Friday, 26 October 2012


PANOPTICISM: institutions and institutional power
‘Literature, art and their respective producers do not exist independently of a complex institutional framework which authorises, enables, empowers and legitimises them. This framework must be incorporated into any analysis that pretends to provide a thorough understanding of cultural goods and practices.' - Randal Johnson in Walker & Chaplin (1999)

How does society control and effect our behaviour? Also looking at institutions such as army, police etc. or organised practices, organised behaviours.  Frame our behaviour, effect our consciousness.  Institutions, institutional powers etc.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

-Madness and civilisation
-Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison

The great confinement
The middle ages, no strict conception of madness, mad men led a relatively easy life, tolerated and accepted in society, allowed to live with everyone else, thought of as quite endearingly, that was the case until the 1600's.  Then a new attitude came towards work and the social usefulness of work, not only for society but to make people better.  Anyone who couldn't effectively work was stigmatised as useless, houses of correction started to be built, the threw all the mad people and criminals, drunkards, vagabonds, the diseased etc. Inside they were put to a work station and if they didn't they were psychically beaten.  This was an exercise  in moral reform.  Eventually these houses of correction started to be seen as a massive mistake.  What emerged at this time was specialist institutions, like the prisons etc. particularly the asylum, not only housing them but correcting them.  New legislation was passed to allow these things to come into existence.  In the asylum instead of psychical violence as a tool to make people behave more subtle techniques were used, tactically reduced to the status of minors, if they behaved appropriately they were given rewards, behaviour was celebrated, if they behaved badly they were chastised.  its about subtly training people to brave, not just punishing but correcting, modifying peoples attitudes, the way people think and respond.

The birth of the asylum:
The emergence of forms of knowledge - biology, psychiatry, legitimises the practices of hospitals, doctors etc.  Foucault aims to show how these forms of knowledge and rationalising institutions like the prison, the asylum etc now effect human beings in such a way that they alter our consciousness and that they internalise our responsibility 

A sign of power of state to psychically harm you - disciplines would be visible if you did not abide, punishment.

Disciplinary society and disciplinary power: revolves around the mental rather than the psychical:

Discipline is a ‘technology’ [aimed at] ‘how to keep someone under surveillance, how to control his conduct, his behaviour, his aptitudes, how to improve his performance, multiply his capacities, how to put him where he is most useful: that is discipline in my sense’ (Foucault,1981 in O’Farrrell 2005:102) 

This is a form of discipline that Foucault calls 'PANOPTICISM' - named after a building called the panopticon.  It was proposed by Bentham's as a multifunctional building, most were an asylum or prison.  Round building, on the side their are cells where an individual would be placed. Each cell is totally open from the front (might have bars) facing the interior, open from the front and lit from the back.  Described as the perfect building for any purpose, this is because in each cell the inmates are constantly staring into the central observational tower, if it was a prison you would have the prison guards - inmates in these cells can't see each other - all they can really see is the supervisors, this has a really strange effect - an effect thats entirely the opposite of the 'dungeon'

Bentham's Design:
Dungeon - mass social repression
Panopticon - everything light, visible and on display - object of scrutiny and study 

The fiendish effectiveness of the panopticon - constantly being watched needing to behave in a way that you should - you will never behave in a way that the supervisor does not want you to behave - whats the point in behaving like that when you will get caught.  No one to share emotions with -  a form of psychological torte, not popular now cos of the mental effect they have on people.
the Panopticon internalises in the individual the conscious state that he is always being watched (Foucault, 1975)

Eventually the panopticon doesn't need any guards to watch because people start to behave themselves.

Most asylums use the panoptic model - a system for scrutiny, allows supervisor to experiment on subjects, aims to make them productive:
  • reforms prisoners
  • helps treat patients
  • helps instruct school children
  • helps confine, but also study the insane
  • helps supervise workers
  • helps put beggars and idlers to work
You start to behave, under the knowledge you are always observed, the way the institute wants you to without being forced.  You understanding that your always being watched, always visible:

  • What Foucault is describing is a transformation in Western societies from a form of power imposed by a ‘ruler’ or ‘sovereign’ to... A NEW MODE OF POWER CALLED “PANOPTICISM”
  • The ‘panopticon’ is a model of how modern society organises its knowledge, its power, its surveillance of bodies and its ‘training’ of bodies. 
Modern - open day office - form of panoptic power going on, people to share experiences and get along as a group, however, they can be constantly seen by the boss, always being watched.  Changes the behaviour of the workers just by the arrangement of the office, you start to control your behaviour, start conforming.

Ricky Gervais 'The Office' - the humour from the programme comes from the people in the office knowing that every action is being observed by a camera crew.  The office workers play up to the stereotypes - changing their behaviour accordingly.

Open plan bars - as opposed to traditional boozers.  Everything in the pub is visible, you start to adapt, and behave in a more responsible way, start to conform.

Google maps - every street in the world is photographed
- everywhere we go in society recorded by CCTV cameras.  Every single action in our life is somehow recorded.

Pentonville Prison - in the seats there is a barrier between in each seat, all the audience can see is the central supervisor, devised to maximise the efficiency of educational reform.

The register - a form of observation - if you don't attend class there will be some kind of punishment because your actions are being recorded.  You are effectively doing way the institute is whiting you to do.

‘power relations have an immediate hold upon it [the body]; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs’ (Foucault 1975) 

Disciplinary Society produces what Foucault calls: - 'docile bodies'.
• Self monitoring
• Self-correcting
Obedient bodies 

Foucault and Power:

  • His definition is not a top-down model as with Marxism 
  • power is not a thing or a capacity people have – it is a relation between different individuals and groups, and only exists when it is being exercised. 
  • he exercise of power relies on there being the capacity for power to be resisted 
  • ‘Where there is power there is resistance’

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