Lecture 1: 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)

-Understand the principles of the Panopticon
-Understand Michel Foucault’s concepts of ‘disciplinary society’
-Consider the idea that disciplinary society is a way of making individuals ‘productive’ and ‘useful’
-Understand Foucault’s idea of techniques of the body and ‘docile’ bodies

Panopticon was a metaphor for society

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) wrote Madness & Civilisation, Discipline & Punish: the birth of the prison. He was a philosopher and campaigned for gay rights and prisoner rights.

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

The Great Confinement (late 1600’s)
-‘Houses of correction’ to curb unemployment and idleness

Disciplinary society and disciplinary power
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’Farrel 2005:102) “Panopticism”

Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon


Institutional Gaze
-Panopticon internalises in the individual the conscious state that he is always being watched
-Allows scrutiny
-Allows supervisor to experiment on subjects
-Aims to make them productive
-Reforms prisoners
-Helps treat patients
-Helps instruct schoolchildren
-Helps confine, but also study the insane
-Helps supervise workers
-Helps put beggars and idlers to work

‘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
-Obedient bodies

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

Examples of Modern Panopticism;
-Open plan offices, (spaces of anxiety due to being monitored and watched)
-Open plan bars (makes you visible and on display)
-Surveillance society (CCTV, Google maps)
-Grading (forcing fellow students to compete against one another in order to be ‘productive’)


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