home | links | feminist | studies | wishlist | cooking | !blog

A Foucault Finding in Vienna

On reading Michel Foucault's Surveiller et punir (Discipline and Punish, in German though since my French is not quite up to snuff) his vivid descriptions of the transformation from a control to a disciplinary society took shape in my head. One instrument he mentions multiple times is the panopticon, a building constructed in the shape of a ring, with a surveillor building in the middle; it dates back to Jeremy Bentham who (re)published the idea in 1791, detailing his elaborations with plans and appendices.

Fri Mar 04 2005 20:05 [gxxxxxx] magst morgen mitgehen in den narrenturm?

I could not get the image out of my head, and then it hit me: I had seen almost the exact shape a year ago in the former general hospital in Vienna (Altes Allgemeines Krankenhaus): the Narrenturm (transl. lunatics' tower) has the shape and construction of a panopticon in this sense, with circles of cells along the walls and a central surveillance tract built as an axis of the building. It was constructed in 1784 under Joseph II., so it preceded at least Bentham's later works; obviously the surveillance principle spread fast in the 18th century.

Link/opening hours: Pathologisch-anatomisches Bundesmuseum or http://www.narrenturm.info/