Tag Archives: Panopticon

Foucault and the Classroom Panopticon

Prof. Kim attempts to thwart digital distraction by limiting the use of such devices in his class at the York University’s Schulich School of Business.  The professor has his students sign two contracts.  The first is not to use technologically adversely and the second is to alert him if they find another student is breaking the first.  “There’s not an ounce of scientific evidence that students can actually multitask” (Brown 2012).

Prof. Kim’s classroom seems to mimic Betham’s panopticon.  The panopticon was designed with a larger outer circle to hold the prisioners and a smaller inner circle where the guards would be stationed.  The circular architure allowed for the inmates to be viewable at all times, without the inmates themselves being able to discern when they were being viewed.  This also lead into efficiency, as Professor Larsen explains, two guards can observe hundreds of inmates (personal communication November 9 2012).  Foucault insinuates that Betham laid down the “principal that power should be visible and unverifiable” (Pavlich 144).   Like the panoptican, Prof. Kim’s students are now the guards.  “Perpetual gaze…[creates] constant self-awareness…[the observed become] complacent in their own surveillance (Pavlich 144).  Meaning that they become used to being observed and curtail the perceived deviant behaviour.  For example, a college classroom.  Laptop/cell-phone usage is on display to others around the user.  By incorporating the classmates as guards, he has effectively created multiple panopticons throughout the classroom ironically run by the inmates. Which is quite ingenious.

He is retraining their behavior by offering by dangling a carrot in front of them.  An illusion of a reward.  A retelling of rule.  Like the food pyramid of yesteryear.  The wording of the pyramid suggest a simple, straight-forward answer to being overweight, assorted illness, etc.  Healthy doesn’t take much work, all you need is 5 servings of fruits and veggies.  Snitching doesn’t require much effort.  It’s for the embetterment of your scholastic career.

In 1757 Damiens tried to a assassinate King Louis XV (15th) by stabbing him.  The punishment for this transgression, he was sentence to torture and executed.  It was orringally supposed to last less then an hour but it carried on for several hours.  The tortures used hot pinchers to peel the flesh from his skin and pour hot oil and other noxious heated fluids.  The offending hand was to be burnt with oil and sulphur.  But in actuality it barely scorched his hand.  Four horses were used to draw his limbs for quartering.  But because of the horses inexperience two more were added to the team.  Several attempts where made to detach the limbs while Damiens was still alive (personal communication November 9, 2012).  The point here is the ceremony created in this draconian display.  A sovereign is vastly outnumbered by their subjects.  They use ceremony of the execution to show the majesty of the sovereign.  To make an example of the person.  If you go against my rules, this is the punishment you will suffer.  Earlier executions where a community event.  Children where brought and food was sold.  There were stories of people arriving hours before hand to obtain prime viewing spots.

In conclusion, Prof. Kim created a panoptic-esque in his classroom by proffering broad rewards, rephrased to make them more appealing and ‘sensible’ to the student.  Constant observation is believed to make the observed self-control their own behavior after a fashion, because they did not know when they were not being observed.  Though this type of constant surveillance is linked to several mental disorders, that once release would make it almost impossible to reenter society.  Damiens was held as an example for those who dare to trespass against their rulers wishes.  The ceremony is almost more important then the crime.


Brown, L. (2012, November 2). York University prof enlists student snitches to battle digital distraction. Toronto Star [Toronto].  Retrieved November 10, 2012 from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/education/article/1282225–york-university-prof-enlists-student-snitches-to-battle-digital-distraction.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Michel Foucault:The Power of Law and Society. In Law & society redefined (pp. 136-151). Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.


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Disciplinary power

From my understanding of the class lecture and the textbook reading on Michel Foucault’s modes of power, disciplinary power is about training the actions of bodies and a mechanism that is responsible for the regulation of behaviour of individuals http://www.michel-foucault.com/concepts/index.html. Disciplinary power comes into action when a population is under surveillance and/or are being monitored by a few people of ‘power’. Disciplinary power broke off from sovereign power by virtue of the fact that it was interested in investing in and enhancing life, rather than punishing by incapacitation or death as previously seen in sovereign power. Moreover, disciplinary power focuses on structuring the individual’s behaviour and mindset by targeting “correction…[and] rehabilitation through subtle, indirect, and judgmental micro-practices,“ rather than direct infliction on the body (Pavlich, 2011, p.143). According to Foucault, power is omnipresent, it is essentially everywhere; he goes on to say that it “comes from everywhere“ so in this sense we can interpret that power is neither an agency or structure (Foucault, 1998, p.63).

We see this when Foucault discusses Bentham’s panopticon, a prison with a tower at the center of the building from which it is possible for the guards to see each cell in which prisoners are incarcerated. In this system, each prisoner is seen but cannot communicate with anyone. Prisoners are under surveillance during every aspect of their lives under the guise of reforming them for the better rather than merely seeking retribution for their crimes. The systems of surveillance in the panopticon did not require force or violence, just the mere fact of observation changed the ways in which the prisoners acted.

When making a connection to the panopticon to the real world (life outside prison), I do believe that disciplinary techniques such as surveillance do in fact create `disciplinary subjects,` I think this because I have observed that people act differently than they normally would when they think they are being watched. Just like the panopticon, people discipline themselves and behave in ways society expects them to act, for example by following societal norms and such. In society, people conform to the ideas of norms in order to be presumed normal rather than abnormal. Disciplinary power creates a body of knowledge and behaviour known as “discursive practice” which defines what acts are normal, acceptable, deviant, etc (Foucault, 1991). Till date, disciplinary power can be observed in systems of administration or social services, such as prisons, schools, workplaces, and mental hospitals.

Most people have been subjected to disciplinary power at almost every step at life as I have, though many have not even thought of be subjected to it. For instance, in childhood our actions are monitored by parents who teach us values and normative behaviours of their society (Krevans and Gibbs, 1996; Halpenny et al., 2009). Later on, we are surveilled by teachers in schools; I think it is somewhat appropriate to say that in schools teachers train/teach us to conform in acceptable ways (school policies would be a strong example). As life goes on we experience disciplinary power in the workforce (we follow and abide the policies put out by our employers). Reflecting back, I cannot remember/retrieve an instance on which I have resisted disciplinary mechanisms; I think I have been a person who conforms to societal norms.

Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London, Penguin.
Foucault, M. (1998). The History of Sexuality: the will to knowledge. London, Penguin.
Halpenny, A. M. et al. (2009). Parenting Styles and Discipline: Parent’s Perspectives Summary Report. The National Children’s Strategy Research Series.
Krevans, J. & Gibbs, J. (1996). Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 67:3263-3277.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford.

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