Power In The Panopticon

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The world described by Frederick Douglass in his autobiographical writing shows a different image of America. After the proclamation of independence from Great Britain, slavery seems to become “the Other” and brings about a change in the way of perceiving America and the American dream. This work will attempt to provide a clear understanding of this shift of perspective. In the first part of the paper we will address the concept of power by making reference to one of Michel Foucault’s work and then we will discuss about “the Panopticon”, using critical sources pertaining to the same author. The second part of the paper will make use of the concepts already discussed and apply them to the narrative, disclosing the existing power relations as…show more content…
[..] Power is employed and exercised through a netlike organization; individuals are the vehicles of power, not its points of application” . Therefore, power is a system, a network of relations encompassing the whole society, rather than a relation between the oppressed and the oppressor. Conceiving power as strategy and not as possession means to think of it as something that has to be exerted and not something that can simply be acquired. It is not localized exclusively in certain institutions or individuals, but it is rather a set of relations dispersed throughout society. Furthermore, Foucault argues that: “power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations”. Thus, knowledge has a double meaning: on the one hand, it is the result of constant surveillance performed by the slave-holders but on the other hand, it represents a key factor that eventually permits Douglass to cause a shift in the power relations already existent in the…show more content…
Starting from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, which was a towerlike structure fashioned so that it would allow simultaneous surveillance of prisoners, Foucault describes how prisons and other institutions continue the panoptic tradition. The Panopticon would make possible the gaze of the warden upon the prisoners to be experimented as perpetual and inescapable. Through the use of psychological manipulation or physical violence the prisoners are made aware of the ever- present gaze and over time the external surveillance is internalized. Although Douglass’s writings precede Foucault’s by more than a century, Cynthia Nilson argues that “Douglass’s vivid descriptions of life as a slave in a racialized society parallel and corroborate Foucault’s

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