Panopticon as a Mechanism of Power and the Relation between Knowledge and Power in Panopticism, an Essay by Michel Foucault
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 itiust 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, Knowmg 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 excerptiust goes on to say that the Panopticon is an incredible machine that always produces the same effects of power regardless of what it is used for, This is basically what the excerpt from the essay says in layman’s terms. If you take it sentence by sentence and read it aloud it is much more understandable than reading it silent and quickly. Another idea that Foucault talks about is the relation of knowledge and power: “The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men‘s behaVIor. knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new obiects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised” (235), What does this statement mean though?
It is confusing in many aspects. I believe, however that what it is trying to say is that, because it produces the fear of always being watched, this fear takes control of men’s behavior causing them to act in ways that they normally wouldn’t. Then l think that it is trying to say that once you have power over somebody knowledge just comes to you naturally because you are in control. The last sentence, though, I really don’t understand regardless of how many times I looked at it and tried to decipher the meaning. Foucault‘s essay, Panopticism, is far superior than the works of John Berger and Susan Bordo thatl have read It is not only that I think his essay is better, I also believe that the ideas that Foucault makes in the essay are more valid and better thought out than those by Bordo and Berger.
For example, all of the essays talked about power in one way or another, But the way Bordo and Berger wrote about power is much different and less believable than the way Foucault talked about it. In Berger’s essay he talks about how people have the power to View an object in any way that we please. Also, by looking at this obiect in our own way we have changed it, made it ours in a way. I don‘t really see that as being very powerful. In Bordo‘s essay, she talks about how we as a society have power because we influence the advertising field. But in this case do we really have the power or does the advertising field have it by influencing us to buy their product? In her essay it was a circle of who has the power over whom, because, yes, the advertising industry does influence us, but they get their ideas based on the stereotypes that society creates. It made more sense than Berger’s essay, but still did not completely conVince me.
Finally, Foucault made the idea of power so easy By scaring someone into thinking they are always being watched you have complete power and control over them. But he also went on to say that the panopticon is the only real source of power not the person controlling ll, Foucault also tied in the agerold saying that knowledge is power which I have already shown you in this essay. But is the opposite true also? Is power knowledge? I would have to agree that it is because with increased power comes increased knowledge of many things. Although I didn’t agree With every last word that Foucault wrote in his essay, most of his ideas were very convincing and well thought out. This essay, Panopticism, was the best so far I have read. It also has made the most impact on me not only as a reader but also on my ideas of who is watching and when they are watching me.