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Panopticism

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Panopticism
Summary
Foucault begins with a description of measures to be taken against the plague in the seventeenth century: partitioning of space and closing off houses, constant inspection and registration. Processes of quarantine and purification operate. The plague is met by order. Lepers were also separated from society, but the aim behind this was to create a pure community. The plague measures aim at a disciplined community. The plague stands as an image against which the idea of discipline was created. The existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring and supervising abnormal beings brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms created by the fear of the plague. All modern mechanisms for controlling abnormal individuals derive from these.
Foucault then discusses Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, a building with a tower at the center from which it is possible to see each cell in which a prisoner or schoolboy is incarcerated. Visibility is a trap. Each individual is seen but cannot communicate with the warders or other prisoners. The crowd is abolished. The panopticon induces a sense of permanent visibility that ensures the functioning of power. Bentham decreed that power should be visible yet unverifiable. The prisoner can always see the tower but never knows from where he is being observed.
The possibility that the panopticon is based on the royal menagerie at Versailles is raised. The Panopticon allows on to do the work of a naturalist: drawing up tables and taxonomies. It is also a laboratory of power, in which experiments are carried out on prisoners and staff. The plague-stricken town and the panopticon represent transformations of the disciplinary programme. The first case is an exceptional situation, where power is mobilized against an extraordinary evil. The second is a generalized model of human functioning, a way of defining…...

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