Wednesday, January 9, 2008
I am Panopticon
I admit that I am always drawn to the latest technology and consider it for classroom use. And in Bentham’s time, panopticism is the latest technology: a new hope for a utopian society—order and eradication of society’s ill humours. I could only imagine that if the time of 18th century reform thought and 21st century composition theory were to coexist in some parallel state, many composition instructors would consider the panoptic method of surveillance as means of social improvement to be a useful methodology in the composition classroom. Desiring to find new and interesting ways of viewing student writing (and then, in fact, controlling the writing process while controlling the individual), instructors want to embark on the exciting pedagogical adventure through new technology to help individuals succeed in a society by being literate. In fact, these presumptions are based on the fact that the classroom (and I am specifically the composition classroom) are directly influenced by the panopticon. Foucault rhetorically asks, “is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons” (Panopticism 228). And I shutter.
For it is a sobering and sad thought that technology is not a savior and that new means of viewing and correcting composition (as a form of discipline and behavior correction) is just another manifestation of panoptic control. But. . .wait. It’s too late! I am a computer lab assistant exhorting the great benefit of technology in the classroom— exclaiming the virtues of the latest software that makes assessment easier, fast, more indicative of individual literacy. And yet am I contributing to this panoptic ideology that has dominated our modern society. Ugh, I’m not an passionate teacher; I am just another part of the mechanism that is training students for a disciplined existence in society.
These readings, to me, were warnings to be attentive to the mechanism of education that we construct as we construct a classroom. Bentham’s Panopticon, as Foucault describes it, is a sinister mechanism of control predestined for social society. What is perhaps most interesting about this mechanism is its covert function. The chief observer in the tower is unseen: hence, “invisibility is a guarantee of order” (Panopticism 200). The ideology of the panopticon operates under consent in social reality on a consistent basis and it does so, in large part, because of a consistent awareness of surveillance.
So, while being immersed in the excitement of using new technologies in the classroom, are composition instructors perpetuating an institutionalization of the individual by using web communities and socially interactive software as tools in their classroom pedagogy? As Foucault notes in The Eye of Power, eighteen century reformers, in their idealism, “failed to see that [media forms of survellience] would necessarily be under the command of economico-political interests” (162). Are we idealistic thinkers, too? Are we not considering how new technologies are panoptic?