Throwing up my hands, re-reading after many years the famous chapter on Panopticism in Foucault’s classic study Discipline and Punish, first published in France in 1975. Readers today, responding to the Coronavirus, have already noted that plague quarantines and other practices of social control start his analysis. But what are we supposed to make of that analysis except to place it in historical context and parse out something of a confusion between history, literature, philosophy, policy, and politics?
We could start first by submitting Foucault’s thesis to the judgment of historians and intellectual historians while understanding, at the same time, as non-historians, that it might, in fact, be unarguably true that it was, indeed, the plague that “gave rise to disciplinary projects” and “disciplined society” (p.198). Fitting the timeline that determines so much of Foucault’s analysis about disciplinary politics here and elsewhere are the great pandemics of the 17
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