Saturday, 27 November 2010

Portfolio Task 1 - Panopticism

Choose an example of one aspect of contemporary culture that is, in your opinion, panoptic. Write an explanation of this, in approximately 200-300 words, employing key Foucauldian language, such as 'Docile Bodies' or 'self-regulation, and using not less than 5 quotes from the text 'Panopticism' in Thomas, J. (2000) 'Reading Images', NY, Palgrave McMillan.

The term panopticism means 'all seeing'. It employes the idea of not knowing when or where we are being watched so it encourages 'good behavior' as we feel constantly under surveillance. 

Panopticism employes discipline in many aspects of everyday life. With the ever increasing knowledge within technology it is safe to say you will most likely be under some form of surveillance if you step out of your front door. I will be focusing on computing and its invisible surveillance for this essay. A computer is a very personal object; a private place where you can do and search pretty much anything. A place where a persons inner most thoughts are often recorded in a digital diary or private conversations can be held over the internet. 

However, surveillance of computer activity can be tracked by the government and the police. Everything can be tracked with the right authority. You become an 'object of information, never a subject in communication.' From conversations to the amount of finger strokes per minute on the key pad, computers are a very clever technology and therefore can access a wide variety of personal information across the world. In Foucault's theory of panopticism he writes about how subjects of panopticism self regulate themselves as they constantly feel they are being watched by an opnipresent eye. 

“An omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the determination of the individual”

Firewalls and other 'virus protectors' show how secretive people want to be about their information. The fear of being watched and bank details being stolen for example turns people into docile bodies encouraging them into the retail market to help combat and stop the invisible gaze. “This surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration”. 

Having an omnipresent eye online I feel is very necessary and has enabled police to find out vital information for example following suspected terrorists actions and tracking down wanted pedophiles resulting in punishment and helping to make the internet a safer place. Having this invisible yet known power on computers makes users more aware of their actions constantly. Even though the chances are very slim that you are being tracked right now, there is still the consciousness therefore "
it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior.”

Monday, 15 November 2010

Critical Positions On The Media and Popular Culture

What is Culture?

It is quite complicated and complex word.
It is the general process of iltellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development of a particular society, at a particular time.
It is a particular way of life.

Marx's concept of Base/ Superstructure 
Forces of production  -  materials, tools, workers, skills, etc.
Relations of production  -  employer/ employee, class, master, slave, etc.
Social institutions  -  legal, political, cultural.
Forms of consciousness  -  ideology

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

Base determines content and form of the Superstructure
Superstructure reflects form of and legitimises the Base.

Marx says it is easy to determine a shift in base and less easy to determine a shift in superstructure.


1. System of ideas or beliefs.
2. Masking, dsitortion or selection of ideas to reinforce power relations through creation of 'false consciousness'. 

[ The ruling class has ] to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, ... to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones. Karl Marx, (1846) The German Ideology.

Althusser, (1970) 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses'

Ideology is a practice through which men and women ‘live’ their relations to real conditions of existence.
 Ideology offers false, but seemingly true resolutions to social imbalance
 Social authority maintained by:
 R.S.A- repressive state apparatus
I.S.A- Ideological State apparatus

Raymond Williams (1983) "Keywords"
Four definitions of 'popular'
- Well liked by many people.
- Inferior kinds of work.
- Work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people.
- Culture actually made by the people themselves.

Inferior or Residual Culture
 - Popular Press vs Quality Press.
- Popular Cinema vs Art Cinema.
- Popular Entertainment vs Art Culture.

E.P. Thompson (1963) ‘The Making of The English Working Class’

Matthew Arnold (1867) 'Culture and Anarchy'
Culture is:
- 'The best that has been thought and said in the world'.
- Study of perfection.
- Attained through disinterested reading, writing and thinking.
- The pursuit of culture
- Seeks 'to minister the diseased spirit of our time'.

p.105 - ‘The working class… raw and half developed… long lain half hidden amidst it’s poverty and squalor… now issuing from it’s hiding place to assert an Englishman's heaven born privilege to do as he likes, and beginning to perplex us by marching where it likes, meeting where it likes, breaking what it likes'

F.r Leavis and Q.D Leavis - 
‘Culture has always been in minority keeping’
‘The minority, who had hitherto set the standard of taste without any serious challenge have experienced a‘collapse of authority’.

Popular culture offers addictive forms of distraction and compensation ‘This form of compensation… is the very reverse of recreation, in that it tends, not to strengthen and refresh the addict for living, but to increase his unfitness by habitutaing him to weak evasions, to the refusal to face reality at all’ (Leavis & Thompson, 1977:100)

Frankfurt School - Critical Theory

Frankfurt School : Theodore Adorno and Max Horkeimer
Reinterpreted Marx, for the 20th century – era of “late capitalism”

Defined “The Culture Industry” :

2 main products – homogeneity & predictability
“All mass culture is identical” 
‘As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished or forgotten’. 
‘Movies and radio need no longer to pretend to be art. The truth, that they are just business, is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. ... The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. ... The culture industry can pride itself on having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle. ... film, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part ... all mass culture is identical.’ 
Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment,1944

Frankfurt School : Herbert Marcuse

Popular Culture v Affirmative Culture

The irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. ... it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life - much better than before - and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one dimensional thought and behaviour in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.

Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 1968

(of affirmative culture): a realm of apparent unity and apparent freedom was constructed within culture in which the antagonistic relations of existence were supposed to be stabilized and pacified. Culture affirms and conceals the new conditions of social life.

Herbert Marcuse, Negations, 1968

- Cultural Commodities
- Negation = Depriving culture of “its great refusal” = Cultural Appropriation


Authentic Culture vs Mass Culture'
Qualities of authentic culture - 
1. Real
2. European
3. Multi-dimensional
4. Active consumption
5. Individual creation
6. Imagination
7. Negation
8. Autonomous.

Products of the contemporary 'culture industry'
  • Big Brother
  • X Factor
  • Celebrity Calendars.
In our society, where the real distinctions between people are created by their role in the process of production, as workers, it is the products of their own work that are used, in the false categories invoked by advertising, to obscure the real structure of society by replacing class with the distinctions made by the consumption of goods. Thus, instead of being identified by what they produce, people are made to identify themselves by what they consume. From this arises the false assumption that workers ‘with two cars and a colour TV’ are not part of the working class. We are made to feel that we can rise or fall in society through what we are able to buy, and this obscures the actual class basis which still underlies social position. The fundamental differences in our society are class differences, but the use of manufactured goods as means of creating classes or groups forms an overlay on them.
Williamson (1978) 'Decoding Advertisements'

By attaching human needs/ desires to commodities Capitalism keeps us spending.

Walter Benjamin 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction' 1936

‘One might generalise by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own situation, it reactivates the objects produced. These two processes leaqd to a tremendous shattering of tradition… Their most powerful agent is film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage’
'Mechanical Reproduction changes the reaction of art towards the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into a progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterised by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert’(Benjamin, The Work of Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936) The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was a research centre at the University of Birmingham. It was founded in 1963 by Richard Hoggart, its first director. Its object of study was the then new field of cultural studies.

‘Youth cultural styles begin by issuing symbolic challenges, but they must end by establishing new conventions; by creating new commodities, new industries, or rejuvenating old ones’

Newspapers have a massive impact on society and are notorious for not speaking the whole truth, yet we will choose to believe and incorporate their words into our lives. For example, all the foods that have been found to 'cause cancer' if you are not supposed to eat these foods, what do we eat?!

In Conclusion

1. The culture & civilization tradition emerges from, and represents, anxieties about social and cultural extension. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and social authority.

2. The Frankfurt School emerges from a Marxist tradition. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and depoliticises the working class, thus maintaining social authority.

3. Pronouncements on popular culture usually rely on normative or elitist value judgements

4. Ideology masks cultural or class differences and naturalises the interests of the few as the interests of all.

5. Popular culture as ideology

6. The analysis of popular culture and popular media is deeply political, and deeply contested, and all those who practice or engage with it need to be aware of this.

Panopticism - Surveillance & Society

"Literature, art and their respective producers do not exist independently of a complex institutional framework which authorises, enables, empowers and legitimises them. This framework must be incorporated into any analysis that pretends to provide a thorough understanding of cultural goods and practices" - Randal Johnson in Walker and Chaplain (1999).

Michel Foucault (1926-1984)
  • Madness and Civilisation
  • Discipline and Punish : The Birth of The Prison
The Great Confinement (late 1600s)

The socially unproductive were locked away from the eyes of society.

Vagabonds, tramps, unmarried pregnant women

Houses of correction' to curb unemployment and idleness. 

People are shut away from society so that society seems perfect. 

Inside the houses people would corrupt each other. The mad would make the sane mad, etc.

They were forced to work in these 'houses'.

The emergence of forms of knowledge – biology, psychiatry, medicine, etc.,  legitimise the practices of hospitals, doctors, psychiatrists.
Foucault aims to show how these forms of knowledge and rationalising institutions like the prison, the asylum, the hospital, the school, now affect human beings in such a way that they alter our consciousness and that they internalise our responsibility.

Criminals were put on a Pillory for society to throw things at them and judge them. 

Discipline is a ‘technology’ [aimed at] ‘how to keep someone under surveillance, how to control his conduct, his behaviour, his aptitudes, how to improve his performance, multiply his capacities, how to put him where he is most useful: that is discipline in my sense’ (Foucault,1981 in O’Farrrell 2005:102)


Jeremy Bentham's design The Panopticon - proposed 1791

We should reform people. Make them responsible for their own productivity - Panopticism. 

Panopticism was the opposite from dungeons and confinement. Prisoners can always be seen. The Panopticon internalises in the individual. They have the consciousness that they are always being watched. Because the prisoners always thought that they were being watched, guards didn't need to watch them, they were so paranoid and 'knew' that they would get caught.

Mental forms of constraint create physical ones. 

‘Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.’
(Foucault, 1975)
Panopticism works in all areas.

Pubs are more ope plan theses days so you can see your customers better. 

Society is monitored by surveillance - Big Brother - a higher power. 

Knowing that we are always being watched causes us to act differently. 

\registers give the college a power over students. 

CCTV - Panoptic Gaze.

Disciplinary society produces what Foucault calls - Docile bodies - easy to be controlled.

TV - Panoptic experience.

People can even see your house on google maps.

People only have power over you because you submit.

'Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at'. 

What Foucault is describing is a transformation in Western societies from a form of power imposed by a ‘ruler’ or ‘sovereign’ to……….. A NEW MODE OF POWER CALLED “PANOPTICISM”

The ‘panopticon’ is a model of how modern society organises its knowledge, its power, its surveillance of bodies and its ‘training’ of bodies.
Relationship between power, knowledge and the body

'Power relations have an immediate hold upon it [the body]; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs’ (Foucault 1975)

Where there is power there is resistance - Foucault

Chris Burden - Samson 1985

This installation was designed as an experiment, but one that Burden already knew the answer to.

To enter the room you need to walk through a turn style, every time the turn style rotates it turns cogs which connect to the wooden beam. The more the cogs move the further away the beams will be pushed, if the beams are pushed so far then the whole building would collapse. Burden knew that people wouldn't enter the room because they were scared of the consequences. 

Would they be the ones to pull the whole building down?

Would they get found out?

What if?

Sunday, 14 November 2010