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Foucault's Panopticon

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Jurisprudence " The Panopticon is a priviledged place for experiments on men, and for analysing with complete certainty the transformations that may be obtained by them. [It] functions as a kind of laboratory of power" .Michele Foucault. Discuss Bentham's Panopticon1, envisioned as a correctional facility2, was an ingenious architectural scheme. Designed in the shape of a pentagon, the prisoners' cells3, each theatrically "backlit" by a high window, faced an open space dominated by an observation tower4. The tower windows had shades which could be drawn in such a way that the detainees did not know whether they were being watched at a particular time or not. Since the prisoners were constantly subjected to this field of total visibility, they would internalise the prison guard5. Panopticon - the Greek neologism signified 'all-seeing place' - was all about vision and transparency operating one-way only: in the service of power. The panoptic mechanism's asymmetric system of lighting and wooden blinds ensured that the individual inmate was constantly visible, identifiable, and classifiable to the inspector - who was a kind of secular version of the All Seeing God's-eye. Its power was "visible and unverifiable" - that is, the inmate could not see the inspector, only the looming tower: he would never know when he was actually under surveillance6. This uncertainty, along with the inmate's isolation and loss of privacy, is the means of his compliance and subordination. "He [the inmate] is the object of information, never a subject in communication7". Uncertainty becomes the principle of his own subjection. It assures that: "surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if discontinuous in its action8". The Panopticon has occasioned much discussion9 over the past two decades. Ignatieff10, Evans11, Melossi and Pavarini12, amongst others contributed to the discussion that has centred on the extent to which Bentham's program for a rational, utilitarian society was motivated by a concern for humanitarian reform or more sinister, disciplinary interests. ...read more.


Foucault's project inciting nothing - was a genealogy that locates and analyses power. What we do with this analysis, this knowledge, was not Foucault's concern, either because he himself was acting out of resistance to Enlightenment progression, i.e. social change for the better, or because he is simply not a social theorist but an interdisciplinary thinker of social matrices. Therefore, I object in any attempt to use Foucault's works to better analyse organizations, because that constitutes improper use of material principally designed to better analyse "how human beings are made subjects". Foucault made us aware that whatever our functionally defined "roles" in society, we are constantly negotiating questions of authority and the control of the definitions of reality: he says it is better to look at the little pieces rather than the big picture36. Ironically, epidemiological controls would provide the blueprint of what Foucault called: "the utopia of the perfectly governed city." At this juncture, I would like to leave the reader to ponder on whether the following 1949 fictional conception would had ever delighted Foucault's imagination... or is it just my troubled mind...? "The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinised." ...read more.


From the Weberian "value-neutral" perspective, when these conditions are met, both are regarded as equally legitimate, but there remains the temptation to declare which one is less legitimate. 28 "Personal domination" 29 "Impersonal domination" 30 Michel Foucault, "Truth, Power, Self: An Interview," in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. Luther Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton (Amherst: UMass Press, 1988), 14. 31 or now hidden power of discipline. 32Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan 1977 (Reprinted in Penguin jBooks, 1991), p.308. In modern society, he later states [Foucault M, 1979 History of Sexuality Vol I: An Introduction, London: Allen Lane], our spaces are organized "like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible 33 Foucault M, 1979 History of Sexuality Vol I: An Introduction, London: Allen Lane 34 Janet Semple , for example, has reacted strongly to Foucault's notorious view that the Panopticon constituted a "diabolical piece of machinery" for social control in the nineteenth century(Foucault (1980) p.158). She suggests that Foucault's "claustrophobic distrust of the world" ((1993) p.322) has led him to depreciate the sincerity of Bentham's intentions. She prefers to see the Panopticon as the product of "a realistic, kindly man looking for ways to ameliorate the lot of the poor (Semple (1993) p.314-315)." 35 As he explains: "I would like to say, first of all, what has been the goal of my work during the last twenty years. It has not been to analyse the phenomena of power, nor to elaborate the foundations of such an analysis. My objective, instead, has been to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects." Foucault M , Questions of method: an interview with Michel Foucault , Ideology and consciousness 8 , 1981 p.208 36 i.e., look at one prison instead of society as a whole ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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