Panoptical time is the idea that one can see across all of time from where one is. I find very interesting the idea that a place can be located in a certain chronological time but also at a very different perceived time concurrently. This concept is something I have always known, without actually knowing that there was terminology for it. Beginning in elementary school (and even before) we took field trips to places that were “preserved” and kept as they were during a specific time period, such as Civil War battlefields and Colonel Sanders plantation. These places are meant to be frozen in time to show us what life may have been like. Many other places, however, are unintentionally “frozen in time” and are seen in a very different light. The idea that every location in the world is on the same level regarding technology, ideals, and ways of life couldn’t be farther from the truth, even within a specific location such as the southeastern United States. It would make sense to believe that since the United States is one of the most advanced first-world countries, everyone residing in the US is living within a certain standard. The best example of modern day panoptical time is the area of southern Appalachia. While the surrounding area is as advanced as the rest of the country seems to be, Appalachia in particular is viewed as backwards and as if it is from a previous chronological year. The technology and views of the inhabitants is not what would be considered “modern”. The education level is lower than the rest of the country, and thus the area can be seen as needing to be saved and improved.
This is one of the very ideas that justified the process of colonialism by Europeans. If an area of new land was found, the people who inhabited that land were almost always seen in a backwards, primitive light, giving the colonizers validation for conquering the natives. I can only imagine how it would have felt to come from what was at the time a very advanced society to a land where the people appeared animalistic and barbaric and feeling the urge to “bring them up to speed”. The closest I can relate this concept to today is the work being done in Africa with the thought that what the natives are currently doing is crude, archaic, and needs to be reformed. We can view the rest of the world as being at one point in time while simultaneously viewing Africa in another, though the entire world is at the same point in chronological time.
Maggie Van Antwerp
In connection to Jeremy Benthem’s architectural plan for a Panopticon in prisons, which would allow all inmates to be seen from a central pillar, Anne McClintock discusses the theoretical trope of panoptical time as it relates to discourse on the gendered dynamics of colonization. Employing panoptical time as a tool to further explain the gendered forces of colonization, McClintock describes it as “the image of global history consumed – at a glance – in a single spectacle from a point of privileged invisibility.”[i] When eighteenth century scientific standard needed a visual model to illustrate evolutionary progress as a measurable spectacle, the evolutionary family Tree of Man transpired. Equally important, this tree was attended by a second image: the Family of Man. In this image, progress is illustrated under the form of the family where the complete chronological history of human development can be understood at a glance.
Thus, McClintock explains that with regard to these images and viewing human development through the lens of a Panopticon, time was not just secularized but it was domesticated. What is more, the unification of tree and family into the Family Tree of Man offered scientific racism a gendered view of racial progress. Most importantly, the Family Tree depicts evolutionary time as one without women. It is a disavowal, containing only men, arranged as a linear band of solo males rising toward the apogee of the individual. In this way, the Family Tree and the idea of racial progress- as a way to legitimize colonization by the white European male who is the apogee of progress- was gendered from the very beginning. Viewing history through a panoptic lens only reinforces the gendered dynamics of colonization, as it leaves women invisible as historical agents. Ultimately, then, observing historical progress as an evolving family reduces women to the realm of nature. It places the faculty to consume an entire global reality in the hands of the powerful, which in the case of colonization was the white European male.
[i] Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London: Routledge, 1995), 37.
The colonial/Modern Gender System
In the article Heterosexualism and the colonial/modern gender system, Maria Lugones analyzes the modern/colonial gender system related to the colonial period. The colonial/modern gender system is a term coined by Anibal Quijano. The term was developed to explain the roots of the gender binary system. She defines the term as a biological, dimorphic, patriarchal, and heterosexual organization of relations. She develops the argument that gender itself is a colonial introduction. Lugones describes the process in which the colonial/modern gender system is imposed. She also discusses the two aspects to the modern/colonial gender system which can be viewed as the light and the dark side.
Lugones describes the introduction of the imposition of the colonial/modern system as a slow, discontinuous, and heterogeneous process that violently inferiorized women. She suggest that the gender system was introduced was one informed through the coloniality of power. The coloniality of power is another concept Lugones discusses in her article. This concept deals takes on three forms concerning hierarchies, knowledge, and cultural systems. Lugones believes an understanding of the history of gender systems will let one understand the present functions of hetero norms. An example of this would could be dated back pre-colonial period. Before the colonization of America occurred the indigenous people did not necessarily have gender structures. Gender roles were less associated with biological terms. After the colonization of America the indigenous people were introduced to these new concepts. Essentially, these gender system imposed was a method of controlling reproduction, inheritance, as well as a hierarchical structured society with white males possessing dominance.
There are also characteristics of the light and the dark side that are crucial to discuss. The light side is the side that contains white bourgeois women. These are women that experience oppression in a contrasting way to those women who fall under the dark side category. The bourgeois white women were considered weaker, less intelligent, and were not considered capable of holding authoritative positions and positions of power. Virginity and purity were expectations of women until marriage when women were then expected to be mothers and wives. These white bourgeois women were used to maintain race and the purity of race as well as other forces were used to oppress these women so that men, white me in particular, could maintain power.
The dark side consists of the non-white women, women such as Native Americans or slaves. These women were not viewed as dainty or civilized. These women were viewed as animalistic, they processed no social gender, and were reduced through violence and exploitation to bore physical capacity. These women were of no value, no more value than a mule or an ox. Women on the dark side often not only experienced the exploitation of slavery, but also experienced the brutality of rape and other sexual offenses.
The two sides light and dark consist of two different groups of women, both groups hindered and oppressed by a male dominated society. These views still control American society’s norms. This concept of the colonial/modern gender system provides an understanding of how gender and the roles associated with gender have dictated norms throughout history and the present.