A is for Architecture

| February 13, 2014

In “Panopticism”, Foucault states that the purpose of the Panopticon was “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (147). Bentham believed that power should be visible, but unverifiable. Through the Panopticon’s invisibility, there “is a guarantee of order” (147). The Panopticon allows for the subordination of many people while the number of people operating the Panopticon is minimal; this was Bentham’s ideal. Thus, panoptic institutions were light in the sense that force was no longer needed to force the convict into good behavior, and bars, chains, and heavy locks were unnecessary. The Panopticon fascinates me as this is an example which illustrates how architecture can have power and control over people’s minds. The people within the Panopticon undergo self-discipline as they become the principle of their own subjection. This is related to “Constructing Inequality: City Spaces and the Architecture of Citizenship” as Bickford argues against the very notion of the Panopticon as it removes the presence of a multiplicity of perceiving and perceived others. There is a distinct separation between the two. As Foucault states, “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” (147). Those within the Panopticon are controlled by the architecture and construction of the tower itself.

Meagher, Sharon M., ed. Philosophy and the City: Classic to Contemporary Writings. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. Print.