Bill Scott's blog

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Mrs M's cunning strategy

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I've written before about Mrs M's hold on the German people, and to understand modern Germany, I think it's helpful to recall the idea of the panopticon.

As you know, the original panopticon was the brainchild, we're told, of Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher social theorist.  Its design enabled all the inmates of an institution (say, a poorhouse) to be observed by one individual without their knowing whether they were actually being watched at any particular time.  Although impossible for any watcher actually to observe everyone, knowing it might be happening meant that it was wise to ensure it was, thus constantly controlling behaviour.

A classic design is a circular structure with an inspection house at its centre.  Bentham is said to have thought that the idea was equally applicable to asylums, hospitals and schools, as well as (most obviously) to prisons.  I'd have added universities at least as far as staff are concerned.  Bentham is said to have described the Panopticon prison as "a mill for grinding rogues honest".

Now, Germany is quite obviously not one giant physical panopticon with Mrs M at its centre.  How she works her controlling magic is much more subtle, and we might look to Michel Foucault for an explanation.  Building on Bentham's idea of the panopticon Foucault thought about disciplinary mechanisms rather than physical structures.  He wrote in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison:

"A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation [...] He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribed in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.”

I'll be off to Germany again next month to see how Mrs M is doing and how the experiment is going.  Meanwhile, it's time for a period of quiet reflection.

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