… with panopticism, is the discipline-mechanism: a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come. (209)
'Discipline' may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a 'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology. (215)
Why read Foucault at the beginning of a course on teaching with technology? Um, so we understand our place in a system of surveillance and discipline?
Actually, I'm more or less serious: in his list of institutions that developed because of/with/through Enlightenment notions of power, schools are always present. We read Foucault because he's talking about how power uses technology for its own ends. Technology for him was architecture, machinery, writing; in our class's case, it's computers. And what were computers (and the Internet) developed for? And what are they still mostly used for?
The panopticon is a place in which the person in power can see all of his subjects without being seen by them. How are classroom technologies panopticons? Class management systems like WebCT or Writing Studio let the teacher see when his students have logged on, what they've posted, what they've read, etc. But they can't see the teacher's activities. Of course, the panopticon goes both ways; Foucault notes that prison guards' superiors (or rulers from outside, or the public even) can view the guards, see how they're doing at viewing their prisoners. Here's a contemporary, close-to-home analogue: the English Department takes (some of) the ePortfolios that 101 instructors use to evaluate their students and puts them on a special website viewable by the powers-that-be in the college's administration. They do this to show the administration that we know what we're doing.
Here are my questions for the class:
- Foucault argues that "Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces" (217). Does this work for digital technology? By making wikis, blogging, discussing Buffy, playing fantasy baseball, are we training ourselves?
- Come to think of it, a blog is like a panopticon: it lets the viewer see the writer's thoughts, but the writer can't see whom has read her work or when. Yet blogs are voluntary (class assignments notwithstanding… though there we get back into the school as discipline). Are blogs a type of voluntary surveillance? Are bloggers putting themselves in a panopticon?