Michel Foucault and Postmodern Panopticons Around Us

In Michel Foucault’s “Panopticism”, he discusses Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the panopticon which is a prison that allows for the prisoners to be well lit and watched at all times; however, the prisoners never know when they are being watched because the watchers are behind blackened glass. Foucault rightly points out that this breaks the seeing/being seen distinction because the prisoner cannot see if he/she is being watched, but the watcher both can see inside and out.

So, this instills compliance to authority without rebellion. He also discusses the similar confinement of the sick, the mentally ill, school children, workers, etc. and ends the piece noting that it is not surprising that schools, jobs, hospitals, etc. all look like prisons and that prisons look like all the other buildings. (He would love the Anschutz Medical Campus!) So, throughout the reading, it kept occurring to me that in fascist countries the “spies” or tattlers were like the panopticon because they, like the hidden people, are unknown entities—for all you know, you might never be watched or a parakeet might always be watching you.

And because the spies were hidden, you would not know who is and is not a spy; who is and who is not a working cog of the authority.

This points out Foucault’s subtle message at the end: we are often in panopticons. Classrooms are setup this way with the teacher in front, looking at all the students. And if they are excessively large, then there are usually teachers’ assistants that wrangle the students that step out of line-like the people in the panopticon taking their place as the authority.

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: Ethics

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

And with the last decade full of “threat” of terrorist attacks, one has seen an increase in these measures even in individualized countries like the US: report suspicious packages, people, etc. Likewise, the constant threat of video surveillance, which unfortunately happened to an extreme after Foucault’s death, is another panopticon he would have considered, as it is the postmodern panopticon. Video surveillance is just like the panopticon because you are always being taped, but you never know who is looking at the tapes. For example, at my last job, I was a clerk. The shifts were single coverage, and the manager worked five of the 35 shifts per week (3 per day). He could watch the tapes at anytime, but was highly unlikely to be able to watch all of the tapes. So, the question could have became when was and when was I not in danger of being watched?

But rather, it ended up being just the opposite of all of my actions being up for question and leaving me to only do things I could explain to my boss. Not that this is particularly hard as I can justify what I do and generally do not do things I consider wrong; however, I know for many of my coworkers who were to cheat the systems in place, the questions were: what do the cameras see? How many actually record? How much time will the boss have to watch the tapes? If I just do it once, will he care? And all of these questions lead me to believe that while the surveillance itself is necessary, the enforcement is also necessary. Which begs the question, would the panopticon really need many observers if they were to rather just hire actors to convincingly get caught misbehaving and “just disappear?” Could humans en masse be trained the same way that elephants (small rope and nail) and cows (will not pass painted “cow guard”) are to fear things that they could easily overpower if they just tried?

Cite this page

Michel Foucault and Postmodern Panopticons Around Us. (2022, Jun 30). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/michel-foucault-and-postmodern-panopticons-around-us/

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7