Heterotopia and the panopticon

11 July 2012

It is sometimes inferred that the concept of heterotopia sits at the opposite extreme to the panopticon in Foucault’s thinking. This would be a mistake. Heterotopias include prisons and asylums. As with all Foucault’s deliberations, there is no sense of binary thinking. The panopticon is used by Foucault as a utopian ideal, an abstract concept of total control and discipline that could be formulated across other institutions such as schools and factories and which had a particular utility at a certain point in the modern era. The panopticon does not exist in this sense. On the other hand, heterotopias do exist: a spatial and temporal play that evolves through the history of different spaces. Power here is ambiguous and reversible.


A real panopticon= heterotopia