Beyond Foucault
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Beyond Foucault

New Perspectives on Bentham's Panopticon

Anne Brunon-Ernst

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eBook - ePub

Beyond Foucault

New Perspectives on Bentham's Panopticon

Anne Brunon-Ernst

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About This Book

In his hugely influential book Discipline and Punish, Foucault used the example of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison as a means of representing the transition from the early modern monarchy to the late modern capitalist state. In the former, power is visibly exerted, for instance by the destruction of the body of the criminal, while in the latter power becomes invisible and focuses on the mind of the subject, in order to identify, marginalize, and 'treat' those who are regarded as incapable of participating in, or unwilling to submit to, the disciplines of production. The Panopticon links the worlds of Bentham and Foucault scholars yet they are often at cross-purposes; with Bentham scholars lamenting the ways in which Foucault is perceived to have misunderstood panopticon, and Foucauldians apparently unaware of the complexities of Bentham's thought. This book combines an appreciation of Bentham's broader project with an engagement of Foucault's insights on economic government to go beyond the received reading of panopticism as a dark disciplinary technology of power. Scholars here offer new ways of understanding the Panopticon projects through a wide variety of topics including Bentham's plural Panopticons and their elaboration of schemes of 'panoptic Utopia', the 'inverted Panopticon', 'panoptic governance', 'political panopticism' and 'legal panopticism'. French studies on the Panopticon are groundbreaking and this book brings this research to an English-speaking audience for the first time. It is essential reading, not only for those studying Bentham and Foucault, but also those with an interest in intellectual history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and those studying contemporary surveillance and society.

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Historiography Reconsidered: From Discipline to Governmentality

Chapter 1
Deconstructing Panopticism into the Plural Panopticons

Anne Brunon-Ernst
People at the beginning of the nineteenth century 
 did not fail to notice the appearance of what I’ve been calling – somewhat arbitrarily but, at any rate, in homage to Bentham –‘panopticism’.1
The introductory quote shows that, among many projects written at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Michel Foucault isolated the Panopticon scheme as the epitome of the transformations taking place at the time. He then identified aspects of today’s society that were consistent with panopticism, which is the name he gives to his interpretation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. Scholarship now holds surveillance as synonymous with Foucault’s panopticism.2 This first chapter contends that Foucault’s reading of the Panopticon projects was fractional and partial, and points out the ways in which Foucault’s understanding of panopticism reflects an incomplete image of modern society whose surveillance mechanisms are further explored in the Epilogue.3 Of course, Foucault was not the first to unearth Panopticon; or the Inspection-House from the 11-volume set of the Works of Jeremy Bentham (John Bowring (ed.), 1838–43).4 Bentham’s proposals for social reform were widely circulated throughout the nineteenth century, both in Britain and abroad, and in the period before the appearance of the Works. In the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville was preparing his trip to the United States to study the American prison system, for example, his background research on prison reformers involved reading works by Bentham, Cesare Beccaria and John Howard.5 Nevertheless, the importance of Discipline and Punish in reviving interest in Bentham’s Panopticon should not be underestimated. Most people in Europe and the United States have read Bentham’s Panopticon through the lens of Foucault’s work on the prison system. Ironically, Foucault’s massive contribution to the revival of interest in the Panopticon has created significant problems for Bentham scholars, since Foucault’s work misrepresents Bentham and his project. Foucault’s interpretation has even provided critical vocabulary with a new Benthamesque adjective – ‘panoptic’6 – the application of which strikes fear in the heart of every freedom-loving individual.
This chapter will unravel the critical reception of the Panopticon and tabulate the competing interpretations of it now in currency in the academic world. Bentham scholarship has documented the existence of several Panopticons, but that scholarship has not been fully registered, nor have the wide-ranging implications of this plurality of design (both architectural and intellectual) been fully developed by the rest of academia. The second aim of this chapter is to explore these several manifestations of the panoptic principle in Bentham’s thought, in order to highlight the differences between Foucault’s ‘panopticism’ and Bentham’s own panoptic paradigm. The survey offered in this opening chapter will therefore provide a framework for the debate between Bentham’s ideas and their Foucaultian interpretation. Furthermore, Foucault is credited with having made the Panopticon the epitome of disciplinary society. The third aim is to identify some aspects of the Panopticon that are akin to Foucault’s concept of governmentality rather than of discipline. Consideration of the use of Bentham’s original panoptic paradigm in other disciplinary fields, and of the wider implications of the distinction made in this volume between Bentham’s Panopticon and Foucault’s panopticism, will be reserved for the Epilogue.7 Before commencing the discussion of Foucault’s transformation of the Panopticon,8 the following caveat should be borne in mind: this chapter should not be read as an attempt to evaluate Foucault’s project as either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. As Bentham himself would have recognised, all thinking necessarily selects ‘facts’, and makes connections and disconnections between them according to their salience for the particular end in view.9 Foucault’s panoptic discourse provides one instance of such strategic decision-making.
To prepare for some of the arguments of the essay, it is necessary to offer an initial explanation of certain key terms. This volume opposes ‘Panopticon’ to ‘panopticism’ in order to distinguish between the terms of Bentham’s project and their reception in Foucault’s theory. Nevertheless, this distinction is not used consistently in academic writing, since there are many fields of study where Bentham’s Panopticon is mistakenly identified with Foucault’s panopticism.10 By following these terminological guidelines I hope to avoid the pitfalls of identifying Bentham’s project with Foucault’s strategic reinterpretation.
This linguistic choice11 is of course consistent with my overall strategy critically to examine Foucault’s work in relation to his source materials, and to discard and redefine Foucault’s definitions of ‘panoptic’ and ‘Panopticon’. Paradoxically, this volume of essays opts to retain Foucault’s definition of ‘panopticism’, since he coined the term. Nevertheless, since Foucault’s idea of ‘panopticism’ is mainly grounded on Bentham’s first description of the Panopticon, that is the penitentiary described in 1786–91, and since Foucault never addressed the later and more complex versions of Panopticon which appeared between 1798 and 1830, Foucaultian terminology is inadequate fully to capture the characteristics of those later plural Panopticons.12

Bentham’s Four Panopticons

Bentham’s engagement with the Panopticon takes place primarily in five different works: Panopticon; or the Inspection-House (1786 and 1790–91); Outline of a Work entitled Pauper Management Improved (1797–98); Panopticon versus New South Wales (1802); Chrestomathia (1816–1817); and Constitutional Code (1830). Three of the four later discussions do more than merely replicate the 1786–91 Panopticon. Instead, they present amended versions of the first project, reflecting its adaptation and reconfiguration to new contexts. The exception is Panopticon versus New South Wales, which did not add any new features to the idea (and therefore does not qualify for a separate entry in the present panoptic taxonomy), but rather discussed the comparative advantages of panoptic management and deportation.13 For the sake of clarity, therefore, this chapter will distinguish four distinct Panopticons, namely: the ‘prison-Panopticon’, the ‘pauper-Panopticon’, the ‘chrestomathic-Panopticon’ and the ‘constitutional-Panopticon’.
The first ‘prison-Panopticon’ project is to be found in Panopticon; or the Inspection-House.14 It depicts a prison where inmates are securely kept under lock and key, with the aim of rooting out their ingrained criminal habits and setting them to work. The first part of this project was written in 1786 (and not in 1787 as the title page suggests15) when Jeremy Bentham was visiting Russia, where his brother Samuel had conceived the original idea of central inspection which he applied to his workers on the Potemkin estate.16 The first part of the project was published in 1791, along with two postscripts written in 1790–91.17 The main feature of the first Panopticon is a circular building with a central inspector who can oversee the activities of the convicts in their cells. The purpose of their confinement is to facilitate the extraction of work from them, with a view to their moral reformation. Two additional features of the building are its secured access and its courtyards, which provide for daily open-air exercise without permitting communication between different classes of convicts.
By contrast, the ‘pauper-Panopticon’18 project is a revised version of the first Panopticon, for the housing of indigents. It was designed to provide for its inmates’ subsistence but also, as previously, for reformation and work. The pauper-Panopticon was initially published in a series of papers in Annals of Agriculture (1797–98).19 One of its additional features is a complex management system ultimately overseen by Parliament and featuring centrally a National Charity Company, a joint-stock company with a board of directors (modelled on that of the East India Company) and shareholders (the initial funding through poor rates was to be progressively replaced by a profit-yielding operation where shareholders redeemed benefits from the inmates’ work). Further modifications of building and management rules allowed for the accommodation of different categories of inmate. Thus marital sex was to be facilitated by circumferential privacy screens and guardian elders would provide guidance to those at risk of corruption. A large proportion of the population were to be children, while the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the lazy and the criminal were all included in the working population of the pauper-Panopticon. Space was organised around the institution’s purposes of production, reproduction and education.20
In Chrestomathia (1816–17),21 Bentham set out a syllabus for schools for the middle classes, developed around a reformed utilitarian pedagogical purpose, and provided an outline of the ‘chrestomathic-Panopticon’. Bentham proposed a Panopticon-shaped day-school, where one inspecting master could supervise more than 600 pupils per room, aged seven to 17 years old, without being seen. The plan was based on what Bentham called the scholar-teacher principle, whereby the more advanced pupils taught the less advanced, for the greatest improvement of the minds of students and the pockets of their parents. Bentham decided to re-visit his earlier ideas, even though his project of building the ‘prison-Panopticon’ had failed in 1803 (the outstanding financial questions were finally settled in 1813).22 The shift from the first and second projects to the third and fourth ones highlights the role of the Panopticon not as a project in its own right, but as a paradigm that could be put to use in different circumstances, as Bentham had already pointed out in 1786. Bentham scholarship has noted the use of panoptic principles in later works.23
Years later, Bentham felt the need to re-visit the panoptic paradigm in his plan for a universal utilitarian constitution designed to achieve good government. I term the panoptic features in Constitutional Code (1830) the ‘constitutional-Panopticon’. The term Panopticon is not used in Constitutional Code. However, the architectural arrangements are panoptic. There is no central tower, but the position of the Prime Minister is at the centre of the oval-shaped building, and communication between the PM and his Ministers, and between Ministers, is carried out thanks to communication tubes. Moreover, each ministerial office is a 13-sided polygon which admits on each side a public or private waiting-room for the use of suitors who have come to meet the ministers. As in the previous Panopticons, what matters for Bentham is communication (visual or verbal) between supervisors and supervisees, and between both and the rest of the world. To reduce misrule and ensure that the governing functionaries will maximise pleasure and minimise pain, Bentham monitors the governors24 through panoptic devices.25 Surveillance is operative on the part of the PM, thanks to conversation tubes and on the part of the public, which constitutes the Public Opinion Tribunal, thanks to the waiting rooms.
Four Panopticons have now been described: the prison-Panopticon, the ...

Table of contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Half Title page
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Contents
  6. Notes on Contributors
  7. Foreword
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. List of Abbreviations
  10. Introduction
  11. Part I Historiography Reconsidered: From Discipline to Governmentality
  12. Part II Status of the Panopticon in Prison, Penal and Constitutional Reform
  13. Part III Is There a Panoptic Society? Social Control in Bentham and Foucault
  14. Bibliography
  15. Index