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The Disciplinary Society

I've been obsessed with YouTube lately, and I came across these audio/still photo clips of Foucault lecturing on "the Disciplinary Society." In the second part, he explains the difference between real "Disciplinary Institutions" and "Disciplinary Rationalities" (which for him are more important than the real "total institutions). This helps to explain why he can see Bentham's never-really-realized dream of a Panopticon Prison as significant even when it was rarely employed as a true "institution" with real brick walls and cells, backlighting, and all-seeing-eyeballs etc.

Part 1

Part 2


For the first video the professor states that at first prisons were pretty much social gatherings then it became punishment and then punishment and reform. Though i do agree that many inmates do become reformed through the prison sentence. An example are the teenagers who are caught drinking and driving and spend the one night in jail and they become very sober.

But sometimes the reform is never done, you sometimes hear about the man with over twenty DWIs and is still driving the roads, the man who is a sexual offender and repeats again and again, or the man who was involved in gang violence sent to jail and on his probation kills someone.

Unfortunately reform does not happen in these cases and the sentencing should become just punishment not punishment and reform.

I like how Foucault focuses a lot on reform. It made me think about our current reform systems and I think that there are some improvements that could be made. A panopticon type establishment might just be what the repeat offenders Jeff was talking about, need to get their lives back in order. Our current system of prisons does not create the paranoia of being watched like the Panopticon does. This could be why the repeaters are not changing. They have nothing to instill fear in them. Excluding killers, the worst that is going to happen to them is that they will end up back in prison. Something like a panopticon could make the difference.

I think Jeff and Kevin raise good points about the efficacy of reform programs within prisons, though I'm not sure the Panopticon would necessarily be more effective. One of the things that makes panopticism so effective is the fact that is most often seen as voluntary and not coercive. I don't mean the prison model or institution but the rationality of surveillance/knowledge/power that is the touchstone of what we call the information age. In the actual panopticon prison, the prisoners know their freedom is limited, their movements watched, and they are reminded all the time that the disciplinary force comes from outside their cell. But what about everybody else who comes under the sway of the panopticon - the "all seeing eye" - outside the prison. More and more it is becoming obvious that anything you do can be caught on tape or otherwise recorded. I think for a lot of people this causes a bit more looking over one's shoulder, while from others you'll just hear "Well, the only person who needs to fear being watched is the one who's done something wrong." This assumes the law is just, but more importantly that discipline is something doled out only to those who have broken the law. But discipline comes before the law and is something that can be applied in places and to sujects that the law can't reach. Have we begun to think about the many different ways we conduct ourselves (as oppossed to being conducted by someone else in prison) within the disciplinary society?

THe panopticion idea is good to present, but hard to carry out. I believe that it is very easy to tell people that they are being watched, but people usually wont believe it unless they see it happen right in front of their eyes. The idea of someone constantly watching is scary i admit, but its not concrete enough to make anyone scared. Almost everyone, (except for senior citizens) drive over the speed limit when they are on the freeway. However people do not slow down to speed limit unless there's a cop around.

I think what Foucault is saying is that establishments such as prisons serve to deter crime. They are disciplinary institutions but at the same time enforce discipline for outsiders as well, making them more disciplinary rationalities than institutions. He says that the panopticon has nothing to do with the reform that takes place in prisons as penal reform is neither efficient nor economic. The true disciplinary society is governed through overt and implicit means, not real institutions such as prisons. Prison is the last development of a disciplinary society, not the first, because it is only after disciplinary rationalities fail to control the actions of the citizen (this happens only to a minority of citizens) that real disciplinary institutions are necessary for control.

I agree with the notion that prisons serve as disciplinary institutions for people on the outside as well as the inside. In the modern United States, however, the sheer number of people in correctional facilities shows that social programs have failed. Treating drug addiction as a crime instead of an illness is one of the clearest examples of this. Still, the "don't get caught" attitude prevails. In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, near where I grew up, is the largest prison in the state, yet the prison is meant to appear as sterile as possible on the outside. It seems to send a message to the predominantly white, middle-class town that its residents have little cause to worry. People's lives are becoming more public on the whole. Foucault's ideas may be coming into play, since people can never be certain how public actions, things they post on weblogs, etc. will be interpreted.

I like the first video where Foucault says prisons were finally accepted into society because they realized that they weren't only a means of punishment, but also of reform. Unlike previous forms of punishment in society which usually only resulted in humiliation or death, prisons focused on correcting the individual. I disagree that this always or even usually works, but I think its important that society gives the second chance.

The idea of punishment and reform put forth is a great concept...on paper. As with most things, on paper they sound great, however there are other things to consider. For example all prisoners are not the same. Sure there are those who go to prison and are actually changed people when they leave and return to society. However, more importantly there are those who spend 10 years in jail thinking about how they want to get revenge in any way possible against those who put them in jail, or those men who were not changed at all, and prison was just a delay from their commiting more crime. The question society needs to answer is if those few who are actually "corrected" are worth the cost of sending potentially more dangerous men back out on the streets after a failed reform.

I would have to agree with Foucault that the "Disciplinary Rationalities" are more important than the real "total institutions". I agree because even if every prison in the world were panopticon prisons there are still a little amount of people that would be effected by them. For example Kilmainham Gaol in Ireland is a good example of a panopticon prison, but the overall population of Ireland did not fear a disciplinary institution like Kilmainham Gaol because the probability that they would see the inside and feel the effects of that type of environment was little or none if one did not commit a crime or the English liked them. However, if England would have threathened putting a disciplinary society like the panopticon prison as the ruling government, military, and police force in Ireland than more people would be afarid because it would effect them and limit their movement and activities. It is the same reason why books like The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, and The Gift scare people. The idea, even if it is never comes to life, of having a controlling government and military force over someone's society frightens people because if it can be thought up than what will stop it from being put to practice in the real world one day.

In these videos, Foucault talks about both punishment and reform in the panopticon system (in disciplinary societies). As proof that we live in this type of panopticonic and disciplinary society, comare these ideas to that movie we saw of that Floridian busniess teacher teaching while drunk (this is what I assumed happened, although I'm not sure). In today's day and age, most students have some sort of camera phone with them at all times (or at least there is a high possibility that you can be recorded at anytime, going along with aaron's point). Basically, the idea of the panopticon.
Later, in response to university officals seeing the movie of the drunk teacher, he was fired (or so someone commented on the video page), attesting to the fact that we are a disciplinary society - if you do something out of line, then you will be punished.
Finally, reform. After being punished, how could that teacher not reform himself? I know I would at least make an effort to do so, so that in the future similar thing wouldn't happen.
All of these ideas go along with Foucault's idea of the panopticon, and how we really live in a disciplinary society.

On the whole, I like the idea of giving someone a second chance - punishment and reform instead of just punishment. Unfortunately, like was mentioned above, it doesn't always work out that way and I don't think it matters much what type of prison the individual is incarcerated in. The US now has a few "Supermax" prisons. I've seen a couple of documentaries on different aspects of them and they look to be set up pretty much just like Foucault's ideal Panopticon is set up. The prisoners in these "Supermax" prisons are the most hardened criminals, the highest security risks, the most violent offenders, the offenders with the highest recidivism rates of all. The prisons are also the prisons with the worst behaved, least disciplined prisoners out there. When we're discussing the panopticon and its efficacy, there seems to be one factor frequently left out. I think another student mentioned it either in class or on one of the other postings - does the person being watched care? The panopticon assumes that the offender will actually want to behave correctly/obediently/lawfully because they are being watched. There are too many who don't care.

What I really question is, can a prison setting, or the idea of prison-discipline truly reform a person? I think people are constructed from a fabric of traits, morals and values that once learned and accepted are difficult to change. Can a person really change their personality fiber? And is a person who has been jailed really reformed and recuperated or are they just excerising restraint in their actions from then on, only to break during times of stress and anger and revert back to their old patterns? If this is the case, then maybe a longer prison setting is required just to control them, rather than reform them to live lives outside of the prison walls. This is where the panopticon gets factored in; If people felt that they were always being under the watchful eye of a disciplinary society or panoptican prison situation, would this enable them to keep their actions in balance? It's hard to guess because our society is somewhat of a disciplinary society. In a world of technology and advancements, identity theft, etc. People can follow the lives and actions of others. Nobody really lives an independent life in our society. I think this is a very difficult question to answer. Even if people are being followed and watched, can they restrain themselves from doing the things that are in their personality to do? And, if they do these things, can anything reform them, or do they just require lengthy punishment to make sure they aren't causing further trouble?

The idea for the panopticon ins amazing. It truly can be a form of self-governance. What I find to be even interesting is the fact that it was actually used and Aaron had to learn in it. Bummer. It was a pretty practical idea for children. It seemed to work pretty well for Aaron.

Foucault's method of discipline deals with a lot more psychological punishment than physical. Most people would much rather deal with physical torture and pain than the mental anguish that comes from Foucault's way of deterring and punishing criminals.