Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

85: Michel Foucault part VII:
The Means of Correct Training & Panopticism

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         In these two chapters from Michel Foucault's book “Discipline and Punish,” he elaborates on the micro-physics and the technologies of a new disciplinary power first used in the army and then applied to education, medicine, penology, architecture and every other branch of knowledge that touches human life. This new disciple “makes” individuals but “it is not a triumphant power,... it is a modest suspicious power, which functions as a calculated but permanent economy.”
         Prior to the 17th century education of all kinds (scholastic or trade) was handled through the apprenticeship model. An aspiring artisan or scholar would go and study under a master learning by doing what the master did or reading what the master read. Graduation from this system meant that the aspiring artisan would create his own “master piece” or the scholar would successfully defend his position.
         A new notion started to become popular in the late 17th century: “'strict discipline' as the art of correct training.” The strict discipline refers to the systematic and complete control of every aspect of human life. Three instruments of this new discipline that took on new powers and technologies are 1) hierarchical observation, 2) normalizing judgment and 3) examination.
         Hierarchical observation was expanded from the master observing the apprentice in correct technique to the harnessing of every object of human contact and the marshaling of a network of supervisors supervising supervision. Foucault gives examples of bathroom stalls with half doors and classroom doors with windows that allowed observation to take place at anytime. An additional example was the multiplication of supervisory statuses for example in the practice of having a head boy of the class.
         Normalizing judgment refers to the quasi-judicial privileges of authorities in laying down the rules (not the law) and the punishments for their infractions. It is labeled quasi because normalizing judgments function like legal judgments but work in extra-judicial spaces; not to prevent or deter crime but to normalize behaviour. “Like surveillance and with it, normalization becomes one of the great instruments of power a the end of the classical age [the 17th and 18th centuries].” The whole idea of the norm as we understand it today began as a power relation by people in authority imposing a discipline on their subjects. The norm was the statistical average full stop; but in the classical age the concept grew to became the minimum threshold and/or the goal when the norm did this it became a power relation instead of a description.
         The modern examination (in the broadest sense) could not exist except for the existence of the first two: the normalizing gaze. the modern exam makes it possible to qualify, classify and punish based a seemingly objective and scientific standard. This standard is far from objective is is whimsical; it is parading as objective: “the examination is, as it were, the ceremony of this objectification....In it the 'subjects' were presented as 'objects' to the observation of a power that was manifested only by its gaze.” The examination further provides an individual history through the accumulation of a permanent paper trail. These examinations have proliferated to every aspect of our lives such that we are now “a case which at one and the same time constitutes an object for a branch of knowledge and a hold of a branch of power.”
         In the chapter “Panopticism,” Foucault gives an account of the sub-ideology of panopticism. A sub-ideology is refers to the notion that there are ideas and practices that underlie all modern ideologies. Panopticism is the term he gives to the sub-ideology that formed the modern disciplinary society. “ a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets...” and while it started in the army, it has become pervasive in all our institutions. Panopticism, meaning the ideology of “all seeing,” was and is the ideology necessary to create a disciplined society.
         By disciplines Foucault means the “techniques for assuring the ordering of human multiplicities.” Now this has always been the focus and goal of power however in our modern world the new disciplines had three new goals to fulfill: 1) to apply power at the lowest political and economic cost, 2) to extend the effects of this power to the greatest degree without failure and lastly 3) to increase the docility and the utility of the subjects.
         These three goals had a two particular historical developments to deal with 1) the movement of people: industrialization and mercantilism created the new rich who had to get people off the land and into their factories. Industrialization “liberated” people (peasants, slaves, and indentured workers) from their ties to established hierarchies and moved them to the new hierarchies. Once the movement started and the new bourgeoisie had their new labour they wanted to keep fixed the new labour. The new discipline was an anti-nomadic technique. 2) The second development was the increasing complexity of the apparatus of production. This required more skills and a new money owner would find it useful if the foreman did not keep leaving. Again the new nomadic movement of the people had to stop once the labour force was moved and trained.
         The old powers were rigid and expensive to operate. “For the old principle of 'levying-violence,' which governed the economy of power, the disciplines substitute the principle of 'mildness-production- profit.' These are the techniques that make it possible to adjust the multiplicity of men and the multiplication of the apparatuses of production.” The development of the accumulation of capital would not have made the West the dominant culture on earth without the development of a disciplinary society – for both have appeared in other cultures. Their two mutually reinforcing and co-temporal developments are the force that made the West dominate the rest. The principles of capital accumulation developed in many cultures at many times; new disciplines are the foundation and emergence of established cast and feudal systems. Foucault hints that their emergence at about the same time in Western history was an accident of history that propelled the west from a poor back water part of the world to the height of world history.
         Recall from last time that the disciplines are the manifold instruments, technologies and procedures that make people more docile while at the same time making them more productive. The disciplines are therefore a counter power to the political-juridical notions of rights. While the bourgeoisie was acquiring political power it championed egalitarian principles while enforcing increasing discipline. The disciplines are the dark side of modern “progress” in that they set up and perpetuate ever more power imbalances and inequalities. The panoptic modality of power works against the enlightenment ideology of rights and freedoms while making them possible.

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren