September 8, 2011

The typology of the prison has evolved from the thick heavy walled fortress to the reading of a permeable facade. This transition reflects the change in the delivery of punishment from the public spectacle to an exercise of justice. The panopticon is described as utopia, a perfect society, the perfect exercise of power. This may be the case when the alternative is physical torture but the teaching of discipline to reform criminals echoes the dynamics also visible in other institutions. The school for instance, as a student you must obey your teacher. You can only eat at specific times, must wear a uniform and others determine what you shall be taught. The extension of this is the workplace.

The panopticon is a mode of social discipline, a method of flexible control, where the illusion of shared power is disseminated. (Illusion a reference to the exhibitionary complex and the self regulation of behavior.) I am not making an argument that discipline should not be taught but the typology of the panopticon does not exist. If it did it would not be regarded as a place of punishment that would be accepted by society. The panopticon as articulated by Foucault is reminiscent to a place of mediation. (I think so anyway. It’s seems quite pleasant apart from the fact that you are constantly being watched.)

The issue I take is that with discipline comes domination and submission. Institutions can have the effect of neutralising resistance, questioning. Institutions can condition behavior, what is socially acceptable, what is normal or abnormal. Stigma or prejudice might not originate from the institution but they do enforce them.


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