“Panopticism” from Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Michel Foucault

Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, Volume 2, Number 1,Autumn 2008, pp. 1-12 (Article)

Published by Indiana University Press

For additional information about this article

[ Access provided at 3 Mar 2022 19:59 GMT from Oregon State University Libraries ]


autumn 2008 1

�Panopticism� fromDiscipline & Punish:The Birth of the Prison

Michel Foucault

he following, according to an order published at theend of the seventeenth century, were the measures tobe taken when the plague appeared in a town.1

First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town andits outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain ofdeath, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the towninto distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Eachstreet is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps itunder surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be con-demned to death. On the appointed day, everyone is ordered tostay indoors: it is forbidden to leave on pain of death. The syn-dic himself comes to lock the door of each house from the out-side; he takes the key with him and hands it over to the inten-dant of the quarter; the intendant keeps it until the end of thequarantine. Each family will have made its own provisions;but, for bread and wine, small wooden canals are set up be-tween the street and the interior of the houses, thus allowingeach person to receive his ration without communicating withthe supplier and other residents; meat, fish and herbs will behoisted up into the houses with pulleys and baskets. If it is ab-solutely necessary to leave the house, it will be done in turn,avoiding any meeting. Only the intendants, syndics and guardswill move about the streets and also, between the infectedhouses, from one corpse to another, the ‘crows’, who can be leftto die: these are ‘people of little substance who carry the sick,bury the dead, clean and do many vile and abject offices’. It is asegmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed inhis place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life,contagion or punishment.


©2008TheOhioStateUniversity/Officeof Minority Affairs/The Kirwan Institute

“Panopticism” excerpt from DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH by Michel Fou-cault. English Translation copyright © 1977 by Alan Sheridan (New York:Pantheon). Originally published in French as Surveiller et Punir. Copyright© 1975 by Editions Gallimard. Reprinted by permission of Georges Bor-chardt, Inc. for Editions Gallimard.

Inspection functionsceaselessly.Thegaze isalert everywhere:‘A considerable body of militia, commanded by good officersand men of substance’, guards at the gates, at the town hall andin every quarter to ensure the prompt obedience of the peopleand the most absolute authority of the magistrates, ‘as also toobserve all disorder, theft and extortion’. At each of the towngates there will be an observation post; at the end of each streetsentinels.Everyday, the intendantvisits thequarter inhischarge,inquires whether the syndics have carried out their tasks,whether the inhabitants have anything to complain of; they ‘ob-serve their actions’. Every day, too, the syndic goes into thestreet for which he is responsible; stops before each house: getsall the inhabitants to appear at the windows (those who liveoverlooking the courtyard will be allocated a window lookingonto the street at which no one but they may show themselves);he calls each of them by name; informs himself as to the state ofeach and every one of them—‘in which respect the inhabitantswill be compelled to speak the truth under pain of death’; ifsomeone does not appear at the window, the syndic must askwhy: ‘In this way he will find out easily enough whether deador sick are being concealed.’ Everyone locked up in his cage,everyone at his window, answering to his name and showinghimself when asked—it is the great review of the living and thedead.This surveillance is based on a system of permanent regis-

tration: reports from the syndics to the intendants, from the in-tendants to the magistrates or mayor. At the beginning of the‘lock up’, the role of each of the inhabitants present in the townis laid down, one by one; this document bears ‘the name, age,sex of everyone, notwithstanding his condition’: a copy is sentto the intendant of the quarter, another to the office of the townhall, another to enable the syndic to make his daily roll call. Ev-erything that may be observed during the course of the visits—deaths, illnesses, complaints, irregularities—is noted down andtransmitted to the intendants and magistrates. The magistrateshave complete control over medical treatment; they have ap-pointed a physician in charge; no other practitioner may treat,no apothecary prepare medicine, no confessor visit a sick per-son without having received from him a written note ‘to pre-vent anyone from concealing and dealing with those sick of thecontagion, unknown to the magistrates’. The registration of thepathological must be constantly centralized. The relation ofeach individual to his disease and to his death passes throughthe representatives of power, the registration they make of it,the decisions they take on it.Five or six days after the beginning of the quarantine, the

process of purifying the houses one by one is begun. All the in-habitants are made to leave; in each room ‘the furniture andgoods’ are raised from the ground or suspended from the air;perfume is poured around the room; after carefully sealing thewindows, doors and even the keyholes with wax, the perfumeis set alight. Finally, the entire hose is closed while the perfume

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 2

michel foucault

is consumed; those who have carried out the work are searched,as they were on entry, ‘in the presence of the residents of thehouse, to see that they did not have something on their personsas they left that they did not have on entering’. Four hours later,the residents are allowed to re-enter their homes.This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in

which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in whichthe slightest movements are supervised, in which all events arerecorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing links thecentre and periphery, in which power is exercised without di-vision, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in whicheach individual is constantly located, examined and distribut-ed among the living beings, the sick and the dead—all thisconstitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism.The plague is met by order; its function is to sort out everypossible confusion: that of the disease, which is transmittedwhen bodies are mixed together; that of the evil, which is in-creased when fear and death overcome prohibitions. It laysdown for each individual his place, his body, his disease andhis death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and om-niscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninter-rupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individ-ual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of whathappens to him. Against the plague, which is a mixture, disci-pline brings into play its power, which is one of analysis. Awhole literary fiction of the festival grew up around theplague: suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the frenzy of pass-ing time, bodies mingling together without respect, individu-als unmasked, abandoning their statutory identity and the fig-ure under which they had been recognized, allowing a quitedifferent truth to appear. But there was also a political dreamof the plague, which was exactly its reverse: not the collectivefestival, but strict division; not laws transgressed, but the pen-etration of regulation into even the smallest details of every-day life through the mediation of the complete hierarchy thatassured the capillary functioning of power; not masks thatwere put on and taken off, but the assignment to each individ-ual of his ‘true’ name, his ‘true’ place, his ‘true’ body, his ‘true’disease. The plague as a form, at once real and imaginary, ofdisorder had as its medical and political correlative discipline.Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the hauntingmemory of ‘contagions’, of the plague, of rebellions, crimes,vagabondage, desertions, people who appear and disappear,live and die in disorder.If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion,

which to a certain extent provided the model for and generalform of the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise todisciplinary projects. Rather than the massive, binary divisionbetween one set of people and another, it called for multipleseparations, individualizing distributions, and organization indepth of surveillance and control, an intensification and a ram-ification of power. The leper was caught up in a practice of re-

autumn 2008 3


jection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his doom in a massamong which it was useless to differentiate; those sick of theplague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partitioning inwhich individual differentiations were the constricting effectsof a power that multiplied, articulated and subdivided itself;the great confinement on the one hand; the correct training onthe other. The leper and his separation; the plague and its seg-mentations. The first is marked; the second analysed and dis-tributed. The exile of the leper and the arrest of the plague dono bring with them the same political dream. The first is thatof a pure community, the second that of a disciplined society.Two ways of exercising power over men, of controlling theirrelations, of separating out their dangerous mixtures. Theplague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy,surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized bythe functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinctway over all individual bodies—this is the utopia of the per-fectly governed city. The plague (envisaged as a possibility atleast) is the trial in the course of which one may define ideallythe exercise of disciplinary power. In order to make rights andlaws function according to pure theory, the jurists place them-selves in imagination in the state of nature; in order to seeperfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state ofplague. Underlying disciplinary projects the image of the plaguestands for all forms of confusion and disorder; just as the imageof the leper, cut off from all human contact, underlies projectsof exclusion.They are different projects, then, but not incompatible ones.

We see them coming slowly together, and it is the peculiarity ofthe nineteenth century that it applied to the space of exclusionof which the leper was the symbolic inhabitant (beggars,vagabonds, madmen and the disorderly formed the real popu-lation) the technique of power proper to disciplinary partition-ing. Treat ‘lepers’ as ‘plague victims’, project the subtle segmen-tations of discipline onto the confused space of internment,combine it with the methods of analytical distribution proper topower, individualize the excluded, but use procedures of indi-vidualization to mark exclusion—this is what was operatedregularly by disciplinary power from the beginning of the nine-teenth century in the psychiatric asylum, the penitentiary, thereformatory, the approved school and, to some extent, the hos-pital. General speaking all the authorities exercising individualcontrol function according to a double mode; that of binary di-vision and branding (mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; nor-mal/abnormal); and that of coercive assignment, of differentialdistribution (who he is; where his must be; how he is to becharacterized; how he is to be recognized; how a constantsurveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way,etc.). On the one hand, the lepers are treated as plague victims;the tactics of individualizing disciplines are imposed on the ex-cluded; and, on the other hand, the universality of disciplinarycontrols makes it possible to brand the ‘leper’ and to bring into

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 4

michel foucault

play against him the dualistic mechanisms of exclusion. Theconstant division between the normal and the abnormal, towhich every individual is subjected, brings us back to our owntime, by applying the binary branding and the exile of the leperto quite different objects; the existence of a whole set of tech-niques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correct-ing the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanismsto which the fear of the plaque gave rise. All the mechanisms ofpower which, even today, are disposed around the abnormalindividual, to brand him and to alter him, are composed ofthose two forms from which they distantly derive.

Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this com-position. We know the principle on which it was based: at theperiphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; thistower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the innerside of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells,each of which extends the whole width of the building; theyhave two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to thewindows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows thelight to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that isneeded, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and toshut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, aworker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can ob-serve from the tower, standing out precisely against the light,the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They arelike so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actoris alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. Thepanoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it pos-sible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, itreverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its threefunctions—to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide—it pre-serves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lightingand the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, whichultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.To begin with, this made it possible—as a negative effect—to

avoid those compact, swarming, howling masses that were tobe found in places of confinement, those painted by Goya or de-scribed by Howard. Each individual, in his place, is securelyconfined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the su-pervisor; but the side walls prevent him from coming into con-tact with his companions. He is seen, but he does not see; he isthe object of information, never a subject in communication.The arrangement of his room, opposite the central tower, im-poses on him an axial visibility; but the divisions of the ring,those separated cells, imply a lateral invisibility. And this invis-ibility is a guarantee of order. If the inmates are convicts, thereis no danger of a plot, and attempt at collective escape, the plan-ning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal influences; ifthey are patients, there is no danger of contagion; if they aremadmen there is no risk of their committing violence upon oneanother; if they are schoolchildren, there is no copying, no

autumn 2008 5


noise, no chatter, no waste of time; if they are workers, there areno disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those distractionsthat slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or causeaccidents. The crowd, a compact mass, a locus of multiple ex-changes, individualities merging together, a collective effect, isabolished and replaced by a collection of separated individuali-ties. From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by amultiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; from thepoint of view of the inmates, by a sequestered and observedsolitude (Bentham, 60–64).Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the in-

mate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assuresthe automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things thatthe surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discon-tinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tendto render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architecturalapparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining apower relation independent of the person who exercises it; inshort, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situa-tion of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, itis at once too much and too little that the prisoner should beconstantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what mattersis that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because hehas no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laiddown the principle that power should be visible and unverifi-able. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes thetall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon.Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is beinglooked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he mayalways be so. In order to make the presence or absence of theinspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, can-not even see a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetianblinds on the windows of the central observation hall, but, onthe inside, partitions that intersected the hall at right anglesand, in order to pass from one quarter to the other, not doorsbut zig-zag openings; for the slightest noise, a gleam of light, abrightness in a half-opened door would betray the presence ofthe guardian.2 The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating thesee/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen,without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everythingwithout ever being seen.3

It is an important mechanism, for it automatizes and disin-dividualizes power. Power has its principle not so much in aperson as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces,lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanismsproduce the relation in which individuals are caught up. Theceremonies, the rituals, the marks by which the sovereign’s sur-plus power was manifested are useless. There is a machinerythat assures dissymmetry, disequilibrium, difference. Conse-quently, it does not matter who exercises power. Any individ-ual, taken almost at random, can operate the machine: in theabsence of the director, his family, his friends, his visitors, even

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 6

michel foucault

his servants (Bentham, 45). Similarly, it does not matter whatmotive animates him: the curiosity of the indiscreet, the maliceof a child, the thirst for knowledge of a philosopher whowishes to visit this museum of human nature, or the perversityof those who take pleasure in spying and punishing. The morenumerous those anonymous and temporary observers are, thegreater the risk for the inmate of being surprised and thegreater his anxious awareness of being observed. The Panopti-con is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wishto put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power.Areal subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious rela-

tion. So it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convictto good behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work,the schoolboy to application, the patient to the observation ofthe regulations. Bentham was surprised that panoptic institu-tions could be so light: there were no more bars, no morechains, no more heavy locks; all that was needed was that theseparations should be clear and the openings well arranged.The heaviness of the old ‘houses of security’, with their fortress-like architecture, could be replaced by the simple, economic ge-ometry of a ‘house of certainty’. The efficiency of power, itsconstraining force have, in a sense, passed over to the otherside—to the side of its surface of application. He who is sub-jected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes respon-sibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spon-taneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the powerrelation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he be-comes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact, theexternal power may throw off its physical weight; it tends tothe non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, themore constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is aperpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation andwhich is always decided in advance.Bentham does not say whether he was inspired, in his pro-

ject, by Le Vaux’s menagerie at Versailles: the first menagerie inwhich the different elements are not, as they traditionally were,distributed in a park (Loisel, 104–7). At the centre was an octag-onal pavilion which, on the first floor, consisted of only a singleroom, the king’s salon; on every side large windows looked outonto seven cages (the eighth side was reserved for the en-trance), containing different species of animals. By Bentham’stime, this menagerie had disappeared. But one finds in the pro-gramme of the Panopticon a similar concern with individualiz-ing observation, with characterization and classification, withthe analytical arrangement of space. The Panopticon is a royalmenagerie; the animal is replaced by man, individual distribu-tion by specific grouping and the king by the machinery of afurtive power. With this exception, the Panopticon also does thework of a naturalist. It makes it possible to draw up differences:among patients, to observe the symptoms of each individual,without the proximity of beds, the circulation of miasmas, theeffects of contagion confusing the clinical tables; among

autumn 2008 7


schoolchildren, it makes it possible to observe performances(without there being any imitation or copying), to map apti-tudes, to assess characters, to draw up rigorous classifications,and, in relation to normal development, to distinguish ‘lazinessand stubbornness’ from ‘incurable imbecility’; among workers,it makes it possible to note the aptitudes of each worker, com-pare the time he takes to perform a task, and if they are paid bythe day, to calculate their wages (Bentham, 60–64).So much for the question of observation. But the Panopticon

was also a laboratory; it could be used as a machine to carry outexperiments, to alter behaviour, to train or correct individuals.To experiment with medicines and monitor their effects. Totry out different punishments on prisoners, according to theircrimes and character, and to seek the most effective ones. Toteach different techniques simultaneously to the workers, to de-cide which is the best. To try out pedagogical experiments—and in particular to take up once again the well-debated prob-lem of secluded education, by using orphans. One would seewhat would happen when, in their sixteenth or eighteenth year,they were presented with other boys or girls; one could verifywhether, as Helvetius thought, anyone could learn anything;one would follow ‘the genealogy of every observable idea’; onecould bring up different children according to different systemsof thought, making certain children believe that two and twodo not make four or that the moon is a cheese, then put themtogether when they are twenty or twenty-five years old; onewould then have discussions that would be worth a great dealmore than the sermons or lectures on which so much money isspent; one would have at least an opportunity of making dis-coveries in the domain of metaphysics. The Panopticon is aprivileged place for experiments on men, and for analyzingwith complete certainty the transformations that may be ob-tained from them. The Panopticon may even provide an appa-ratus for supervising its own mechanisms. In this central tower,the director may spy on all the employees that he has under hisorders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders; he will beable to judge them continuously, alter their behaviour, imposeupon them the methods he thinks best; and it will even be pos-sible to observe the director himself. An inspector arriving un-expectedly at the centre of the Panopticon will be able to judgeat a glance, without anything being concealed from him, howthe entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, en-closed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, isnot the director’s own fate entirely bound up with it? The in-competent physician who has allowed contagion to spread, theincompetent prison governor or workshop manager will be thefirst victims of an epidemic or a revolt. ‘”By every tie I coulddevise”, said the master of the Panopticon, “my own fate hadbeen bound up by me with theirs”’ (Bentham, 177). The Panop-ticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to itsmechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in theability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 8

michel foucault

the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledgeover all the surfaces on which power is exercised.The plague-stricken town, the panoptic establishment—the

differences are important. They mark, at a distance of a centuryand a half, the transformations of the disciplinary programme.In the first case, there is an exceptional situation: against an ex-traordinary evil, power is mobilized; it makes itself everywherepresent and visible; it invents new mechanisms; it separates, itimmobilizes, it partitions; it constructs for a time what is both acounter-city and the perfect society; it imposes an ideal func-tioning, but one that is reduced, in the final analysis, like theevil that it combats, to a simple dualism of life and death: thatwhich moves brings death, and one kills that which moves.The Panopticon, on the other hand, must be understood as ageneralizable model of functioning; a way of defining powerrelations in terms of the everyday life of men. No doubt Ben-tham presents it as a particular institution, closed in upon itself.Utopias, perfectly closed in upon themselves, are commonenough. As opposed to the ruined prisons, littered with mech-anisms of torture, to be seen in Piranese’s engravings, the Pan-opticon presents a cruel, ingenious cage. The fact that it shouldhave given rise, even in our own time, to so many variations,projected or realized, is evidence of the imaginary intensitythat it has possessed for almost two hundred years. But thePanopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it isthe diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its idealform; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistanceor friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and op-tical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology thatmay and must be detached from any specific use.It is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform pris-

oners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, toconfine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars andidlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of dis-tribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchi-cal organization, of disposition of centres and channels ofpower, of definition of the instruments and modes of interven-tion of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, work-shops, schools, prisons. Whenever one is dealing with a multi-plicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form ofbehaviour must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used.It is—necessary modifications apart—applicable ‘to all estab-lishments whatsoever, in which, within a space not too large tobe covered or commanded by buildings, a number of personsare meant to be kept under inspection’ (Bentham, 40; althoughBentham takes the penitentiary house as his prime example, itis because it has many different functions to fulfil—safe cus-tody, confinement, solitude, forced labour and instruction).In each of its applications, it makes it possible to perfect the

exercise of power. It does this in several ways: because it can re-duce the number of those who exercise it, while increasing thenumber of those on whom it is exercised. Because it is possible

autumn 2008 9


to intervene at any moment and because the constant pressureacts even before the offences, mistakes or crimes have beencommitted. Because, in these conditions, its strength is that itnever intervenes, it is exercised spontaneously and withoutnoise, it constitutes a mechanism whose effects follow from oneanother. Because, without any physical instrument other thanarchitecture and geometry, it acts directly on individuals; itgives ‘power of mind over mind’. The panoptic schema makesany apparatus of power more intense: it assures its economy (inmaterial, in personnel, in time); it assures its efficacity by itspreventative character, its continuous functioning and its auto-matic mechanisms. It is a way of obtaining from power ‘in hith-erto unexampled quantity’, ‘a great and new instrument of gov-ernment…; its great excellence consists in the great strength it iscapable of giving to any institution it may be thought proper toapply it to’ (Bentham, 66).It’s a case of ‘it’s easy once you’ve thought of it’ in the polit-

ical sphere. It can in fact be integrated into any function (educa-tion, medical treatment, production, punishment); it can in-crease the effect of this function, by being linked closely with it;it can constitute a mixed mechanism in which relations ofpower (and of knowledge) may be precisely adjusted, in thesmallest detail, to the processes that are to be supervised; it canestablish a direct proportion between ‘surplus power’ and ‘sur-plus production’. In short, it arranges things in such a way thatthe exercise of power is not added on from the outside, like arigid, heavy constraint, to the functions it invests, but is so sub-tly present in them as to increase their efficiency by itself in-creasing its own points of contact. The panoptic mechanism isnot simply a hinge, a point of exchange between a mechanismof power and a function; it is a way of making power relationsfunction in a function, and of making a function functionthrough these power relations. Bentham’s Preface to Panopticonopens with a list of the benefits to be obtained from his ‘inspec-tion-house’: ‘Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigo-rated—instruction diffused—public burthens lightened—Economyseated, as it were, upon a rock—the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in architecture!’(Bentham, 39).Furthermore, the arrangement of this machine is such that

its enclosed nature does not preclude a permanent presencefrom the outside: we have seen that anyone may come and ex-ercise in the central tower the functions of surveillance, andthat, this being the case, he can gain a clear idea of the way inwhich the surveillance is practised. In fact, any panoptic insti-tution, even if it is as rigorously closed as a penitentiary, maywithout difficulty be subjected to such irregular and constantinspections: and not only by the appointed inspectors, but alsoby the public; any member of society will have the right tocome and see with his own eyes how the schools, hospitals,factories, prisons function. There is no risk, therefore, that theincrease of power created by the panoptic machine may degen-

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 10

michel foucault

erate into tyranny; the disciplinary mechanism will be demo-cratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible ‘to thegreat tribunal committee of the world’.4 This Panopticon, sub-tly arranged so that an observer may observe, at a glance, somany different individuals, also enables everyone to come andobserve any of the observers. The seeing machine was once asort of dark room into which individuals spied; it has become atransparent building in which the exercise of power may be su-pervised by society as a whole.The panoptic schema, without disappearing as such or los-

ing any of its properties, was destined to spread throughout thesocial body; its vocation was to become a generalized function.The plague-stricken town provided an exceptional disciplinarymodel: perfect, but absolutely violent; to the disease thatbrought death, power opposed its perpetual threat of death; lifeinside it was reduced to its simplest expression; it was, againstthe power of death, the meticulous exercise of the right of thesword. The Panopticon, on the other hand, has a role of ampli-fication; although it arranges power, although it is intended tomake it more economic and more effective, it does so not forpower itself, nor for the immediate salvation of a threatened so-ciety: its aim is to strengthen the social forces—to increase pro-duction, to develop the economy, spread education, raise thelevel of public morality; to increase and multiply.How is power to be strengthened in such a way that, far

from impeding progress, far from weighing upon it with itsrules and regulations, it actually facilitates such progress? Whatintensificator of power will be able at the same time to be amultiplicator of production? How will power, by increasing itsforces, be able to increase those of society instead of confiscat-ing them or impeding them? The Panopticon’s solution to thisproblem is that the productive increase of power can be assuredonly if, on the one hand, it can be exercised continuously in thevery foundations of society, in the subtlest possible way, and if,one the other hand, it functions outside these sudden, violent,discontinuous forms that are bound up with the exercise ofsovereignty. The body of the king, with its strange material andphysical presence, with the force that he himself deploys ortransmits to some few others, is at the opposite extreme of thisnew physics of power represented by panopticism; the domainof panopticism is, on the contrary, that whole lower region, thatregion of irregular bodies, with their details, their multiplemovements, their heterogeneous forces, their spatial relations;what are required are mechanisms that analyse distributions,gaps, series, combinations, and which use instruments that ren-der visible, record, differentiate and compare: a physics of a re-lational and multiple power, which has its maximum intensitynot in the person of the king, but in the bodies that can be indi-vidualized by these relations. At the theoretical level, Benthamdefines another way of analysing the social body and thepower relations that traverse it; in terms of practice, he definesa procedure of subordination of bodies and forces that must in-

autumn 2008 11


crease the utility of power while practising the economy of theprince. Panopticism is the general principle of a new ‘politicalanatomy’ whose object and end are not the relations of sov-ereignty but the relations of discipline.Thecelebrated, transparent, circular cage,with itshigh tower,

powerful and knowing, may have been for Bentham a projectof a perfect disciplinary institution; but he also set out to showhow one may ‘unlock’ the disciplines and get them to functionin a diffused, multiple, polyvalent way throughout the wholesocial body. These disciplines, which the classical age had elab-orated in specific, relatively enclosed places—barracks, schools,workshops—and whose total implementation had been imag-ined only at the limited and temporary scale of a plague-strick-en town, Bentham dreamt of transforming into a network ofmechanisms that would be everywhere and always alert, run-ning through society without interruption in space or in time.The panoptic arrangement provides the formula for this gener-alization. It programmes, at the level of an elementary and eas-ily transferable mechanism, the basic functioning of a societypenetrated through and through with disciplinary mechanisms.


1. Archives militaires de Vincennes, A1,516 91 sc. Pièce. This regu-lation is broadly similar to a whole series of others that date from thesame period and earlier.

2. In the Postscript to the Panopticon, 1791, Bentham adds dark in-spection galleries painted in black around the inspector’s lodge, eachmaking it possible to observe two storeys of cells.

3. In his first version of the Panopticon, Bentham had also imaginedan acoustic surveillance, operated by means of pipes leading from thecells to the central tower. In the Postscript he abandoned the idea, per-haps because he could not introduce into it the principle of dissymme-try and prevent the prisoners from hearing the inspector as well as theinspector hearing them. Julius tried to develop a system of dissym-metrical listening (Julius, 18).

4. Imaging this continuous flow of visitors entering the centraltower by an underground passage and then observing the circularlandscape of the Panopticon, was Bentham aware of the Panoramasthat Barker was constructing at exactly the same period (the firstseems to have dated from 1787) and in which the visitors, occupyingthe central place, saw unfolding around them a landscape, a city or abattle. The visitors occupied exactly the place of the sovereign gaze.

Works Cited

Archives militaires de Vincennes, A1,516 91 sc.Bentham, J., Works, ed. Bowring, IV, 1843.Julius, N. H. Leçons sur les prisons, I, 1831 (Fr. trans.).Loisel, G. Histoire des menageries, II, 1912.

race /ethnicity vol. 2 / no. 1 12

michel foucault

Is this the question you were looking for? Place your Order Here