Panopticism

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Holly Hickman
English 201
4 February 2013
Panopticism
According to Jeremy Bentham in 1791, a panopticon is a circular building with cells distributed around a central surveillance station. Some may refer to this structure as a prison or holding place of prisoners while on trial, and then some see it as a place for the exhibition of novelties. Panopticism is the idea that if you individualize the subjects by placing them in a state of constant visibility, then they will perform at their highest skill set. Furthermore, it guarantees the function of power, even when there is no one actually asserting it. This idea of panopticism is not only evident in a panopticon, but also in many types of society and situations today. Mothers and fathers, athletes, and musicians have all experienced this at some point.

In his essay Panopticism Michel Foucault is asserting that the structure of the Panopticon demonstrates the distribution of power in our society. The Panopticon is a design for a prison; its layout is a large circular room and along the edge of the room are individual cells where the prisoners are housed. In the center of the room is a high tower with glass windows surrounding it so that the guard can peer out on the prisoners at all times, but from the outside the guard is not visible to the prisoners. This creates the allusion that the prisoners are always being watched because they never know when they are being observed by the guard and when they are not. As a result of this, the subjects are always on their best behavior to avoid punishment from the guard. This is so effective that the guard does not even need to be present to have its effect on the prisoners. The panopticon not only served as a prison, but had a number of other purposes as well including: “So much for the question of observation. But the Panopticon was also a laboratory; it could be used as a machine to carry out experiments, to alter behavior, to train or correct individuals. To...
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