Surveillance in Foucault's Panopticism and Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron

Powerful Essays
Surveillance in Foucault's Panopticism and Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron

Ever feel as though someone is watching you? You know that you are the only one in a room, but for some reason you get an eerie feeling that you are not alone? You might not see anyone, but the eyes of a stranger could be gazing down on you. In Foucault's "Panopticism," a new paradigm of discipline is introduced, surveillance. No one dares to break the law, or do anything erroneous for that matter, in fear that they are being watched. This idea of someone watching your every move compels you to obey. This is why the idea of Panopticism is such an efficient form of discipline. The Panopticon is the ideal example of Panopticism, which is a tool for surveillance that we are introduced to in “Panopticism.” Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," has taken the idea of surveillance one step further. The government not only observes everyone, but has complete control over society. The citizens of the United States cannot even think for themselves without being interrupted by the government. They are prisoners in their own minds and bodies. The ideals of “Panopticism” have been implemented to the fullest on society in Vonnegut’s "Harrison Bergeron," through physical and mental handicaps.

In “Panopticism” Foucault states, “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” (Foucault, pg. 201). The function of the Panopticon is to keep the prisoners orderly by instilling fear inside of them, this fear forces them to stay in their cells, and to remain compliant. The Panopticon is a building designed for surveillance.

In “Panopticism,” the Panopticon is a centra...

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...y are not prisoners, they are mere citizens that must constantly live lives of punishment in order to achieve equality. They can not think for themselves, or excel at anything in life, because they are all equal. Each of them is just like the next citizen. In Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” the United States in 2081 are not a society, but a Panoptic prison where the citizens are held and guarded like inmates, and this is no way to live.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Vonnegut, Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron.” Short Stories Characters In Conflict. Ed. John E. Warner. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. 344-353

Winokur, Mark. “The Ambiguous Panopticon: Foucault and the Codes of Cyberspace” CTHEORY.NET. 13 March 2003. Access date : 28 April 2005. <>
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