Thursday, December 20, 2007

Final Reflection

Final Written Reflection

Instructions: You have two hours to complete this reflection. I suggest that you spend a few minutes thinking about which questions to answer, about an hour writing your responses, and another half an hour revising and editing your responses. As we discussed, this is a closed-book reflection, so I don’t expect to see citations or page numbers. You can, if you want, refer to the syllabus to copy article titles.

Please answer one major question (50% of the final grade) and two minor questions (25% each, or 50% of the final grade).

When you are done, please save your file and give it the following name:
Mine, for example, would be TomFR.doc. Please also be sure to write your name inside the document itself. Attach the document to an e-mail and return it no later than 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 20, 2007. You can take any two hours from the time you receive these instructions until you complete your writing; you are not required to write between the hours of 1 and 3.

Best wishes,

Major Questions (answer one)

1. We read extensively from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Choose any aspect of that book that struck you as particularly relevant, and explain that relevance. What is it about the concepts he describes that seem particularly useful or interesting? How have you seen his ideas at work in your own life? Be sure to use Foucault’s terms.

2. In his texts, Barthes provides some theories of how a viewer understands images. Choose a digital image from your own collection, or find an image on the Internet, and analyze it using Barthes’ terms. Make sure to include a copy of the image in your response.

3. Early in the semester, we read Stuart Hall’s and Richard Johnson’s definitions of cultural studies, and spent a lot of time talking about culturalist and structuralist models of cultural studies. What is your understanding of these models, and in what camp(s) do you place yourself as a student of cultural studies? Be sure to provide examples.

Minor Questions (answer 2)

1. At the beginning of the semester, you were asked to bring in a cultural artifact and discuss its significance. If you were asked to do the same thing now, what would you do differently? Would you bring in the same object? Why or why not? Now that you have completed this course, how would you analyze the object? What might that analysis reveal?

2 and 3.
Choose any article or chapter that we have read this semester (and that you have not discussed in response to the major question, above) and describe it in as much detail as you can. After you describe the article, tell me what you find particularly useful, interesting or illuminating about it. You can answer this question twice, describing two different articles, in order to satisfy the requirement that you answer two questions from this category.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Abstract of "Panopticism," pages 200-209

Foucault lauds the Panopticon as "a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come"(209). He calls it a "perfect disciplinary institution" that will "strengthen the social forces--to increase production, to develop the economy, spread education, raise the level of public morality; to increase and multipy"(208).

Some of the reasons why the Panopticon "perfects the exercise of power"(206):
1. "It can reduce the number of those who exercise [power]" (206).
2. It can "increase the number of those on whom [power] is exercised"(206).
2. "The constant pressure acts even before the mistakes and crimes have been committed"(206).
3. "It assures its efficacity by its preventative character, its continuous functioning and its automatic mechanisms"(206).
4. "The disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible 'to the great tribunal committee of the world'"(207).

The theory behind the Panopticon as the perfect disciplinary design is that "he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection"(202-3). In other words, "it gives 'power of mind over mind'"(206).

We skirted around this issue in class on Tuesday. Diane brought up the example of her faculty member colleague who treats TA's and staffers in ways that she would never dream of with a boss or administrator. Tom mentioned the surly checkers at Boise Co-op. I think that all mature, productive members of society have an internal disciplinary mechanism that self-regulates behavior. We decide what it is we want out of life, what our goals are, and we (try to) discipline ourselves in ways that will help us achieve those goals, be it friendship, work promotions, academic success, athletic accomplishment, etc. We don't discipline ourselves to "behave" if we don't believe our misbehavior will interfere with our goals. For example, if my main goal in life is to avoid contention, I am not going to stand up for myself when I have been wronged. If my goal is to do whatever it takes to get a job promotion, I am going to devote long hours to my work, neglecting other human relationships.

What we call disciplinary mechanisms in our society today are really nothing more than inducements to encourage the individual to perform the actual job of disciplining and self-regulation. That is the theory behind the Panopticon and it is effective because it doesn't require corporal punishment, deprivation, or anything else besides the constant threat of surveillance to encourage one to exercise discipline upon one's own behavior.

However, there are several things that confuse me about the concept of the Panopticon:
1. Foucault says that this model can be applied to "barracks, schools, and workshops"(209). He also mentions its use in hospitals. I don't understand if he is simply referring to the idea of constant surveillance? Or does he actually advocate this architectural design for classrooms and workplaces--each person holed up in a cell with a distant and inaccessible supervisor in a central tower?
2. Foucault talks repeatedly of the ability the public would have to come in and observe human behavior within the Panopticon. So anybody could have access to the central tower? What is the purpose of that and wouldn't it disrupt the normal operation of the Panopticon if untrained "supervisors" were occupying the tower instead of official surveillance officers?
3. He also says that it "enables everyone to come and observe any of the observers"(207). Any ideas what he means by that?

Finally, it seems really idealistic to me that the Panopticon will make it "not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation of regulations [...]no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks; all that [is] needed [is] that the seperations should be clear and the openings well arranged"(202). I discussed in class how the physical arrangement of the Panopticon makes it physically impossible for the supervisor to immediately discipline a wrongdoer. And of course, the supervisor is vastly outnumbered and even though he is at a vantage point to see all, that doesn't mean that he actually does see all. I would be interested in actual evidence of this theory working as anticipated in any of the aforementioned settings.

Foucault: Panopticism

Abstract of Foucault's "Panopticism"

by Mike Peterson


In this chapter, Foucault illustrates the shift in the Middle Ages between how people dealt with lepers (mass confinement) to how they dealt with the plague (confinement in segmented, observable spaces), and then he draws a parallel between the shift in confinement methods in prisons to the rise of modern disciplinary institutions, such as prisons, schools, and hospitals.

Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which is an architectural embodiment of the abstract concept of the Panopticon, based on Bentham’s belief that power should be visible yet unverifiable. This unverifiable surveillance, both in Bentham’s structure and in the abstract idea, is an efficient, economic and exercisable power that makes discipline possible.

Foucault discusses how the panoptic discipline mechanism evolved during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through the functional inversion of the mechanisms, the swarming of disciplinary mechanisms, and the state control of disciplinary mechanisms. He ends by sketching the role of the panoptic mechanism in societal contexts: economic processes, juridico-political processes, and scientific processes.


There were two words that kept popping into my head as I read this chapter: Bureaucracy, and Lost.

First, Bureaucracy. On page 207, Foucault says that the “panoptic machine” is under no risk of degenerating into tyranny and that it will be democratically controlled. I struggled at first with this claim. I couldn’t help but think of movies like Cool Hand Luke and Cuckoo’s Nest, and I wondered how Foucault of all people could be so idealistic as to claim the panoptic machine could never degenerate into tyranny. But as I thought of it, I realized that tyranny and abuse of power are two different things. Here, Foucault is talking about tyranny as despotism, dictatorship, or monarchy: where one person has the power—and as we read on the next page, panoptic discipline doesn’t exist in the spectacle of regal power, but in the realm of exercisable, reciprocal power found in the “relations of discipline” (208).

Like our modern bureaucracy, there are checks and balances, there is public accountability, and there is a web of reciprocal power that prevents any one person from becoming a tyrant. At the Sheriff’s office, for example, if we want to change a policy on, say, the use of tazers, there is a gamut of bigwigs (and little wigs) who have to give the OK: the city council, the commissioners, the Sheriff, the captains, the EMS supervisor, the ombudsman, etc. etc. etc.

In Bentham’s panoptic structure, the person in the tower isn’t judge, jury and executioner: he is just one part on a bigger machine. His role, in this case, is that of observer, and while he might express a great deal of power or control over his subjects, his power isn’t ultimate. As we read in previous chapters, we know that Foucault believes power isn’t a static “thing” that a person can possess—it is in a constant state of flux: it is reciprocal, and it is always shifting. Power is exercised, not possessed. The tower worker, like the Sheriff or council-member, is only one of many cogs in this machine that exercises what power they can, but it is a constant game of give and take.

Similarly, in our discussion on Tuesday we talked about how everyone is supervised. Everyone. Even the guy in the tower. It made me think of my Dad’s situation. He is the CEO of a company that supplies doctors to St. Al’s. He is the doctors’ boss: he writes their contracts; he signs their paychecks; and so on. At the same time, those doctors are his boss: they write his contract; they (collectively, not individually) are the ones who can give him a raise or fire him. So there’s a weird, reciprocating exercise of power (and surveillance) between all of them.

On to Lost. I’ll admit I’ve watched a lot of Lost even though it’s the lamest show on TV. It’s like a very long, very bad joke, but I’m dying to hear the punch line even if it’s going to disappoint me. But what has become apparent over these last couple of poorly-written seasons is this sense of being watched, the idea of constant visible but unverifiable surveillance, as the plane-wreck people always feel the pressure of being observed by the “others.” They discover underground laboratories, barracks, etc. all over the island equipped with cameras, logs and journals. And then there is the question of “who is watching who?”

I Googled “Panopticon” and “Lost” and found that I’m not the only one who noticed this: apparently there is a whole online fan community who share there theories about what is going on in Lost, and a lot of them subscribe to the idea of the Dharma initiative being a government-run Panopticon. One fan points out an episode where there’s an obituary or tombstone (or something—he was a bit vague about it) that said “Je …ntham” on it, which he says is proof that the show is based on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

Here's more hard evidence from another fan:

I don’t know that Lost really has any bearing on Foucault’s argument, but I keep a journal of movies and TV shows that I think would be good for teaching a principle (such as clips from Almost Famous or Capote in my ethics-of-representation discussions), and I think some clips from Lost would be a good way of illustrating the Panopticon, both as a physical embodiment (a network of surveillance cameras), and as an abstract concept (the feeling of always being watched and how it effects their behavior, even before they know about any cameras).

Another one...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment. Part 3, Chapter 3, Pages 199-207.

Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment. Part 3, Chapter 3, Pages 199-207.
By Bridgett VanDerwalker
Description of Section:
Foucault in this section discusses the two types of controls needed to operate the Panopticon, which are branding and coercive assignment and differential distribution. The Panopticon, provides both separation of the individuals and discipline from the observation tower but more importantly from within the cell that of the individual monitoring themselves. The Panopticon, is seen as a solution to the dark, hidden, and openness of a dungeon to the fully lighted, enclosed, and visible cell of the Panopticon. Foucault goes on to describe the benefits and effects of such an apparatus upon society as a whole in the many different institutions that employ it. Foucault points out that the Panopticon is a machine, an exercise in power, adaptable, and can be a laboratory.
Key Terms:
Differential Distribution
Analytical Arrangement of Space
Laboratory of Power
Comments and Questions:
Foucault starts his argument by saying that "all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode: that of binary division and branding…and that of coercive assignment of differential distribution…" (199). These two modes of control can be seen in the operation of the Panopticon. Foucault then describes the architectural features of Bentham's Panopticon and the features that make it different from the old dungeon model. The features of the Panopticon enclose the individual, exposes the individual to surveillance by shining light upon them, however, one could make the argument that such a system isn't the best for the individual because they are not allowed a moments rest and it affects the mind over the body which is a much more complex entity. Foucault states that "Visibility is a trap" (200). Indeed, visibility is a trap, in that it expresses the individual's true condition while at the same time the supervisor is invisible which guarantees order in the individual. The individual is always under scrutiny and is never allowed privacy or self decency. This situation results in the individual being the bearer of power, the power to behave, and to summit to the will of the system. The threat of observation is stronger than the individual's will to do wrong in most cases. But as Foucault goes on to demonstrate later in the chapter; this situation applies to many different institutions and manifests itself in different ways.
Foucault summarizes that "The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put to it, produces homogeneous effects of power" (202). Foucault is very skillful in presenting an argument in such a way that the reader is left wondering where he stands on the issues he presents. Does he think the previous assessment of the Panoptican a useful and beneficial instrument or an instrument that destroys society's' freedom? Going back to the previous quote that despite the application it individualizes and classifies according to gaps, skills, crimes, or illness. It is this breakdown that allows the observer to survey more efficiently time wise and effort wise. The Panopticon in the above ways can act as a laboratory that acts as a machine that "carries out experiments, to alter behavior, to train or correct individuals" (203). Thus the Panopticon not only acts as a vehicle to carry out tasks but also as a disciplinary apparatus.
Foucault makes the distinction that the measure to contain a plague functions along similar lines of the operation of the Panopticon, the application is different, however, the separation and isolation of a population during a plague is vital in order to keep control over the disease in order to save lives and avoid death. Foucault says: "The Panopticon, on the other hand, must be understood as a generalizable modal of functioning: a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life of men" (205). The situation of the plague is to save lives while the Panoptican functions to shape lives and demonstrate power. Foucault states that "the Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious case" (205). Foucault says it is widely adaptable and permeates society in so many different ways that it is unavoidable to be subject to its power. He says the Panopticon "is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form" (205). I think Foucault is saying that while constricts the individual it was and is a necessary evil to increase efficiency and ensure order in an ever increasing population. My question is what does Foucault mean when he says that the Panopticon "is a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use" (205). How is the Panopticon a figure of "political technology?"
Foucault describes the many applications that the Panopticon functions to achieve such as to instruct, reform, treat, confine, supervise, and to ensure efficacy. He goes on to say, "It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons" (205). This quote best describes this entire section in it describes how it functions and where it can be used.
Foucault says the Panopticon is an "exercise of power" in that it perfects itself in several ways. It reduces the amount of observers needed, it increases the number of individuals subjected to its power, and reduces space. The strength of the system is that it never intervenes onto the individual's acts as they act as their own supervisor. The system runs smoothly and without noise. By its very physical design "it acts directly on individuals; it gives 'power of mind over mind"'(206). The design insures economy, provides a preventive measure, and functions automatically. The Panopticon is adaptable to any situation and it is this adaptability and reliability that has allowed it to spread to many different institutions over the last two centuries.
Foucault says, "The panoptic mechanism is not simply a hinge, a point of exchange between a mechanism of power and a function; it is a way of making power relations function in a function, and making a function function through these power relations" (207). Basically, the Panopticon could be seen as a world view where the individual is separated and individualized, observed, molded to be efficient by the very structure's design and a place where even the observer can be observed. The power is contained within the tower and with each individual cell and thus the control is self sustaining.

Foucault pg 195-200

Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Chapter three, “Panopticism” pg 195-200


Michel Foucault begins his third chapter entitled “Panopticism” with a description on what happens when the plague comes. He writes what first happens is “a strict spatial partitioning” (195). Everyone in the city is put in a space. This is done to ensure that everyone can be seen and accounted for. In order to contain and treat the plague everyone must be “caged.” Foucault explains, “This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised…– all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism” (197). This is necessary, Foucault explains, in order to both control the plague and to control the evil in people that the plague might bring out.

Foucault next compares a leper to the plague. He uses these two examples not only as literal points of distinction, but also as two different methods of being in society. Lepers represent “rituals of exclusion” and the plague “gave rise to disciplinary projects” (198), or, in other words, “The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations” (198). While two separate diseases mostly operating in different times, they represent two different ways to deal with society.

Foucault makes clear that while the leper and the plague are certainly two different things, they are not necessarily totally separate. The ideas that were present during the treatment of leprosy are still present with the means of treating the plague or other unwanted societal distractions. For example, we place unwanted people in the society (madmen, criminals) in segmented places (the panoptic building). Foucault believes that this is not something that was practiced just in the high time of leprosy and the plague, but that we continue to do the same thing in modern society. He writes,

The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time, by applying the binary branding and exile of the leper to quite different objects; the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms to which the fear of the plague gave rise. (199)

We currently do the same thing to those who we feel are unwanted and abnormal. Foucault feels this mechanism “to brand him and to alter him, are composed of those two forms from which they distantly derive” (199-200).


I decided to do the beginning of the reading assignment again for two reasons. First, I feel this beginning part is important in order to understand the subsequent parts of the reading assignment. And secondly, I have had some experience with leprosy and so found his discussion of it particularly interesting.

I was again confused with the language he uses while describing the techniques for trying to contain the plague. I know that his work is mostly based on interpretation and not theory. But, it seemed a very negative description, something that to me felt like he was saying was a bad element of society. Yet, this is what was done in order to contain the plague, which was responsible for killing many people. For example, when referring to the people quarantined in their houses he says, “Everyone locked up in his cage” (196). And he says that this method, “lays down for each individual his place, his body, his disease and his death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him” (197). He is of course right, in fact dead on. But I am still confused if he is trying to tell us how it is, or if he is making a judgment. His use of language to me suggests that he is critical of it, but I am just not sure.

I found the section where he talks about leprosy and the plague coming together in figurative terms to describe the way in which we deal with unwanted people today very relevant. For example, people who are deemed insane are both exiled and segmented. I think this is not only true for situations today, it is still true for leprosy today. I studied abroad in Thailand for a year and while there I was able to teach an English class in a leprosy camp. I had previously thought that leprosy was no longer a modern problem, that it was eradicated. However, not only is it still a problem in Thailand, (in fact a rather large one) but it is still being treated in the same way. These people are made to feel they have something wrong with them, some sort of curse, and they are told to live in a colony with other lepers. The Thai government does not force them to go, but they are given no support or treatment if they do not go and once it becomes general knowledge that you have leprosy you are immediately ostracized. It is in fact the ancient equivalent to what Foucault thought would happen in the modern era with more modern problems. He is absolutely right when he explains that the way abnormal people are dealt with today is directly related to how the plague and how leprosy was dealt with in the past.