Sunday, September 18, 2011

Achieving our "discipline": on the possibility of panoptic counter-hegemonic knowledge-production (or the silliest title ever)

I begin with the confession, another technique of truth production scrutinized by Foucault in conjunction with his analyses of the Panopticon and disciplinary power. In the confession Foucault finds the utmost expression of internalized self-discipline - the confessor acts upon herself through the confession, becoming both prisoner and prison guard. Foucault explains how the confession has become interwoven into almost every aspect of society: medicine, psychology, criminal justice all have come to rely on the confession as the mode of ascertaining the hidden secret within each of us.

I bring up confessions as I wonder if our blogs and exegeses could be understood as confessional in some way. Certainly, many blogs are confessional in that they disclose intimate/personal information as a way of achieving catharsis, but do our interpretations of these texts not also disclose information/produce knowledge that contain elements of our tucked away "secrets"? Is our mode of revealing (and the content of the revelation) mediated by disciplinary technologies, by panopticism? And would this knowledge not immediately enter into a panopticonal discursive economy where it dialectically informs how to order docile bodies? Basically, I wonder how panopticism manifests itself in our classroom and our online conversations and what role we play in the reproduction of panopticonal modalities.

What is the role of our respective disciplines - to produce knowledge for the fostering of docility, for the efficient ordering of bodies? But as Foucault's project proves, knowledge production can reveal power and its functionings and, perhaps, organize resistance to particular instances of panopticonal power. The panopticonal presence in our classroom - Utah State University, the rankings and competition within the educational system - compels the acquisition (perhaps production) of knowledge on the subject of panopticism and, in particular, its "evils".

Disciplinary technology is constituent of our society today and, perhaps, is the logical conclusion of western metaphysics. My question is whether or not panopticism can be used counter-hegemonically or is the docil-ization of bodies, itself, necessarily a bad thing. I read the docility-making function of panopticism to be inevitable - the particular ways that knowledge is appropriated panoptically, perhaps, could be challenged. But, Foucault's point seems to be something about freedom and how the acting-upon of man by panopticism leaves him unable to resist "bad" exercises of power. How do we identify what goals are worth achieving, or is power, itself, something that we must mitigate?

At this point, I can't help but be reminded of Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology", more specifically his description of how technology calls nature into Standing Reserve, a status where it can be acted upon as an object and utility-value can be derived from it. Knowledge, similarly, seems to be called upon "panoptically", that is, its status becomes prescriptive and is meant to inform the organization of docile bodies, hence the term "discipline" carrying a stronger denotation of "area of inquiry". Returning to my question: can panopticism be abolished? Should we refuse to participate in our respective disciplines to avoid participating in panopticism? Can panopticism be a good thing?


  1. to answer your question, "Is our mode of revealing (and the content of the revelation) mediated by disciplinary technologies, by panopticism?" briefly, mike: yes. yes it is. fuller answer in class.

    good questions!

  2. I agree with your idea that our blogs, comments, and exegesis are all a form of confession. I find myself aware of the "panopticon" at least that my comments are out there for others to view. To some extent I find myself self-censoring. Knowing that I am always subject to surveillance I am hesitant to share something that I wouldn't others to know. This class is even more interesting knowing that my comments aren't hidden, behind the password of a secure LMS. So for me at least, awareness of the technology makes an impact.

  3. The structure of the blogosphere would be an inverse panopticon. The blogger would be in the central tower unable to see out, with all the people in a large circle around her. Anyone can look at her, but she can't see the people to whose gaze she is exposed. The internet is a cold place.

    What compels us to confess? Is it just the best way for creating a subject of ourselves? I think bodies desire discipline, to be disciplined, to discipline others. Perhaps the desire for discipline is why we blog. Why we expose ourselves to the inverse-panopticon of the blogosphere.

    Mike asks, "Can panopticism be a good thing." Assuming there is a desire for discipline, then I say yes. Zizek says "don't be afraid to want that which you desire." If bodies desire discipline, then there should be a way to embrace it, to sublimate it. And the blogosphere seems to be a great example of how panopticism can be liberating. A person can control the exact level of exposure. They create themselves as a subject, to be sure, but surely they have more control in their self-discipline than in any other form of confessional. Their interlocutor is properly invisible, the gaze is infinite and panoptic, but the subject is free to respond when and how it will.