Michel Foucault

Discipline and punish

New York: Penguin Books. 1978 [1975].

(see also some notes for a seminar at Teachers College)

on (historical? cultural?) difference

How did

  1. the model of power that is coercive, corporal, solitary, secret (institutionalized in prisons)
  2. replace

  3. the model of power that was representative, scenic, signifying, public, collective (institutionalized as torture)

this is a rewrite of the closing of part II of the book that, by implication, begs the question of historical change in structure and of the distinction between synchrony (either of the two models) and diachrony (was the shift motivated--which requires a theory of social evolution--, or was is unmotivated as authors in the Saussurian or Boasian traditions might suspect.

analysis of sections on discipline


Instead of bending all its subjects into a single uniform mass, it separates, analyzes, differentiates, carries its procedures of decomposition to the point of necessary and sufficient units. It 'trains' the moving, confused, useless multitudes of bodies and forces into a multiplicity of individual elements--small, separate cells, organic autonomies, genetic identities and continuities, combinatory segments. Discipline 'makes' individuals" (p. 170 [200])

The examination also introduces individuality into the field of documentation. The examination leaves behind it a whole meticulous archive constituted in terms of bodies and days. The examination that places individuals in a field of surveillance also situates them in a network of writing; it engages them in a whole mass of documents that capture and fix them. The procedures of examination were accompanied at the same time by a system of intense registration and of documentary accumulation. A ‘power of writing’ was constituted as an essential part in the mechanisms of discipline. (p. 189 [221])

The examination [...] makes each individual a case: a case which [...] constitutes an aboject for a branch of knowledge and a hold for a branch of power. The case is [...] the individual as he may be described, judged, measured, compared with others, in his very individuality; and it is also the individual who has to be trained or corrected, classified, normalized, excluded, etc. (p. 191 [224])

schooling and psychology as the dominant institutions: hegemony or authority? (see also the passages on the delinquent in prison)



full text of this section

full text of Bentham's Panopticon


Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. (p. 201 [234-5])

It is hard to tell whether Foucault is purely quoting Bentham at this point or getting us to assume that, should Bentham panopticon be built, it would have the effect that it is hypothesized to have. Bentham, and possibly Foucault, rely on a form or common sense. Much of American social psychology and cultural anthropology have, in many ways, 'demonstrated' that this common sense is grounded in fundamental processes of the construction of selves. However if we are to doubt common sense, and suspect a major flaw in social psychological theoretical framework, then we must doubt that the Panopticon would have the full disciplining effect Foucault imagines. Actually, in a conversation with Deleuze in 1972 (when he must have been drafting D&D), Foucault sketches my critique here by saying: "And when the prisoners began to speak, they possessed an individual theory of prisons, the penal system, and justice."

How is power to be strengthened in such a way that, far from impeding progress ... it actually facilitates such progress? [... ] The Panopticon's solution to this problem is that the productive increase of power can be assured only if ... it can be exercised continuously in the very foundations of society (208 [242-3])

Foucault does not really tell us how this is done, which is why it is tempting to assumed that this solution operates through the individuals' own selves (habitus...). I suspect however that his solution would be structuralist: the panopticon is a model for all human relations within the historical time when it is at work. It replicates itself endlessly. Thus what we might call the structural isomorphisms across the institutions, second and third degree panopticons, local panopticons, etc. The panopticon is a model in Levi-Strauss's sense leading to the fundamental question: is this be most powerful model needed to understand modern institutions?

When, in the seventeenth century, the provincial schools or the Christian elementary schools were founded, the justifications given for them were above all negative: those poor who were unable to bring up their children left them 'in ignorance of their obligations: given the difficulties they have in earning a living, and themselves having been badly brought up, they are unable to communicate a sound upbringing that they themselves never had'; this involves three major inconveniences: ignorance of God, idleness (with its consequent drunkenness, impurity, larceny, brigandage); and the formation of those gangs of beggars, always ready to stir up public disorder and 'virtually to exhaust the funds of the Hotel-Dieu' (Demia, 60-61). Now, at the beginning of the Revolution, the end laid down for primary education was to be, among other things, to 'fortify', to 'develop the body', to prepare the child 'for a future in some mechanical work', to give him 'an observant eye, a sure hand and prompt habits' (Talleyrand's Report to the Constituent Assembly, lo September 1791, quoted by Leon, 106). The disciplines function increasingly as techniques for making useful individuals. Hence their emergence from a marginal position on the confines of society, and detachment from the forms of exclusion or expiation, confinement or retreat. Hence the slow loosening of their kinship with religious regularities and enclosures. Hence also their rooting in the most important, most central and most productive sectors of society. They become attached to some of the great essential functions: factory production, the transmission of knowledge, the diffusion of aptitudes and skills, the war-machine. Hence, too, the double tendency one sees developing throughout the eighteenth century to increase the number of disciplinary institutions and to discipline the existing apparatuses. (p. 210)

It must be recognized that Foucault spends little time discussing the impact on the person of living within a panopticon. His interest is to point out the evolution of institutions to make them more disciplined (in a panoptic sort of way) with social consequences: forms of surveillance that are detailed (localized) are developed to do something (increased individual productivity within an impersonal system) and actually do so. Here Foucault accepts all 19th and 20th century developments (Durkheim on the division of labor, Parsonian structural-functionalism) as well as Taylor or Henry Ford on the modern factory: the more divided the labor, the more the whole produces, the more individualization.

Discipline and power

It might be said that the disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities [...] every system of power is presented with the same problem. But the peculiarity of the disciplines is that they try to define in relation to the multiplicities a tactics of power that fulfils three criteria

  1. to obtain the exercise of power at the lowest possible cost (economically ... politically);
  2. to bring the effects of this social power to their maxiumum intensity
  3. to link this 'economic' growth of power with the output of the apparatuses (educational...) within which it is exercised

This triple objective ... corresponds to a well-known historical conjuncture. (p. 218)

Here, like everywhere else, Foucault writes in term of "power" but, without quite marking it, returns to social-structural needs, aligning himself with all those from Marx or Weber at least, who have tried to see in 18th century capitalism and ideology a necessary response to a universal process with determined (though often unforeseen or unnoticed) consequences. Caricaturally, it takes the form of historical evolutionism and precisely not of cultural historicism that might argue that other modalities (including modalities of power if one chooses to stay with power as fundamental) might have 'resolved' "the problem of ordering human multiplicities" (note that strict system theorists might see no problem here: large multiplicities may be self-organizing).

One should wonder however whether the historical struggles that move Euro-American history from Bentham's utopia to Horace Mann, Jules Ferry, John Dewey, and so on in the institutionalization and transformations of the school, are necessary developments controlled by "power" (of the State if not of individual dictators). Why not see them as the result of revolutionary struggles against earlier institutions with the disciplines as more than means, but also ends. The fight may not be for power as for authority (understood here perhaps as the exact organization of the panopticon: who may look at what when).

On the disciplined family

(one day we should show how intra-familial relations, essentially in the parents-children cell, have become 'disciplined', absorbing since the classical age external schemata, first educational and military, then medical, psychiatric, psychological, which have made the family the privileged locus of emergence for the disciplinary question of the normal and the abnormal) (p. 215)

Localized panopticons

The disciplines have the precise role of introducing insuperable asymmetries and excluding reciprocities. ... discipline creates between individuals a 'private' link, ... a relation of constraints ...; the way in which it is imposed, the mechanisms it brings into play, the non-reversible subordination of one group of people by another, the 'surplus' power that is always fixed on the same side, the inequalities of position of the differen t'partners' in relation to the common regulation,

The minute disciplines, the panopticisms of everyday may well be below the level of emergence of the great apparatuses and the great political struggles. But ... they have been, with the class domination that traverses it, the political counterpart of the juridical norms according to which power was redistributed. (p. 222-223)

Here, I would say, things get interesting for an ethnographer of modern interactions, looking in detail to what happens in local panopticons, let us say when a teacher examines a student (or an audiologist attempts to determine a level of hearing loss that may have state-controlled medicine proper consequences). Things get interesting because we can now confront Foucault to the human beings got within the panopticon: What does actually happen? This is where I go on to Garfinkel, trust and passing (with a detour through the impossibility of "good records"--important since Foucault appears to assume that disciplined records are actually useful in the way they were justified)

The economy of power

it might be said that the disciplines are techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities ... there is nothing exceptional in this; every system of power is presented with the same problem. But the peculiarity of the disciplines ... This triple objective ... corresponds to a well-known historical conjuncture... large demographic thrust... increase in the floating population ... change in the quantitative scale of the groups to be supervised... The other aspect of the conjuncture was the growth of the apparats of production... (p. 218)

perhaps precisely because "explaying why" the structure Foucault is interested changed is in fact not a central interest of his, that this passage points us to a simple structural-functionalism.

Watching the watchers in the panopticon

The central inspection hall is the pivot of the system. Without a central point of inspection, surveillance ceases to be guaranteed, continuous and general; for it is impossible to have complete trust in the activity, zeal and intelligence of the warder who immediately supervises the cells (p. 250)

One might then argue that the panopticon is in fact a machine to watch over the watchers. The casual introduction of "trust" is interesting and, from an ethnomethodological point of view, central. Even so organized a system seeking to know all eventually must rely on trust, even when it knows that it cannot trust! While Foucault never mentions the fundamental impossiblity to fully catalogue a person or setting, it is somewhat implicated in this comment from someone who was actually building a prison--and probably also implicated in the necessary "failure" of the prison that is the theme of the last pages of the book.

The delinquent is to be distinguished from the offender by the fact that it is not so much his act as his life that is relevant in characterizing him. The penitentiary operation, if it is to be a genuine re-education, must become the sum total existence of the delinquent ... The legal punishment bears upon an act; the punitive technique on a life; it falls to the punitive technique, therefor, to reconstitute all the sordid detail of a life in the form of knowledge, to fill in the gaps of that knowledge and to act upon it by a practice of compusion. It ia biographical knowledge and a technique for correcting individual lifes. [...] Because it establishes the 'criminal' as existing before the crime and even outside of it. ... a psychological causality. (p. 251-2 [292])

degradation ceremonies... Also: a good handle to show the social factuality of "individualism." Individualism is not a belief, or even a discursive assumption, it is the set of institutions that focus the attention on ever more detailed publicized characteristics of persons. Individualism is about being known as unique in specific ways and being treated in terms of these "facts" (these made-up qualifications) that the locally significant others have gotten to associate with the person. (see also Foucault on examinations)

Thursday, September 26, 2002