Regardless from where a person comes from, one is always under constant surveillance by someone in society, which in return affects everyone’s individual actions and reactions. Foucault’s Panopticism proves that our ideals we have gained from society do manipulate how we act and behave without realizing it. Our society’s social factors and the knowledge we possess as a society can control one’s action if one comprehends how power can control other individual’s actions.
Foucault’s Panopticism created a 3that could achieve 100% observation by one overseer in a circular building to gain the knowledge of the prisoners and give the feeling of inferiority and powerlessness. Foucault believed “all that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and shut up in each cell a madmanthey are so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible” (319).
The subject is never sure when and if they are being observed at all, leaving their ideals to self regulate and unconsciously become their own guardians. This surveillance objectifies the subjects in the cells, categorizes them and creates new social norms resulting from fear of being caught acting out of line. Foucault used the plague as a good example of how in everyday life the Panopticon’s principles of power could come into effect if the norms of society were taken away and one power monitored your every action.
He believed that the Panopticon and the plague were two of the same and yet different. One was an evil natural disaster while the other broke people down artificially for the sole purpose to gain power. Nevertheless, both resulted in a knowledge that controlled society and subjects that conformed to the government’s new power almost instantly. The Panopticon was not only used as a form of punishment but also served as “a laboratory; it could be used to carry out experiments, to alter behavior, to train or correct individuals” (323).
The Panopticon could test procedures, and change the behavior of the inmates because it had no social factors to affect the deviant behaviors in the people held within. It tried out the most effective forms of punishment and reward while teaching different techniques in order to distinguish which one was the best. The Panopticon made perfecting the exercise of power possible.
Foucault states that “Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious cage” (325), meaning that although the setting may seem inhuman, it is a work of intelligence at the time and for years to come. Nevertheless, Foucault recognized that the “panoptic mechanism is not simply a hinge, a point of exchange between a mechanism of power and a function; it’s a way of making power relations function, and making a function function through these power relations. ” (326).
Many will view Foucault’s Panopticism experiment as cruel and unnecessary, nevertheless the inmates in the Panopticon act as subjects of experiments to test more sufficient ways of labor, medicine, and ways of teaching that are helping our future by creating knowledge of a normlessness world and the power that could find how to completely eradicate deviance and deter the social factors that influence these behaviors. Today, in our society, most people take social factors that influence our actions for granted.
Foucault believes that each man is a product of his society, and without society, there is no person. This means the knowledge that we possess as a society indirectly and without our recognition controls our actions and alters our knowledge. According to the sociologist, Sutherland, his theory of Differential Association states that not all people will experience the same personal and social conditions because criminal behavior is learned through interactions with others principally in intimate groups.
Any person has the possibility to become more delinquent when there is an excess of definitions favorable for the deviant to break the law. When a person is in complete solitude and constant surveillance in the Panopticon, there is no chance to learn deviant behavior and constant surveillance that would deter criminal acts because of higher risks of being caught. Today, for example, when adolescents are in high school they are less likely to skip class when they know that the reprimand will be unfair and have a higher risk of being punished when caught.
There were always teachers lurking around corners, checking out restrooms for vandalism and smoking, and peeking into classrooms to make sure that we were all behaving appropriately and the majority of the students will conform to norms so they will not get into trouble. Foucault said in his essay that, “power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up.
In other words, Foucault in saying that power is more internal, where people are interested and attracted to the other factors that cause power. It is not the person who is special and selected to have the power, instead it is the factors in society that affect the other subjects to believing this person has the power. Why should we have the knowledge and power in the first place to deter criminal acts, though? Is the reason that the government forces laws and punishments on us because they are afraid knowledgeable citizens are a threat to their control of society?
If it is the knowledge we possess as a society that controls our individual actions, then it is understandable why the government would want to have its citizens conform to all of its demands. If no one is afraid of the “punishment fitting the crime,” then would we all commit crimes and run around like headless chicken in a state of anomie? Or would we have the morals that result from the social factors created by our society and the government deter us from committing the crimes and make us conform to the social norms?
When you think about it, we are all inmates of some sort in the real world. Our government today is the next Panopticon through the census, taxes, the internet, and hidden cameras because it can monitor all of our actions without our knowledge and power. So, is being watched a good thing? Or is it a violation of our rights? Or are our rights what are violating us? Censorship in any type of media such as television, newspapers, and the internet, is a restriction of our freedom of speech.
Each amendment in the Bill of Rights blindly has some way for the government to look over and regulate us and create social norms that we must conform to. The right to bear arms can be restricted if you have already committed a crime, which means the government knows about almost everyone when and how many armed weapons someone may own. Or the 4th Amendment which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violatedWhat is then considered an “unreasonable” search and seizure and probable cause?
That is left for the government to figure out according the their morals and knowledge of power to deter people and make them conform to its standards. It seems as if there is an exception to every rule that the government has, and yet, the government is the only one that can get away with finding and breaking the exceptions to every rule because of the knowledge and power it possesses. We have learned through sociological experiments and research that humans are easily manipulated and can conform unconsciously.
Yet, how does this help the citizens without power? Or is this the whole part of our existence, the knowledge to gain power to manipulate those who conform easily? Do we really need to know this much about humans because soon we will have dissected ourselves so much to a point where nothing else is left to learn? The Panopticon was a work of intelligence for sociologist of its time and today, I believe if it was not invented then that some knowledge and power greedy person would have invented it later in time.