Foucault and the Panopticon

Topic: SocietyCrime
Sample donated:
Last updated: April 1, 2019

The storyline of the book, Discipline and Punish discusses the history of the penal system that exists today. He also takes the opportunity to focus on how it has changed from decades before and what factors have contributed to such a drastic change. Foucault also uses his ideas of power and discourse to debate how they have both influenced the rise of the form of modern day punishment that we experience today. The author also relates the penal system and the process of it to reflect the sense of social control that is used today.

In essence, he relates the modern system of punishment to the ways in which we control the society today. He also reveals in a different light the how the foundation of the penal system is also reinforced into society unintentionally to control. He begins by acknowledging the former means of punishment as corporeal and public execution that were the main forms used.

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In such nature, it was meant to be humiliating to the guilty; therefore an audience of any type was essential and mandatory. However, in the eighteenth century, there was a demand for changes in punishment.Advocates cared less about the prisoners and more about power and authority. They came up with the idea of more preventative methods where punishment would be regarded as a discouragement to committing crimes. The book goes on to further discuss the foundation of what is known as the penal system today. Foucault defines this as disciplinary power is now portrayed to Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is seen as a building or tower that constantly supervises the behavior of individuals.

However, these individuals never actually know if there are being watched or not but they assume that they are constantly being overseen.The advantage of this is that individuals can be supervised and controlled efficiently. He goes on to relate it to the world that we live in today by concluding that they are several institutions that act like panopticons. This historical based book is based on the development of punishment and prisons. The main argument is that the character of punishment has changed overtime. The author claims that the history of punishment has changed from a public view to a very private and personal one. They have moved away from the notion of a mandatory audience and public humiliation to make punishment more effective for the prisoner.

Modern times now believe that punishment has more to do with the successful application of discourses than with physical coercion and violence. Foucault believes that punishment is now hidden. In addition, many also believe that there’s more of a fear aspect when individuals don’t know the manner in which they are going to be punished. The author claims that punishment doesn’t have to be no longer seen and that it should be more internalized. Therefore it doesn’t need to be seen in order for it to be reinforced into us.For instance, the publicity of punishment and crimes has now moved to the trials and we don’t glorify the punishment in an effort to take away or lessen the guilt from the punisher.

He similarly acknowledges that there has been a shifted from repressive power to a more productive and generative form of power; this change is known to be historic in every sense. Instead of causing shame; there is a rehabilitative focus that is now seen as the goal of punishment. Formerly, punishment was directed to the physical body but now it is concentrated more on the mind and the mental state of the individual.Punishment is not to be seen as a means of torture anymore but a method of taking away liberties. It also acts as a preventative method from repeated incarcerations. In order words, we no longer look to affect the body but to impact the mind. Hence the higher aim is to “harvest” a productive member of society where negative mindsets are changed or influence for the better.

This book also emphasizes not only the rise of modern prisons but also the broader processes of control in modern society. Another idea of Foucault’s that is reflective in the book is Discourses.Foucault claims that there are several examples of discourses in society today that control the modern society. Hence the panopticon that started in prison is also in effect in the outside world. Discourses have to deal with a whole specialized area that is developed to control and affect people’s everyday behavior.

Much like the panopticon theory of prisons there are many panopticons in society that impact a person’s behavior. However, we must remember that with this notion; individuals believe that they are continually being watched without proof that they actually are. In society, there are cameras everywhere that monitor our every move.For example, today when we ride our transit system we have the idea that we are constantly being monitored. Hence we create a sense of guilt if we think about doing anything out of the norm or considered deviant. Foucault in turns links life incarcerated to that of the military. Every day is organized with a strict agenda that must be followed.

The aim is to break the individual down to have effective social control. He believes that the more confinement experienced creates a better way of internalizing. This internalized notion that we create is the only thing powerful enough to stop one from committing a crime.He goes on to make reference that we must not mistake the panopticon theory in society as ideology because ideology is what we believe in while discourses are the ways in which ideas influence us. In conclusion, Foucault presents a solid argument on the changes of the penal system within history. He also presents to us the idea that the same techniques used in prison to control inmates are used to some extent outside the prison to control society. He brings to light an idea that we necessary don’t consider to be used as a means of social control.

His ideas of power and discourse relate to the rise of modern punishment by showing that the new productive and generative form of power used is channeled through new discourses that we learn. The changes in the character of punishment from repressive punishment to a rehabilitative focus have proven to be effective. In essence, the prison acts as a branch of authority that is also portrayed in society based on a single tactic.

What is surprising, is that we don’t realize how efficient this tactic is and how integrated it is involved in the outside social order.


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