Michel Foucault's Panopticism

Powerful Essays
Who Possesses Agency?

Michel Foucault’s work in which he titled Panopticism, he explains his views on power; how it is operated, obtained and sustained. He based the word panopticism on Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon - an architectural design of a building that enables the one who possesses agency to see each cell that a subject of power is incarcerated to. Foucault writes that “Visibility is a trap” (Foucault, 286) because the tower is used to “induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault, 288). Foucault views that Bentham’s panopticon is a physical representation of a power dynamic that he sees in play in culture - the one in which he so aptly named panopticism. For this essay, we were asked to try and explain the similarities that we see between Foucault’s essay and the other works that we have read this semester. Finally I see the cohesion to the works and the purpose for reading them. All the authors - Berger, Bordo, and Kipnis - discuss power in their works. Each author gives an example of the power dynamic that Foucault describes.

Though the authors give examples of Foucault’s panopticism, they each have their own opinion on how it works. The authors all try to explain their perception on the way we live in the world and the way that we understand it. In a way, these are the basic foundations of everything that we do.

Throughout his essay, Foucault stresses the idea that one acquires power and knowledge through observation and examination. He then elaborates that panopticism symbolizes certain types of power, or agencies. Agency being the capacity of the ability to act upon something or someone. The panopticon embodies the theory that people become disciplined when they are being watched. Once this power dynamic is applied to other things, these things can become more efficient. This type of disciplinary program is spread throughout society and is used in schools,



Cited: Berger, John. Ways of Seeing - Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. Print Bordo, Susan. Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body - Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. Print. Foucault, Michel. Panopticism - Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. Print. Kipnis, Laura. Love’s Labors - Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. Print.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Good Essays

    Samantha Brown Benjamin Ondieki English 102 27-Sept-08 A Modern Prison In the beginning of Michel Foucault’s writing Panopticism, he tell us of a plague stricken town and the precautions taken to ensure the disease is contained. The town is closed down to all; no one comes in and no one leaves. Each family is confined to their house, “prohibited to leave under punishment of death” (209). Guards and such are places throughout the town to secure it as well as keep records of how everyone feels…

    • 847 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    “Panopticism” Michel Foucault, very well seen as a leading academic and philosopher, wrote many great book and essays. The well known book, “Panopticism,” describes the idea of how one controls things through power. Foucault uses a broad variety of examples throughout the passage to convey the sense of society and how one is controlled by a panopticon. To share is thoughts on society he uses vivid descriptions of the idea of a plague in a community and how society was quarantined to remain sterile…

    • 576 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    CONCLUSION As we see by analyzing Michel Foucault’s chapter, Panopticism, and Dominique Moran’s book, Carceral Spaces: Mobility and Agency in Imprisonment and Migrant Detention, prison architecture has evolved from confining those who were considered abnormal because they violated the law to mentally impacting prisoners by making them paranoid, scared, and frustrated. Initially, prisons were visible to the public because they were built in the center of the city to allow society to see what they…

    • 451 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Good Essays

    | Panopticism; Michel Foucault’s Ingenious Theory PHL 101 Issues in Philosophy | A French philosopher, Michel Foucault developed the theory Panopticism and is explained in his book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Foucault was able to erect this theory based off of Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a panopticon. A panopticon is a circular structured building with a watchtower on top, emitting light from all directions. It lies in the middle of a wider circular area, enabling…

    • 1108 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Foucault's Panopticism

    • 937 Words
    • 4 Pages

    Panopticism meaning a certain view point from an all seeing eye seems to be the way we as a people, although we may not know it are being seen. Within every building, social class, or individual there is a certain type of behavior permitted and if that behavior is not met with what is “right” there is discipline to be handed out. Maybe the world as we know it is under one big microscope and every moment of a regular citizens life is carefully observed by a greater power than themselves. Author Michel…

    • 937 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    In Michael Foiucault's "Panopticism" he breaks down our social/economical systems and explains societies mentality on the law system. He answers the "why's" in the way certain individuals act and think as they do. Many times his explanation is very much branched off of J. Bentham's "Panopticon". In one paragraph of "Panopticism", a disciplinary mechanism is described, which is considered the best way for one to be punished, in that new knowledge and learning is gained by every individual. In this…

    • 810 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    Foucault's Panopticism

    • 272 Words
    • 2 Pages

    The Panopticism was certainly difficult to read and comprehend. After reading it for the first time, I did not understand it. After reading and skimming a couple times, I began to increase my understanding. But after all of that I still do not fully understand the Panopticism. Foucault has a theory about society, comparing jails, schools, and factories, because we are constantly being observed. Foucault’s persona in literature does influence the difficulty of the reading. Some of the vocabulary…

    • 272 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Better Essays

    the essay, Panopticism, by Michel Foucault, he makes the argument that we live in a society of "surveillance". It is mainly this surveillance that forms the basis of authority that draws the individual to believe that the world he lives in is one that is continually watching over him. This becomes another aspect of power where it underlies the main idea of separation as one of the many forms of forces in the Panopticon. The effects of surveillance are clearly discussed in Foucault's essay. The infected…

    • 1086 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    Erika Poupore Professor Currier ENG 102 T 8 February 2013 In Foucault’s Essay on Panopticism he describes how in the Seventeenth Century they began to control the spread of a plague. He begins by explaining what measures were taken to control the plague, such as quarantine and forced separation. One thing that really stood out to me is that he said everyone is locked up in his cage which makes me think of a prison but they were in there own houses. Throughout the essay he breaks down…

    • 297 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Better Essays

    Everything In One View: Panopticism Then & Now "Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked - it is great review of the living and the dead (Foucault 282)." Panopticism by Michel Foucault is a French philosophical essay that explores the themes of power and discipline and how it was manipulated in the seventeenth century and how it affected society over time. In "Panopticism" I noted a relationship between power and discipline in…

    • 1719 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Better Essays