Monday, December 10, 2007

Foucault: Panopticism

Response by Matt Dewey

In this chapter of Discipline and Punish, Foucault explains and updates Jeremy Bentham’s theory and structure of the panopticon; ‘a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power’(pg. 202). In practice it affects a simple sense or awareness of being observed, of a visibility or transparentness of action that creates, or disciplines, a method of behavior. It is through this ‘affected consciousness’ that we self regulate.

Foucault discusses panopticism that can or is applied to different type of social contexts. He describes it use or potential uses for the schools, hospitals and prisons as he does throughout the book. But these are concrete or enclosed structures, ‘rigorously closed’ (207) is what Foucault calls it, and in a sense, places that we may have very little say whether we become part of or not. Foucault also discussed the panopticism in the economy, in the mass production of goods; this still seems like an architectural, objective ‘place’ that we move in an out of. What about this movement; physical, conceptual and virtual?

Is this the part where I run for cover from the floating ‘all-seeing eye’?

‘Panopticism is the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline’ (pg. 208).

So the panopticon is not a mechanism for the flexing of sovereign or state power but the order of disciplines; it is surveillance for social norms and habits of production, for the disciplines that have been created out of the logic and rationalization of the processes of an, ‘accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital’ (221). But, for instance, I know I can be locked away for certain behaviors and if I didn’t show up to classes I would lose my assistantship (so which one is discipline and which one is panopticism?).

Boise State is a ‘place’ as well, and its panopticism I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as architectural, though individual spaces, such as the setups of class rooms or the placement of offices in some of the buildings, may stretch the definition. So I don’t necessarily feel ‘observed’ in both Bentham and Foucault’s rendering of the panopticon. However certain mechanisms of validity may have this effect:

-are grades a discipline or a panopticism, is there any reason why they are both?
- is Tenure discipline and panopticism as well?
-are evaluations disciplines or the panopticon?

Though grades and tenure are not physical places, they are concrete applications and they are also integrated into the mechanism that is education. So is education the discipline or the panopticon, or does education use the theory of panopticism to reinforce discipline? Is there a difference between education and an educational situation or atmosphere? What does an ‘F’ in a class really mean then; that the student is refusing to be disciplined? Should we look at an ‘F’ so romantically?

So, this string of questions surrounds where Foucault places the panopticon outside the institution…For instance is it the retrievability of information and traffic in the capabilities of the Internet that serve the modern panopticism? I guess this issue with panopticism outside of physical places, or mechanisms of institutions stems from what Foucault says about movement and discipline:

‘...one of the primary objects of discipline is to fix; is an anti-nomadic technique’
(pg.218).

‘…That is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion; it dissipates compact grouping of individuals wandering about the country in unpredictable ways; it establishes calculated distributions’ (pg. 219).

- Movements of information, people?

Is 'Staticness' outdated? We move quite a bit today; if not from job to job and house to house, town to town, then from interest to interest, webpage to webpage, the new to the now. In our present state of economic relations a ‘global environment’ one must utilize changeability and liquidation, outsource, consolidate and restructure based on market needs- our human relations are not so physically defined as they were twenty years ago. This creates a picture of constant movement. There is as well another modern trend- the ability with Internet technology to fulfill ones basic needs and not even leave the house; work from home, have groceries delivered, download games and movies, and webcam just about everything.

In the first scenario it would seem that discipline could not be static in order to assert the same type of control, or the type of control that constitutes modern control, but because Foucault describes discipline as the result of our need for efficiency and order (and finally, on pg. 222, referring to the ‘Enlightenment’), has discipline created such unfixed fluidity or simply the ability to ‘aim’ such movement in a desired direction? What is fixed- the need for efficiency or the types of disciplines…The panopticon would have to move too. If discipline, ‘dissipates groups of individuals from wondering the about the country in unpredictable ways’, then it must some how make those way predictable and perhaps this is forging of predictability is a process of consolidation, for instance in media and bandwidth ownership today.

I guess we could predict that the need for efficiency could discipline us right into scenario two, to our sofas. This scene of willful and necessary banishment from the literal outside makes it easy to imagine a panoptic presence through the Internet and internet protocols. I can easily see email and the type of ‘presence’ that IM adjusts for digital communication as a type of discipline. The message then leaves a digital footprint that can be traced, if needed, recovered, dated and timed and authenticated. This capability, or the threat of using this capability by those in authority, seems to be a characteristic of the Panopticon. Individualized, enclosed, and under surveillance- this seems like a return to the control of a plague stricken town at the end of the seventeenth century that Foucault begin the chapter with.

1 comment:

MoshuaJoody said...

Very interesting theorizing.