Panopticism Essay

This essay has a total of 1249 words and 5 pages.


Focault Panopticism

"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.

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 behavior."(331, Focault)

The powerful results of surveillance can be seen when Focault discusses lepers and plague
victims. The persons with the plague (lepers were included in this group) were always
observed to account for their presence. These people were supposed to be present at their
windows for attendance. Where they not present at the time, they were marked as dead.
Their family would be removed, the house would be cleaned out, perfumed, and then, a mere
four hours later, people would move back in. Obviously, the fear of not being observed
Continues for 3 more pages >>