A prisoner, in his cell, kneeling at prayer before the central inspection tower. "morals reformed -- health preserved -- industry invigorated --instruction diffused -- public burthens lightened -- Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock .... all by a simple idea in architecture." Jeremy Bentham
Michel Foucault recognized Bentham's proposal for a Panopticon prison in 1785 as the diagram of modern power. In Discipline and Punish, he described the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. (p.201) The perfection of this architectural apparatus was to render its actual excercise unnecessary and independent of the person who excercises it. The Panopticon "automatizes and disindividualizes power" It is "a marvellous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power. " Thus, for Foucault, the Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power, a generalizable model of functioning. It must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form...a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use. "it is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in Hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons."(p.205) For Foucault, the panoptic schema is the general principle of a new "political economy" whose object and end are the relations of discipline. (what Deleuze would call the factory work model.)
Bentham's own description of a new economy of power without violence clearly describes the widening influence of "moral law" enforced by public opinion. Here "society" is substituted for the warden in exerting its pressure for compliance. In Bentham's future society, "A whole kingdom, the great globe itself, will become a gymnasium, in which every man exercises himself before the eyes of every other man. Every gesture, every turn of limb or feature, in those whose motions have a visible influence on the general happiness, will be noticed and marked down." (from Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, p. 312) For Sheldon Wolin, the panopticon illustrated the "socialized consciousness" that he identifies with the ascendency of liberalism, with its distrust of personal authority (such as a pope or monarch), but its eagerness to submit to impersonal power, which seemingly belonged to no individual. If the site of power was society, then it was none of us, yet it was all of us. In Bentham's "comforting argument", if public opinion compels us to conform, then we are really coercing ourselves.
In his book on Foucault, Gilles Deleuze aligns his own terminology with Foucault's, while bringing Foucault more in line with his own metaphysical project and proliferation of concepts and terms. According to Deleuze, "A diagram is a map, or rather several superimposed maps." (Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, p.44) He calls the "diagram or abstract machine ... the map of relations between forces, a map of destiny, or intensity, which...acts as a non-unifying immanent cause which is coextensive with the whole social field. The abstract machine is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations take place 'not above' but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce." (Deleuze, Foucault, p. 37)
For Deleuze and Guattari, language, or more generally, regimes of signs formalize expression on one side and formalize content on the other. "But a true abstract machine has no way of making a distinction within itself between a plane of expression and a plane of content because it draws a single plane of consistency." (plane of immanence.) It"makes no distinction within itself between content and expression, even though outside itself, it presides over that distinction." (Thousand Plateaus, p. 141) "The abstract machine connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field." Thousand Plateaus, p.7 "The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality." (p.142)
According to, Brian Massumi, "The abstract machine is interpretation. It is the meaning process, from the point of view of a given expression." (Brian Massumi, User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia ) F lix Guattari compares abstract machines with the Noam Chomsky's concepts "...of the abstract machine inhabiting linguistic or syntagmatic concepts," presumably alluding to Chomsky's theories of competence. where is the "field" of competence?
For Hardt and Negri, the world market "might serve adequately -- even though it is not an architecture but really an anti-architecture --as the diagram of imperial power." (Empire, p. 190)