The Purpose Of Michel Foucault's Panopticism

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In the essay “Panopticism,” Michel Foucault argues the idea in which a panoptic design might be used in other institutions where surveillance is needed, such as schools, hospitals or workplaces. According to Foucault, the main purpose of the Panopticon was to “induce the inmate into the state of consciousness and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power”, meaning that the simple act of watching individuals causes them to behave and act accordingly. The inmate would always have the view of the central tower but would not know if he was being watched at any moment. He would just assume that someone was watching him at all times. There was a power over the inmates. As Foucault states, it gives “power of mind over mind”. Although no actual building was built, “The panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: It is a diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form.” In short, the idea of a panopticon serves as a metaphor to understand how being made constantly visible impacts us psychologically. Foucault starts his essay with a description of the strict, organized measures taken against the plague stricken town in the seventeenth century, with the aim of creating a pure community. These include: the partitioning of space, the closing of the town and the separation of lepers from society. It was in these respects that all modern mechanisms and techniques for controlling and measuring individuals were created. These same types of

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