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.
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.