism" in Foucault's book deals with exactly that.
Our summary will break down Panopticism into 4 parts :

The first part of the summary will cover Foucault's notion of discipline. The second part of our summary of Panopticism will connect discipline with the production of individuals. The third part of the summary will connect discipline and Panopticism to what Foucault calls the "human sciences". Finally, the last part of the summary will be a discussion of what Foucault calls "disciplinary society".     

More on and by Foucault: 

Foucault - "Of Other Spaces" - summary   

Recommended books by and on Foucault: