Michele Foucault Panopticism and Discipline

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Joe Mauriello
ENG 201-028
Ms. Jacqueline Kerr
17 April 2012
The All-Seeing Eye
Have you ever had the feeling that you are being watched? It could be the guy across the room, your grandmother in heaven, or even Santa Claus all the way from the North Pole. The idea of surveillance can work to evoke feelings of guilt, fear, and security. We, as Americans, are fortunate enough to live in a country that encourages people of all cultures and ethnicities to thrive together. A country that places essentially no limitations on what we are allowed to say, write, or vote for. Of course, we do have laws and law enforcers that citizens are expected to abide by which gives our society order and efficiency. Without regulation pandemonium would ensue. However, the law enforcement officers can’t be everywhere at the same time, so what is it that keeps our society in check the majority of the time? In Michele Foucault’s chapter “Panoptiticism” from his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, he elaborates on Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a panopticon, focusing on the role of discipline as an instrument of power. What makes the panopticon successful is the idea of an ever-constant surveillance, which the prisoners of the panopticon are always aware of. Panopticism describes this continuous alertness as a way for the governing agents to subconsciously establish control, since the prisoners will presumably always be on their “best behavior.” Foucault depicts the panopticon as a way of exercising power over a mass; this idea can also be taken from the works of John Berger, Susan Bordo, and Laura Kipnis.

Foucault begins by introducing the plague and the actions of society that resulted when the epidemic struck. The plague brought order. Houses were routinely checked, quarantined, registered, etc. Those who were infected were separated from the rest of society in order to establish an uncontaminated community. Foucault states, “This surveillance is based on a system of...
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