Panopticism Essay

Panopticism Essay

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In his essay “Panopticism,” Michel Foucault introduces the Panopticon structure as proof of modern society tending toward efficient disciplinary mechanisms. Starting with his example of the strict, intensely organized measures that are taken in a typical 17th-century plague-stricken town, Foucault describes how the town employed constant surveillance techniques, centralized a hierarchy of authorities to survey households, partitioned individual structures to impose certain behavior, and record current information about each individual.
As society has progressed, Foucault explains, these practices have expanded into other institutions such as hospitals, schools, prisons and asylums. Bentham’s Panopticon embodies such disciplinary techniques. Inside a tall, central tower amidst the many cells, a surveyor can see all the inhabitants “without ever being seen” (Foucault 376). The individuals are aware they that may be observed at the moment, but cannot ever be sure. This implementation of power is thus greatly effective because it reduces the amount of people needed to operate the system, while maximizing the number of people it can watch over. Power becomes more economic to maintain. Intervention, and even better, prevention, can be exercised. Panopticism is not the link between power and function, says Foucault, but rather “it is a way of making power relations function in a function” (381); that is, power and function do not operate discretely, but within each other...

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