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 Please read the chapter by Michel Foucault that begins on page 191.  https://selforganizedseminar.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/foucault-panopticism.pdf (Links to an external site.)

By Wednesday of this week, respond to each of the following discussion questions.  Your response should be at least 300 words in total.

1) What is the question being addressed in this text?

2) What is Michel Foucault arguing?

3) What disciplinary techniques did the authorities use to handle the plague?

4) What is the Panopticon?

5) What are its major effects?

6) What are the consequences of those effects?

7) How does the Panopticon achieve those effects?

8) According to Foucault, what is the relationship between the plague-stricken town and the panoptic establishment? In other words, why does he bring them up in the same article? What is his purpose for doing so?







Michel Foucault


The Birth ofthe Prison

Translated from the French

Alan Sheridan




List of Plates
Translator’s Note



I. The body of the condemned

.2.. The spectacle of the scaffold




I. Generalized punishment

2.. The gentle way in punishment




I. Docile bodies 135

The art ofdistrihutions 141

The control ofactivity 149

The organitation ofgeneses 1;6

The composition offorces 162.

2. The means of correct training

Hierarchicalohservation 170

Normaliting judgement 177

The examination 184


3· Panopticism 1)1;

–~~~”‘~ ,


I. Complete and austere institutions

2. Illegalities and delinquency

3. The carceral



23 1

2~7 List of Plates



32 6 (between pages 169 and 170)

1 Medal commemorating Louis XlV’s first military revue in 1668.

2 Handwriting model.

3 Plan of the Panopticon by J. Bentham, 1843.

4 Plan for a penitentiary by N. Harou-Romain, 1840.

5 The Maison centrale at Rennes in 1877.

6 Interior of the penitentiary at Stateville, United States, twentieth


7 Bedtime at the reformatory of Mettray.

8 Lecture on the evils of alcoholism in the auditorium of Fresnes

9 Steam machine for the ‘celeriferous’ correction of young boys and

10 L’ortlwpUie ou [‘art de prIYenir et de corriger dans les enfants les
difformitls du corps (Orthopaedics or the art of preventing and correct­
ing deformities of the body in children) by N. Andry, 1749.


spectacle, sign, discourse; legible like an open book; operating by a
permanent recodification of the mind of the citizens; eliminating
crime by those obstacles placed before the idea of crime; acting
invisibly and uselessly on the ‘soft fibres of the brain’, as Servan put
it. A power to punish that ran the whole length of the social network
would act at each of its points, and in the end would no longer be
perceived as a power of certain individuals over others, but as an
immediate reaction of all in relation to the individual. On the other
hand, a compact functioning of the power to punish: a meticulous
assumption of responsibility for the body and the time of the con­
vict, a regulation of his movements and behaviour by a system of
authority and knowledge; a concerted orthopaedy applied to con­
victs in order to reclaim them individually; an autonomous adminis­
tration of this power that is isolated both from the social body and
from the judicial power in the strict sense. The emergence of the
prison marks the institutionalization of the power to punish, or, to be
more precise: will the power to punish (with the strategic aim adop­
ted in the late eighteenth century, the reduction of popular illegality)
be better served by concealing itself beneath a general social func­
tion, in the ‘punitive city’, or by investing itself in a coercive
institution, in the enclosed space of the ‘reformatory’?

In any case, it can be said that, in the late eighteenth century, one
is confronted by three ways of organizing the power to punish. The
first is the one that was still functioning and which was based on the
old monarchical law. The other two both refer to a preventive,
utilitarian, corrective conception of a right to punish that belongs
to society as a whole; but they are very different from one another
at the level of the mechanisms they envisage. Broadly speaking, one
might say that, in monarchical law, punishment is a ceremonial of
sovereignty; it uses the ritual marks of the vengeance that it applies
to the body of the condemned man; and it deploys before the eyes
of the spectators an effect of terror as intense as it is discontinuous,
irregular and always above its own laws, the physical presence of the
sovereign and of his power. The reforming jurists, on the other
hand, saw punishment as a procedure for requalifying individuals
as subjects, as juridical subjects; it uses not marks, but signs, coded
sets of representations, which would be given the most rapid
circulation and the most general acceptance possible by citizens


The gentle way in punishment

witnessing the scene of punishment. Lastly, in the project for a
prison institution that was then developing, punishment was seen
as a technique for the coercion of individuals; it operated methods
of training the body – not signs by the traces it leaves, in the form
of habits, in behaviour; and it presupposed the setting up of a
specific power for the administration of the penalty. We have, then,
the sovereign and his force, the social body and the administrative
apparatus; mark, sign, trace; ceremony, representation, exercise;
the vanquished enemy, the juridical subject in the process of re­
qualification, the individual subjected to immediate coercion; the
tortured body, the soul with its manipulated representations, the
body subjected to training. We have here the three series of elements
that characterize the three mechanisms that face one another in the
second half of the eighteenth century. They cannot be reduced to
theories of law (though they overlap with such theories), nor can
they be identified with apparatuses or institutions (though they are
based on them), nor can they be derived from moral choices (though
they find their justification in morality). They are modalities accord­
ing to which the power to punish is exercised: three technologies of
power. ,

The problem, then, is the following: how is it that, in the end,
it was the third that was adopted? How did the coercive, corporal,
solitary, secret model of the power to punish replace the representa­
tive, scenic, signifying, public, collective model? Why did the
physical exercise of punishment (which is not torture) replace, with
the prison that is its institutional support, the social play of the signs
of Dunishment and the orolix festival that circulated them?

13 1


bon petit Henri’, but in the misfortunes of ‘little Hans’. The Romance
ofthe Rose is written today by Mary Barnes; in the place of Lance lot,
we have Judge Schreber.

It is often said that the model of a society that has individuals
as its constituent elements is borrowed from the abstract juridical
forms of contract and exchange. Mercantile society, according to
this view, is represented as a contractual association of isolated
juridical subjects. Perhaps. Indeed, the political theory of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often seems to follow this
schema. But it should not be forgotten that there existed at the same
period a technique for constituting individuals as correlative ele­
ments of power and knowledge. The individual is no doubt the
fictitious atom of an ‘ideological’ representation of society; but he is
also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I
have called ‘discipline’. We must cease once and for all to describe
the effects of power in negative terms: it’excludes’, it ‘represses’,
it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power
produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and
rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be
gained of him belong to this production.

Is it not somewhat excessive to derive such power from the petty
machinations of discipline? How could they achieve effects of such

3. Panopticism

The following, according to an order published at the end of the
seventeenth century, were the measures to be taken when the plague
appeared in a town.!

First, a strict spatial partitioning: the dosing of the town and its
outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death,
the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct
quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under
the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he
leaves the street, he will be condemned to death. On the appointed
day, ‘everyone is ordered to stay indoors: it is forbidden to leave
on pain of death. The syndic himself comes to lock the door of
each house from the outside; he takes the key with him and hands
it over to the intendant of the quarter; the intendant keeps it until
the end of the quarantine. Each family will have made its own
provisions; but, for bread and wine, small wooden canals are set up
,between the street and the interior of the houses, thus allowing each
person to receive his ration without communicating with the sup­
pliers and other residents; meat, fish and herbs will be hoisted up
into the houses with pulleys and baskets. If it is absolutely necessary
to leave the house, it will be done in turn, avoiding any meeting.
Only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the
streets and also, between the infected houses, from one corpse to
another, the ‘crows’, who can be left to die: these are ‘people oflittle
substapce who carry the sick, bury the dead, dean and do many vile
and abject offices’. It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each
individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the
risk of his life, contagion or punishment.

Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere: ‘A
considerable body of militia, commanded by good officers and men

194 195


of substance’, guards at the gates, at the town hall and in every
quarter to ensure the prompt obedience of the people and the most
absolute authority of the magistrates, ‘as also to observe all disorder,
theft and extortion’. At each of the town gates there will be an
observation post; at the end of each street sentinels. Every day, the
intendant visits the quarter in his charge, inquires whether the
syndics have carried out their tasks, whether the inhabitants have
anything to complain of; they ‘observe their actions’. Every day,
too, the syndic goes into the street for which he is responsible;
stops before each house: gets all the inhabitants to appear at the
windows (those who live overlooking the courtyard will be allo­
cated a window looking onto the street at which no one but they
may show themselves); he calls each of them by name; informs
himself as to the state of each and every one of them – ‘in which
respect the inhabitants will be compelled to speak the truth under
pain of death’; if someone does not appear at the window, the syndic
must ask why: ‘In this way he will find out easily enough whether
dead or sick are being concealed: Everyone locked up in his
cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing
himself when asked it is the great review of the living and the

This surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration:
reports from the syndics to the intendants, from the intendants to
the magistrates or mayor. At the beginning of the ‘lock up’, the role
of each of the inhabitants present in the town is laid down, one by
one; this document bears ‘the name, age, sex of everyone,
standing his condition’: a copy is sent to the intendant of the quarter,
another to the office of the town hall, another to enable the syndic
to make his daily roll call. Everything that may be observed during
the course of the visits – deaths, illnesses, complaints, irregularities­
is noted down and transmitted to the intendants and magistrates.
The magistrates have complete control over medical treatment; they
have appointed a physician in charge; no other practitioner may
treat, no apothecary prepare medicine, no confessor visit a sick
person without having received from him a written note ‘to prevent
anyone from concealing and dealing wi th those sick of the con taglon,
unknown to the magistrates’. The registration of the pathological
must be constantly centralized. The relation of each individual to his


disease and to his death passes through the 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 inhabi tants are
made to leave; in each room ‘the furniture and goods’ are raised
from the ground or suspended from the air; perfume is poured
around the room; after carefully sealing the windows, doors and
even the keyholes with wax, the perfume is set alight. Finally, the
entire house is closed while the perfume is consumed; those who
have carried out the work are searched, as they were on entry, ‘in
the presence of the residents of the house, to see that they did not
have something on their persons as 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 which the
slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded,
in which an uninterrupted work of writing links the centre and
periphery, in which power is exercised without division, according
to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is con­
stantly located, examined and distributed among the living beings,
the sick and the dead all this constitutes a compact model of the
disciplinary mechanism. The plague is met by order; its function is
to SOrt out every possible confusion: that of the disease, which is

,transmitted when bodies are mixed together; that of the evil, which
is increased when fear and death overcome prohibitions. It lays
down for each individual his place, his body, his disease and his
death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient
power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even
to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes
him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him. Against the
plague, which is a mixture, discipline brings into play its power,

is one o(analysis. A whole literary fiction of the festival grew
up around the plague: suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the
frenzy of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect,
individuals unmasked, abandoning their statutory identity and the
figure under which they had been recognized, allowing a quite
different truth to appear. But there was also a political dream of the

196 197


plague, which was exactly its reverse: not the collective festival,
but strict divisions; not laws transgressed, but the penetration of
regulation into even the smallest details of everyday life through the
mediation of the complete hierarchy that assured the capillary func­
tioning of power; not masks that were put on and taken off, but the
assignment to each individual of his ‘true’ name, his ‘true’ place, his
‘true’ body, his ‘true’ disease. The plague as a form, at once real
and imaginary, of disorder had as its medical and political correlative
discipline. Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the
haunting memory 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 general form of the
great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary pro­
jects. Rather than the massive, binary division between one set of
people and another, it called for multiple separations, individualizing
distributions, an organization in depth of surveillance and control,
an intensification and a ramification of power. The leper was caught
up in a practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his
doom in a mass among which it was useless to differentiate; those
sick of the plague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partition­
ing in which individual differentiations were the constricting effects
of a power that multiplied, articulated and subdivided itself; the great
confinement on the one hand; the correct training on the other.
The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations. The
first is marked; the second analysed and distributed. The exile of
the leper and the arrest of the plague do not bring with them the
same political dream. The first is that of a pure community, the
second that of a disciplined society. Two ways of exercising power
over men, of controlling their relations, of separating out their
dangerous mixtures. The plague-stricken town, traversed through­
out with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town
immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in
a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the
perfectly governed city. The plague (envisaged as a possibility at
least) is the trial in the course of which one may define ideally the
exercise of disciplinary power. In order to make rights and laws


function according to pure theory, the jurists place themselves in
imagination in the state of nature; in order to see perfect disciplines
functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague. Underlying dis­
ciplinary projects the image of the plague stands for all forms of
confusion and disorder; just as the image of the leper, cut off from
all human contact, underlies projects of exclusion.

They are different projects, then, but not incompatible ones. We
see them coming slowly together, and it is the peculiarity of the
nineteenth century that it applied to the space of exclusion of which
the leper was the symbolic inhabitant (beggars, vagabonds, madmen
and the disorderly formed the real population) the technique of
power proper to disciplinary partitioning. Treat ‘lepers’ as ‘plague
victims’, project the subtle segmentations of discipline onto the
confused space of internment, combine it with the methods of analy­
tical distribution proper to power, individualize the excluded, but
use procedures of individualization to mark exclusion – this is what
was operated regularly by disciplinary power from the beginning
of the nineteenth century in the psychiatric asylum, the penitentiary,
the reformatory, the approved school and, to some extent, the
hospitaL Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual

, control function according to a double mode; that of binary division
and branding (mad/sane; dangen;>us/harmless; normal/abnormal);
and that of coercive assignment, of differential distribution (who he
is; where he must be; how he is to be characterized; how he is to be
recognized; how a constant surveillance 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 excluded; and, on the other hand, the universality of disci­
plinary controls makes it possible to brand the ‘leper’ and to bring
into play against him the dualistic mechanisms of exclusion. The
constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which
every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time, by
applying the binary branding and exile of the leper to quite different
objects; the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions
for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into
play the disciplinary mechanisms to which the fear of the plague
gave rise. All the mechanisms of power which, even today, are
disposed around the abnormal individual, to brand him and to alter

198 199


him, are composed those two forms from which they distantly

Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composi­
tion. We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery,
an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with
wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peri­
pheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole
width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside,
corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the out­
side, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other.
All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower
and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man,
a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can
observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light,
the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are
like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is
alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic
mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see con­
stantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the prin­
ciple of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to
deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and elimin­
ates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture
better than darkness, which ultimately 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 to be
found in places of confinement, those painted by Goya or described
by Howard. Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a
cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor; but the
side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his compan­
ions. He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information,
never a subject in communication. The arrangement of his room,
opposite the central tower, imposes on him an axial visibility; but
the divisions of the ring, those separated cells, imply a lateral

And this invisibility is a guarantee of order. If the in­
mates are convicts, there is no danger of a plot, an attempt at
collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad
reciprocal influences; if they are patients, there is no danger of


contagion; if they are madmen there is no risk of their committing
violence upon one another; if they are schoolchildren, there is no
copying, no noise, no chatter, no waste of time; if they are workers,
there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those dis­
tractions that slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or
cause accidents. The crowd, a compact mass, a locus of multiple
exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is
abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities.
From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by a multipli­
city that can be numbered and supervised; from the point of view of
the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude (Bentham,

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate
a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the auto­
matic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveil­
lance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its
action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual
exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a
machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent
of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be
caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the
b~arers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the
prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little,
for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much,
because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham
laid down the principle that power should be visible and unveri­
fiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the
tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon.
Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being
looked at at anyone moment; but he must be sure that he may always
be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector
unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a
shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the
windows of the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions
that intersected the hall at right angles and, in order to pass from
one quarter to the other, not doors but zig-zag openings; for the
slightest noise, a gleam of light, a brightness in a half-opened door
would betray the presence of the guardian. 2 The Panopticon is a

2.00 2.01


machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peri ph­
eric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central
tower, one sees everything without ever being seen. 3

It is an important mechanism, for it automatizes and disindivi­
dualizes power. Power has its principle not so much in a person as
in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes;
in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation
in which individuals are caught up. The ceremonies, the rituals, the
marks by which the sovereign’s surplus power was manifested are
useless. There is a machinery that assures dissymmetry, disequili­
brium, difference. Consequently, it does not matter who exercises
power. Any individual, taken almost at random, can operate the
machine: in the absence of the director, his family, his friends, his
visitors, even his servants (Bentham, 45). Similarly, it does not
matter what motive animates him: the curiosity of the indiscreet, the
malice of a child, the thirst for knowledge of a philosopher who
wishes to visit this museum of human nature, or the perversity of
those who take pleasure in spying and punishing. The more
numerous those anonymous and temporary observers are, the greater
the risk for the inmate of being surprised and the greater his anxious
awareness of being observed. The Panopticon is a marvellous
machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces
homogeneous effects of power.

A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation.
So it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good
behaviour, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy
to application, the patient to the observation of the regulations.
Bentham was surprised that panoptic institutions could be so light:
there were no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks; all
that was needed was that the separations 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 geometry of a ‘house of certainty’. The efficiency of
power, its constraining force have, in a sense, passed over to the
other side – to the side of its surface of application. He who is
subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsi­
bility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontane­
ously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in


which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle
of his own subjection. By this very fact, the external power may
throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the
more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and
permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any
physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance.

Bentham does not say whether he was inspired, in his project, by
Le Vaux’s menagerie at Versailles: the first menagerie in which the
different elements are not, as they traditionally were, distributed in
a park (Loisel, I 04-‘7). At the centre was an octagonal pavilion
which, on the first floor, consisted of only a single room, the king’s
salon; on every side large windows looked out onto seven cages
(the eighth side was. reserved for the entrance), containing different
species of animals. By Bentham’s time, this menagerie had dis­
appeared. But one finds in the programme of the Panopticon a
similar concern with individualizing observation, with characteriza­
tion and classification, with the analytical arrangement of space. The
Panopticon is a royal menagerie; the animal is replaced by man,
individual distribution by specific grouping and the king by the
machinery of a furtive power. With this exception, the Panopticon
also does the work of a naturalist. It makes it possible to draw up
differences: among patients, to observe the symptoms ofeach indivi­
dual, without the proximity of beds, the circulation of miasmas, the
effects of contagion confusing the clinical tables; among school­
children, it makes it possible to observe performances (without
there being any imitation or copying), to map aptitudes, to assess
characters, to draw up rigorous ciassifications and, in relation to
normal development, to distinguish ‘laziness and stubbornness’ from
‘incurable …