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Lecture Three - Panopticism

Carrying on form Social Control, Physchoanalysis and the Male Gaze.

How the social culture we are born in to effects the way we behave. The way society effects our conciousness. We are also talking about institutions and the power they hold over us. 

By Institutions. This is things that have a physical presence. Example being Prisons, The Army or The Police. Or institutions that have organised behaviour. 

‘Literature, art and their respective producers do not exist independently of a complex institutional framework which authorises, enables, empowers and legitimises them. This framework must be incorporated into any analysis that pretends to provide a thorough understanding of cultural goods and practices.’ 

 Randal Johnson in Walker & Chaplin (1999)

Artists are working into a framework such as exhibitions or galleries which restricts them from doing certain things and guides them in certain ways. This is a specific form or Institutional Power called Panopticism.

Lecture Aims

• To understand the principles of the panopticon.

• To Understand Michel Foucault's concept of 'Disciplinary Society'.

• Consider the idea that disciplinary society is a way of making individuals 'productive' and 'useful'.

• To understand Foucault's idea of techniques of the body and 'docile' bodies.

The Panopticon 

Michel Foucailt (1926 - 1984)

Books He Wrote:-

Madness & Civilistation - Talks about madness not being a recognisable condition 

Discipline & Punish  - The emergence of the prison as an institution and modern forms of discipline. 

He tried to deconstruct - Mad, Sane, Good , Evil, Heterosexual, Homosexual.

Back in the middle ages there was no stripped conception of madness. Madmen lived an easy, go-lucky life and was accepted in society. Allowed to live with everyone else and was thought of as 'the village idiot' becoming part of the fabric of society. 

This was the case until the 1600's when a new sensibility started to emerge which concerned a new attitude to work and the social value of work from a moral stand point. Not only to make stuff for society but to make people better. All the people that could be bracketed as socially useless - outside the poole of productive labourers - was put into 'houses of correction'. They was prisons/factories. They threw all the mad people in there along with criminals, drunks, vagabonds, the diseased and single mothers. 

Inside they was assigned a task of work at a work station and made to work or else they got beaten with a big stick. This went on for a while to 'make these people better' through the honest of work. 


• ‘Houses of correction’ to curb unemployment and idleness

The Birth Of The Asylum

In the 1800's the houses of correction was seen as a mistake. All the different classes would corrupt each other. This was seen as an error and made specialist institutions come into place. Like The Prison, The Hospitals and The Asylum. 
The Asylum would correct the people in the same way that a hospital would correct the sick. The institutions worked on corrected inmates in a very different way.  Instead of physical violence to make people behave, more subtle tecnniques were used. Inmates were tacticly treated like children. If they behaved apropriatly, they were given rewards and their behiaviour was celebrated and if they behaved badly they were told of by a leading figure. 
Foucault sees that there is a shift from pre-modern socirtys, control through violence to a more specialised form of social control which is predominately mental. Subtly training people to behave and corrected instead of punishing. 

There is  new forms of society happening at this time. Doctors gain a new bigger role in society. 

The emergence of forms of knowledge – biology, psychiatry, medicine, etc., legitimise the practices of hospitals, doctors, psychiatrists.

Foucault aims to show how these forms of knowledge and rationalising institutions like the prison, the asylum, the hospital, the school, now affect human beings in such a way that they alter our consciousness and that they internalise our responsibility.

the important thing for Foucault is how these changes make us within an institution, take responsibility for our own discipline rather than using mindless violence. In some way under the modern form of discipline we take care of ourselves. 

This is a modern sophisticated style of discipline. 

Before this, discipline was served as a very visible reminder of the ultimate power of the state over you. You will be punished in front of everyone in a disgusting humiliating way. 

Criminals was put in the blocks and killed or badly injured. This was a sign of the power of the state and a reminder not to test that. If you are a deviant then the state will physically harm you. 

This is Guy Faulks and the exact punishment that happened to him when he tried to blow up the houses of parliment. He was beaten alive, hung by the neck, testicles cut of and bowls cut out. Your head is severed from your body. 

Disciplinary Society & Disciplinary Power

Discipline is a ‘technology’ [aimed at] ‘how to keep someone under surveillance, how to control his conduct, his behaviour, his aptitudes, how to improve his performance, multiply his capacities, how to put him where he is most useful: that is discipline in my sense’ (Foucault,1981 in O’Farrrell 2005:102)

A society with a new form of diciplinary power which infuses every aspect of our lives. This quote above is interesting. We focus more on surveillance to control beahviour thoughts and feelings. Modern displine with an ultimate aim of making our lives better in modern society


This was named after a building called The Panopticon. Designed by a philisopher in 1791 - Jeremy Bentham. This was proposed as a design for a generic insitution that was multifunctional. this could be a hospital, a school, a prison, an asylum or workhouse. 

It is a circular building with cells around the outside on a number of floors. 

There have een many built in the modern era. 

This is an actual panopticon which still exists in Cuba

Millbank Prison - Where the Tate Britain is now

There is a number of cells and each cell is totally open from the front, facing into the interior. It has a large window at the back of each cell where an individual is placed in each one. 

What is special about the building is that is has a mental effect. Bentham proposed the building as 'THE PERFECT INSTITUTION' for whatever purpose you made for it. 

The reason for this is that the inmates are constantly staring at the central observation tower where there are a few supervisors. In the case of a prison, guards. The inmates cannot see each other but constantly the guards in the centre. This has a really strange effect on them...

It is entirley the opposite of a dungeon, both physisophically and practiaclly 

A dungeon is where you lock away and hide them in the dark and forget about them. Repressing the demons. But in the panopticon, everything is light, visible and on display which is exactly the opposite. 

Foucault is interested in this. 

This is the view from a cell in the panopticon 

Because your constantly reminded that you are being watched by someone who expects you to behave, what happens is that ultimately, you never ever behave in the way that a supervisor would want you to. 

If you was to rebel you would be spotted, so whats the point? You have no one to engage with which causes an internal form of torture. 

If this was a school, theres no danger of people talking to each other. If it's a prison theres no way inmates can talk and act together. If it's a workhouse, they will just work hard. 

The Panopticon internalises in the individual the conscious state that he is always being watched

‘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.’ (Foucault 1975)

They had blinds up there so that people couldn't tell if there was guards or not which eventually give the situation where they didn't need guards to be there for the prisoners to behave. 

 Not just about control and disciplin but also about surveillance and control. It allows for scrutiny and specialist to carry out experiments on people. this is a photograph is surrey county asylum. 

•Allows scrutiny

•Allows supervisor to experiment on subjects

•Aims to make them productive

•Reforms prisoners

•Helps treat patients

•Helps instruct schoolchildren

•Helps confine, but also study the insane

•Helps supervise workers

•Helps put beggars and idlers to work.

They way the panotpicon works is through this notion of the gaze. The patriatcal gaze forces women to take on a certain look that would please them. The women act up to the male social defination. In the pantopitcon, you act up to not individuals, but the gaze of the institution. You start to behave in the way that the institution would want you too, without anyone actually forcing you to. 

•What Foucault is describing is a transformation in Western societies from a form of power imposed by a ‘ruler’ or ‘sovereign’ to……….. A NEW MODE OF POWER CALLED “PANOPTICISM”

•The ‘panopticon’ is a model of how modern society organises its knowledge, its power, its surveillance of bodies and its ‘training’ of bodies.

Modern Day Panopticism

We start seeing this panoptic power in modern day life.

Here is an open plan ofice which makes us think we all get along and share experience and get together. It is much less social in reality because you can always be seen by the boss. This changes behaviour of the workers because you know you are being scritinsed which makes you conform. 

The office is a great example. David Brent is the manager and the humor of the program is that the people always know that they are being filmed. 

What starts to happen is that the people in the office start to act up to the notion of what an office should act like. David Brent acts up to a really good role when he really has no respect because really he's shit.

Open plan bars means that everything in the bar is visible to the bouncers and staff. 

The experience of feeling socially awkward in a bar is because you always know your being watched which makes you behave in a more responsibile way. When you walk in, everyone can see you 

Pubs are cosier because you have an intimate space where you can relax aways from scrutiny. 

This is the old LCA Graphic Studio. 
Andy created his own little panopticon to make students work all the time. 

Panopticism relys on teh fact that you are always being watched until you start to conform. At no other point in history have we ever been scrutinised as much. Here is richards house. You can go to street level and look in through the windows. 

This is a lecture in a panoticon. In each of these seats, there is a barrier between the students so they can't talk to each other and only see the lecturer. This structure is designed to maximise the efficiency of education. 

It is now accident that lecture theatres are organised how they are. Richard can see all the people in the lecture theatre. This instantly makes us look forward an be attentive which is conforming to society. 

We are expected to conform and we do it. A register is another form of surveillance which allows the college to keep track of us. We attend classes because if we don't we will be punished because our actions are being monitored. 

In this situation, what is happening is a panoptic system that is effectively making us conform to what the institution wants us to do. We are being forced to behave in a more useful way. It's a forma of mental power and discipline in what we act on ourselves. 

There is a swipe system which means you have to clock in and off which means that you want to stay here longer because they can monitor when your going in and out. 

There is over 20 cameras in college recording our actions on film. 

This is the HR office in LCA. It contains rows of records on each member of staff. Richard has two cabinets full of stuff meaning he's aware of everything he does is recorded.

The old IT office. they can open your desktop in the college network and look at all your files and websites you have visited. 

Every single website that we have visited in college is recorded on a massive database. 

They can also record you keystrokes per minute to see how hard your working. 

Relationship between Power, Knowledge & The Body

‘power relations have an immediate hold upon it [the body]; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs’ (Foucault 1975)

It is a mental process, but it has a massive physical effect on our bodies. This form of power produces 'dosile bodies'. This means there will be no resistance to power. 

Disciplinary Society produces what Foucault calls:- ‘docile bodies’ that are:-

•Self monitoring
•Obedient bodies

A soldier is a perfect example of this. Carrying out orders with maximum efficiency. 

Disciplinary Techniques

“That the techniques of discipline and ‘gentle punishment’ have crossed the threshold from work to play shows how pervasive they have become within modern western societies” (Danaher, Schirato & Webb 2000)


Everywhere you go, you are told to watch your weight and health. This is on food packaging and being told to eat your five a day. You start to feel guilty if you don't conform. 

Most modern gyms have a large window and open plan which is a sign that you need to show your perfect body off to the world. 

You might think that this is a good thing that the governent just wants us to be healthy.  The first thing the tory government did was raising the retirement age for workers to 68. This is because people are living longer so they need them to work longer.

Watching TV and surfing the internet is a perfect example of conforming to this. 

Foucault and Power

•His definition is not a top-down model as with Marxism

•power is not a thing or a capacity people have – it is a relation between different individuals and groups, and only exists when it is being exercised.

•the exercise of power relies on there being the capacity for power to be resisted

•‘Where there is power there is resistance’

We are willingly being controlled by entering the relationship as the submissive in the case of us being at university. You can also see this is the gaze. Certain kinds of women are actively being submissive to the male idea of what it is to be a female. 

Once you realise that this is happening then there are revolutionary possibilties of resistance. 


The film 1984 is based on Panoptism. 

Social Media is a really interesting system. We are aware that everything we put up there is observed and documented. Everything you do will make a reaction. This makes us behave in a certain way that isn't normal. 

You can also use this to act up to the Facebook gaze and put on a performance. You can shape an identity for yourself. The reality of your life is not the reality on Facebook. 

 Key Things To Take Away 

•Michel Foucault
•Panopticism as a form of discipline
•Techniques of the body
•Docile Bodies

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