Opinionated essay about Michel Foucault's essay "panopticism"

Essay by fzwjags96College, UndergraduateA+, April 2003

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Michel Foucault, in his essay Panopticism, talks about how the panopticon is a mechanism of power. But what I wonder is this: Is it the panopticon that holds the power or is it just the fear of being watched that really is holding the power? A panopticon was originally a prison that is constructed so that prisoners can be seen at all times but the guards can not. Foucault, however, discusses how the idea of panopticons are used at all levels of society, everything from schools, asylums, hospitals, and barracks all have panoptic similarities. Knowing this, one would have to believe that the power of such buildings isn't because of the people in charge of them but because of the panoptic theory.

The lengthy excerpt from pp. 232-33 of Foucault's essay is a tough one to understand at first. It tries to say that the panopticon takes power away from a single person.

It is not so much the person that holds the power, but the mechanism itself that is powerful. The power of the person in charge is meaningless. The panopticon assures that everything will be different that is in its reign. But it will make everything different for the better not the worse. It will be different because it will make people think before they do something wrong. The excerpt also tries to say that it doesn't matter who is in charge or has the power. Anybody, any random person, can run the panopticon. Any visitor regardless of their motive would only help make the panopticon more powerful. The more random people you have viewing, the greater the risk for the inmate of being caught doing something wrong. This will only make him more aware of being observed. Then the excerpt just goes on to...