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  • Building Power: Architecture and Surveillance in Victorian America
  • Elaine Jackson-Retondo (bio)
Anna Vemer Andrzejewski Building Power: Architecture and Surveillance in Victorian America Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008. 272 pages. 77 illustrations. ISBN 1-57233-631-5, $39.00 HB

More than three decades after the English translation of Michel Foucault's Surveiller et Punir; Naissance de la Prison was published in the United States (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison), the nature of power and the discourse and the role of discipline and surveillance in modern society posited by Foucault continue to frame scholarly discussion and debate in a range of fields. Anna Vemer Andrzejewski's Building Power is one of the latest works in the field of architectural history to engage Foucault's study. Andrzejewski offers a breadth of particularity to the scholarly study of surveillance and discourse.

Andrzejewski steps outside the realm of penal institutions to examine how and to what degree surveillance and discourse inform the design and use of space in different building types from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries in the United States. While Andrzejewski uses building types to ground her study in specific spaces in the Victorian United States, the crux of her analysis rests on types, or what Andrzejewski terms the "dominant intent" of surveillance. She argues that the dominant intent of surveillance and discourse determines the role surveillance plays in the design and use of space, as well as how surveillance is physically incorporated into a particular building or space, resulting in multifarious manifestations of surveillance. In other words, the dominant intent and discourse, not the building type, are the primary factors that inform specific surveillance techniques.

Andrzejewski selects four dominant intents to organize the main chapters of her book—discipline, efficiency, hierarchy, and fellowship. The framework further emphasizes that the primary subject of her study is the varied use and forms of surveillance rather than specific building types in which they were implemented; however the distinctions made between discipline, efficiency, hierarchy, and fellowship are not entirely clear, a shortcoming that undermines the stated goals of her study.

In her introduction Andrzejewski suggests that the intents of surveillance that she has identified are inherently different and fall outside the "context of discipline" and Foucault's understanding of surveillance and modern society. The claim to go beyond Foucault's understanding is the basis for one of the primary goals of her study. She states the following:

Foucault linked surveillance to modernity through the early-nineteenth-century prison, claiming the visual relationships at work there exemplified those that proliferated subsequently throughout modern institutions and everyday life. Although I agree with Foucault's contention that surveillance is inextricably linked with the rise of modernity, the panoptic and disciplinary manifestations he described illustrate only one aspect of surveillance. Foucault's coupling of surveillance and modernity is reconsidered and refined in the chapters that follow through discussions about how gazes worked through different kinds of modern spaces outside the context of discipline.


Contrary to these claims, I believe many scholars would agree that Foucault did not argue that the link between surveillance and modernity grew out of, or occurred subsequent to, the birth of the prison; rather, the prison was identified by Foucault, in the words of social theorist David Garland, "as the place where modern techniques of control are revealed in their full unbridled operation," with surveillance being one of these modern techniques.1 The prison, and more specifically the panopticon, was not the source of the surveillance-modernity link; rather, it epitomized the forms of power and control that were at work in modern society. Furthermore, Foucault understood that his study of prisons did not capture all aspects of surveillance or other techniques of control. He said as much in a 1977 inter-view: "A whole history remains to be written of spaces—which would at the same time be the history of powers (both these terms in the plural)—from the great strategies of geopolitics to the little tactics of the habitat, institutional architecture from the classroom to the design of hospitals."2

Nevertheless, these points do not lessen the value of Andrzejewski...


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