Complete and Austere Institutions

September 7, 2011

Both the essays have the ability to allow the reader to understand the concepts that drive the prison such as the impact of surveillance to make a body docile in the panopticon. There is a strong lineage that is drawn within the essay that derives from a methodical approach of how a plague-stricken town was dealt with to the surveillance technique used in prisons. However, what the essay doesn’t account for is the consideration of the rest of society in relation to the prison occupants resulting in an introverted approach to the discipline in prisons.

The essay only talks about the time spent in prison of the prisoner’s timeline and never mentions the impact of what happens beyond the prison once released back into society. As such, the evaluation of the docility of a prisoner within the institution would not be sufficient in determining the prisoner’s ability to function in a given society unless it is a collective of congruently docile bodies.


“The prison has neither exterior nor gap; it cannot be interrupted, except when its task is totally completed; its action on the individual must be uninterrupted; an unceasing discipline.”

The prisoner when subjected to a constant state of isolation or punishment will inevitably learn to adapt to the situation, given that the sentence is over a long period of time. There is a relationship in that prisoners suffer from recidivism as a result of wanting to be back into that controlled state where everything is monitored, though this largely occurs in prisoners that have grown accustomed to the environment. Therefore, Foucault’s ideology of punishment doesn’t take into account the aspect of time, though he talks about the qualitative nature of it. From a reader’s point of view, one that has never been to prison of endured what the situation depicts, hearing the controlled state of being constantly watched and monitored and kept isolated will sound terrifying. If the reader was a long time occupant of said scenario, that environment has become what they know and ultimately what they’ve grown accustomed to, and wouldn’t have as strong an impact as what we would otherwise envision.

Though the essay succeeds in drawing a link within itself, it ends up becoming like a prison in that it’s a self regulating microcosm that doesn’t take into account of certain variables that would ultimately affect the actual outcome, which is shown through the failure of a panoptic prison.


jacky chan


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