Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Foucault Avec Polanyi

For Evan

"The panoptic schema, without disappearing as such or losing any of its properties, was destined to spread throughout the social body; its vocation was to become a generalized function."
Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975) Avec

Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation (1944)

'Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon plan with the help of which gaols could be designed so as to be cheaply and effectively supervised had been in existence for a couple of years, and now he decided to apply it to his convict-run factory; the place of the convicts was now to be taken by the poor.' (106)

'His [Bentham's] Industry-Houses were a nightmare of minute utilitarian administration enforced by all the chicanery of scientific management.' (117)

When recently reading The Great Transformation, shamefully late, I noticed the passages on the Panopticon as an essential utopia of the self-regulated market, in which policing becomes the enforcement and invention of the 'economic'. It surprised me that no readers of Foucault, in my memory, had ever mentioned this connection. Recently writing a presentation for a Taster Day on detective fiction I re-read Franco Moretti's 'Clues' (in Signs Taken for Wonders), and noted that he placed Polanyi before Foucault in a footnote to his comment that the detective story 'reiterates Bentham's Panopticon ideal: the model prison that signals the metamorphosis of liberalism into total scrutability.' (143)

If you wanted a full chain you could read back to Peter Linebaugh's The London Hanged, in which he points out how the Panopticon was 'trialed' in Samuel Bentham's (Jeremy's brother) regulation of shipyards to avoid workers walking off with 'liberated' surpluses. Hence the Panopticon returns to the history of real subsumption, and out of the history of 'surveillance' as an autonomous dynamic.


Savonarola said...

As Michael Perelman recounts in his excellent The Invention of Capitalism, in 1798 Bentham produced a companion piece to the writings on the Panopticon, tellingly entitled Pauper Management Improved, where he set out his plan for a private-stock company on the lines of the East India Company, to be called the National Charity Company, which would run a vast capitalist gulag of poor-house/factories that would realise the fantasy of subsumption outlined in the following, slightly earlier, text:

"What hold can another manufacturer have upon his workmen, equal to what my manufacturer would have upon his? What other master is there that can reduce hisworkmen, if idle, to a situation next to starving, without suffering them to go elsewhere? What other master is there whose men can never get drunk unless he chooses that they should do so. And who, so far from being able to raise their wages by combination, are obliged to take whatever pittance he thinks it most his interest to allow?"

Observations on the Poor Law Bill Introduced by the Right Hon. William Pitt, 1797

Savonarola said...

P.S.: You can get JB's Panopticon

Benjamin said...

I think Polanyi mentions this plan as well, in tracing how the fantasy of liberalism requires the policing of the social order; interestingly, he notes how the social sciences are the pilot sciences of the period. Do you, or anyone else out there, know of anyone how really makes anything of the Foucault Polanyi connection? It's so blinding i'm amazed

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just came across your post on Foucault and Polanyi. I'm writing a paper for a graduate course in sociological theory and I noticed the similarities between the two works. So I decided to do a search just now and came across your blog. This is really cool.
So I'm doing a paper on this, and it's only a short paper, 5-7 pages. But I think it has been unjustly overlooked. There's an article that talks about Polanyi and the Modernity vs. Postmodernity debate by Eyup Ozveren. What's interesting is that both scholars say that the topic they are studying becomes complete around the 1830's-1840's.
Yet, Polanyi is modern and Foucault is considered Postmodern. I think a lot can come out of this, but that's just my opinion.