Foucault's belief that we have evolved from a 'culture of spectacle' to a 'carceral culture' will be examined and compared to the development of crime and punishment.
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was an academically established philospher and political activist. He was the "Professor of the History of Systems of Thought until his death" at the ultra-prestigious Collge de France. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003) Foucault died at age 58, a victim of AIDS, in June 1984.
The 'culture of spectacle' included punishing criminals by public displays of "torture, dismemberment, and obliteration." (Felluga, 2003) In this way the government maintained control of the populace. Crime had very real consequences. The public displays of torture gave the populace a front row seat to what could happen to them if they crossed the government or broke a law. This, in combination with word of mouth, was an effective deterrent and social control. Foucault compared this to the 'carceral culture' in which crimes are punished by incarceration in an institution (such as a prison or jail). In the carceral culture crimes are punished by incarcerating the offender in an institution charged with housing and rehabilitating the offender. Modern Jails and prisons are charged with housing and rehabilitating prisoners as well as preventing recidivism. These institutions are charged with a most difficult task: changing offender behavior to socially appropriate behavior.
Foucault used Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon as a model of what happens in society. The carceral culture's best friend was the Panopticon. The design of this prison does more about social control than the guards who work there. The prison is designed with a central tower surrounded by cells. All parts of the cells are open and visible to the central tower. From the tower guards can view all the cells. Most significantly, the tower is not lit and the guards are not visible to the inmates. The inmates are never aware of when they are being watched (or when they are not being watched). The inmates modify their behavior and act as if they are being watched 24/7. As part of their incarceration they lose the right to privacy. The cells are single occupancy and inmates do not interact with each other. Social control is maintained in this panoptic environment using surveillance vs. the social control by viewing a spectacle in the society that preceded us. The Panopticon was the model of social reform in its time. Bentham believed that the Panopticon was an example of how society should function. "To maintain order in a democratic and capitalist society, the populace needs to believe that any person could be surveilled at any time. In essence the populace internalizes the panoptic tower and police themselves."(Foucault, Discipline 202-203). The internalized panoptic tower is reinforced by government's intelligence gathering and ability to track anyone's movement. The result is social control. The effects of internalization of panoptic control (Felluga, 2003):
The internalization of rules and regulations
Rehabilitation rather than cruel and unusual punishment
Surveillance into ever more private aspects of our lives
Information society with surveillance, data warehousing,