MICHEL FOUCAULT ‘PANOPTICISM’ 21082011

September 2, 2011


 

The form of discipline is integrated into our society with its various institutional forms. A system which enables the enforcement of discipline is the panopticon principle. It has a psychological impact due to its unconditional function for surveillance of its subjects without them being aware when they are being watched. The major effect of the Panopticon: to include in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. (Foucault, 1991: p. 201) The concept of the Panopticon structure enables homogeneous effects of power, as it acts directly on individuals; it gives ‘power of mind over mind’. (Foucault, 1991: p. 206) The inmate must never know whether he is being looked at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. (Foucault, 1991: p. 201) It still is cruel similar to its predecessors but yet an ingenious cage.

A pure architectural and optical system which is a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use. (Foucault, 1991: p. 205) The embodied potential of this mechanism can lead to tyrannic regimes when utilized within the structure of a society. However, it can be also democratic as everyone can have access to it and understand how the entire structure operates. Temples, theatres and circuses are examples from the antiquity were the panopticon mechanism was embedded within the architecture. Therefore, the Panopticon was an event in the history of the human mind. The modern version of the panopticon network can be understood in the networks spread over the urban environments inhabited by humans. CCTV cameras and police belong to this system. The individual is gradually integrated in this network through a technique of forces and bodies.

Cameras in our everyday experience are not considered as foreign urban elements. Similar to traffic lights and electricity poles, they become part of the urban infrastructure. They are constantly challenging the border of our individuality through experimental TV shows such as big brother, which introduces the idea of being constantly under surveillance and therefore become less foreign. An entire culture is developing within the last decade where being able to ‘spy’ into other people’s private life is acceptable through online platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. At the same time, it suggests a democratic approach to the use of this mechanism as anyone can utilize it. Within the structure of Facebook, there is a certain amount of disciplinary rules which the user must conform with, such as the information shared. The network’s socializing nature creates a positive psychological impact to its members, as they are allowed to connect with their friends. The idea therefore of a panoptic view, by tapping into people’s private life, is very present.

 

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Michel Foucault, ‘Panopticism’ in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin, 1991

 


ANDREAS SIVITOS

 

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