The Panopticon Essay

1740 words - 7 pages

The Panopticon

There have been , since the time of the Enlightenment, two distinct models for disciplinary institutions. Both of these models may be seen in the form of prisons. The contemporary ideal of the institutions derives its form from Bentham's Panopticon. In the period shortly following the age of Enlightenment, Bentham, an economist by trade, began to critically evaluate the disciplinary institutions of the day. Seeing that the model of the prison could be characterized as a form of discipline-blockade, he set out to improve the functionality of the prison as well as other institutions. Being an economist, Bentham saw that these institutions were not functionally productive. In describing the discipline blockade form Michel Foucault writes that it is, "turned inwards towards negative functions: arresting evil, breaking communications, suspending time."(209, Discipline and Punish) Now although this may seem befitting of criminal behavior, there is another disciplinary model which, when employed, will achieve far greater results than that previously described. This new form is termed a, "discipline-mechanism" by Foucault.(209) This mechanism is not limited in practice to prisons, its widespread use can form a disciplinary society through its employment in the minute institutions of society. Its deployment will create a disciplinary society where power is not accumulated but is made functional and useful in maintaining societal discipline. However, before singing the praises of this new mechanism, it would be beneficial to analyze the pre-existing forms of discipline and how they lead to this new model. Also, it would not be wise to readily accept this panopticism without realizing the social ramifications of this new disciplinary society. In doing so, one may both uphold this mechanism and recognize its work and effect on the individual.

Before the Enlightenment, individuals who went against the will of the kind were tortured and/or put to death in a spectacle which the whole society had the opportunity to witness. With the age of Enlightenment came a breakdown of the singular authority. This was replaced by a complex system of institutions known as government. Similarly, without the singular identity of power (i.e. the king), the prevalence of these public torture/executions diminished and has, by now, died out almost completely. Rather than kill or maim a perpetrator, the new authority felt it to be more beneficial to incarcerate the individual away from the society in an attempt to reform the offender in order to someday release this criminal turned citizen back into the population. This technique proved to be mostly ineffective. This was due to the fact that the institution had as its goal, to remove the individual from society and in doing so to demonstrate to the criminal the freedoms they had given up by committing their crime. When Foucault states that this institution was, "turned inwards towards negative...

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