5 Mar

Panopticism – Foucault

Utopia of the Perfectly Governed City (Blockade)

A plague-stricken town utilizes a disciplinary mechanism. The town is enclosed, space is segmented, everyone is observed at every point and are inserted at a fixed place, the slightest movement are supervised, all events recorded. The function is to sort out every possible confusion and maintain order.

Panopticon: A Self-Regulating Structure

A panopticon consist of an annular building with a tower in the center covered with wide windows. The peripheric building is divided into cells that extends the whole width of the building with two windows (one facing the tower and the other facing the outside allowing light to cross one end to another)

The spatial arrangement of this panoptic mechanism makes it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. It reverses the principle of the dungeon, or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide. Visibility is a trap.

Securely confined to a cell, each individual can be seen by the supervisor but the sidewalls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions. He is seen but he does not see. The major effect of the panopticon is to assure the automatic functioning of power, by having the individual in a state of conscious and permanent visibility. For the surveillance to be permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action: the perfection of power should make the action of it unnecessary. The architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; basically it is a self-regulating structure.

Bentham says that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible meaning the tower will always be there to remind the individual of his actions. Unverifiable meaning the individual must never know whether he is being watched at any one moment, but must be sure that he may always being watched.

The panopticon also acts as a device to monitor it’s own system (it’s nurses, doctors, employees, etc.). It also functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behavior. Knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.

Plague-stricken Town VS. Panopticon

In the town, there’s an exceptional situation, against an extraordinary evil. Power is mobilized, present and visible to invent new mechanisms; separates, immobilizes, partitions, and construct a perfect city and an ideal functioning. However, it is reduced to a simple dualism of life and death that brings death.

The panopticon in comparison is a generalizable model of human functioning, a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life, closed in upon itself, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction.

The panopticon serves to reform prisoners but also treat patients, instruct school children, confine insane, supervise workers, put beggars to work. This disciplinary machine can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools and prisons, with the location of bodies in space, distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power.

The advantage is that it makes it possible to perfect the exercise of power and does this by reducing number of those who exercise it, and increasing number of those on whom it is exercised. It gives power of mind over mind.

The panoptic mechanism is not simply a point of exchange between a mechanism of power and a function, it’s a way of making power relations function in a function and of making a function function through these power relations. There is no risk in the increase of power created by the panoptic machine falling to tyranny because the disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled. It acts as a transparent building in which exercise of power may be supervised by a society as a whole.

The panopticon has a role of amplification – it arranges power, intends to make it more economic and effective, though not for power nor saving a threatened society but to strengthen social forces – increase production, develop economy, spread education, raise level of public morality, to increase and multiply.

How will power by increasing its forces be able to increase those of society instead of confiscating them or impeding them? The panopticon solution is that productive increase of power can be assured only if on one hand, it can be exercised continuously in the very foundations of society, in the most subtle way possible, and on other hand it functions outside these sudden, violent, discontinuous forms that are bound up with the exercise of sovereignty (One powerful ruler, etc.)

There are then two images of discipline – the discipline blockade which is an enclosed situation established on the edges of society turned inward towards negative functions – arresting evil, breaking communications, suspending time. The other is Panopticism which is the 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.


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