Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Weinreich, Spencer J. “Panopticon, Inc.: Jeremy Bentham, Contract Management, and (Neo)Liberal Penality.” Punishment & Society, (July 2021).

This essay revisits Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, perhaps the foundational figure of the study of the prison, to recover a dimension of the project wholly omitted in Michel Foucault’s canonical reading in Discipline and Punish. Nowhere does Foucault mention Bentham’s insistence that the prison be run by a private contractor. With Bentham’s penal theory characteristically derived from his account of human psychology, the contract and private profit are essential to the functioning of the Panopticon, because they align the jailer’s duty with their self-interest. Bentham built profit and market imperatives into the fabric of the Panopticon, always envisioned as a place of economic production. The contract-Panopticon and its political economy are vital antecedents to the neoliberal penality theorized by Loïc Wacquant and Bernard E. Harcourt, even as they problematize the statism inherited from Foucault and the chronological implications of the prefix “neo.” Bentham was only the theorist of a marketization of governance pervasive in his own time and ever since, raising the question of whether punishment has ever been a purely state function.

contract, Discipline and Punish, Jeremy Bentham, market, Michel Foucault, neoliberalism, Panopticon, privatization

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