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Foucault Panopticism

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Panopticism by Michel Focault

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“Our society is not one of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies. (pp.333-34)”

In the essay, Panopticism, by Michel Focault, he makes the argument that we live in a society of “surveillance”. Meaning that our society is based on amalgamation of “forces and bodies” all of which act to create the individual. It is principally this surveillance which forms the basis of power that draws the individual to believe that the world he lives in is one that is continually watching over him. This constant friction of mental forces (those who fear or have a certain curiosity) shapes who the individual becomes within the society. According to this passage, Focault gives support to the basic argument concerning the panopticon, that communication is key to knowledge. Within the panopticon, there is no communication among the prisoners or those who view them. This becomes another aspect of power; it underlies the main idea of separation and communication as a form of shaping forces in the panopticon.

The first phrase in the passage testifies to the basic structure of our society. The goal for our society is “to procure for a small number, or even for a single individual, the instantaneous view of a great multitude” (333, Focault). The purpose of such a society is so that relations between the individual and the state can be better controlled. That the “infinitely small of political power”(331, Focault) who run the state can watch the many citizens. It must be acknowledged that to view each citizen is not simply to watch them, but to exercise the power that surveillance entails.

“And unlike the methods of judicial or administrative writing, what was registered was in this way were forms of behavior, attitudes, possibilities, suspicions – a permanent account of individuals behavio...

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...pticon where in the center of every cell stands a guard. Whenever we walk into a store for purchasing purposes, we are always under observation. There is a circular glass piece on the top of the ceiling with a rotating camera looking down upon each of our movements. We think someone is watching us. How do we react to the surveillance? It is an act of societal conditioning and discipline. It has proven to be a form of behavior to give us a guilty conscious or the simple fear of being caught.

“Our society is not one of spectacle, but of great surveillance; it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies” (pp.333-34). Foucault’s argument may not be understood with his difficulty of writing, but with the examples and proof of such a mind-game that we live in our society today is a good way to understand his point of judgement. We live in a society that watches over one’s movement to arbiter if their behavior or movement is wrong. We have many secret services in our world today that know more about us than we know ourselves. It is an ultimate fear, anxiety, and affliction that we live-out our lives everyday.
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