Latour’s Oligopticon and Foucault’s Panopticon

A diagram of Foucault's panopticon

A diagram of Foucault's panopticon

Following up on the mention of Foucault in class today, Latour discusses Foucault’s prison idea in Reassembling the Social when he constructs the “oligopticon.” On p. 181 of the chapter about localizing the global, he writes, “As every reader of Michel Foucault knows, the ‘panopticon’, an ideal prison allowing for a total surveillance of inmates imagined at the beginning of the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham, has remained a utopia, that is, a world of nowhere to feed the double disease of total paranoia and total megalomania. We, however, are not looking for a utopia, but for places on earth that are fully assignable. Oligoptica are just those sites since they do exactly the opposite of panoptica: they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well… From the oligoptica, sturdy but extremely narrow views of the (connected) whole are made possible–as long as connections hold.” He also contrasts the absolutist gaze from the panoptica with the more democratic, mutable and vulnerable gaze within the oligoptica, and goes on to describe the importance of localizing and connecting things (rather than overly-elevating the importance of power centers in a network) to “flatten the landscape.” This seems to be part of his appeal for humility. Instead of omniscience, we have the ability to see a little bit of a lot of things.

Oligopticons come up in some discussions of architecture. Here’s a link to a discussion about one such example.

One Response to “Latour’s Oligopticon and Foucault’s Panopticon”

  1. Corpi Docili – La Rivista Culturale Says:

    […] del Panopticon di Foucault per la prigione ideale, fonte qui: pensare se non somiglia al grattacielo Unicredit di […]

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