Monday, 17 December 2012

Study Task Three - Panopticism

Choose an example of one aspect of contemporary culture that is, in your opinion, panoptic. Write an explanation of this, in approximately 400 words, employing key Foucauldian language, such as 'Docile Bodies' or 'self-regulation', and using not less than 5 quotes from the text 'Panopticism' in Thomas, J. (2000) 'Reading Images', NY, Palgrave McMillan. refer also to the lecture, 'Panopticism' (25 /10 /12), and the accompanying seminar.

It could be said that aspects of religious societies could be seen as having links with panopticism. The main area where I feel this is the case is the belief that everyone on earth is constantly being watched by God, this thought of an "omnipresent and omniscient power" links strongly with the main aspect of the Panopticon building, the viewing tower. Inmates within the panopticon could not see each other, but would be constantly staring into the centre where the guards would be. Even if the guards were not visible, like God, the tower itself was a constant reminder that they could be being watched. The idea of always being in the light and being constantly viewed as an object of scrutiny within a religious and panoptic institutions can be seen as a form of control. Foucault writes "Visibility is a trap," and to be visible means you are detectable and will be always caught out. Therefore the constant surveillance of supervisors will always play on people's minds and effect their decisions and behaviour.

Another aspect of religion that could be said to link to this theory is 'The Ten Commandments', a set of rules on how to live within the Jewish and Christian communities. According to Foucault this could be considered as "strict divisions; not laws transgressed, but the penetration of regulation into even the smallest details of everyday life." That with these rules and the threat of punishment for breaking them leads to a society made of 'docile bodies,' which could be described as self monitoring, self correcting, obedient bodies, people who do what they're told without questioning it. Within the church there is also the option to 'confess your sins' this increases religious control as it allows people to remain within the community, as if there was no possibility of being accepted back there would be no reason to abide by the rules and they could continue to make decisions that didn't reflect God's views.

Finally, Foucault often describes the real life events of the Plague "The following, according to an order published at the end of the seventeenth century, were measures to be taken when the plague appeared in a town." and applies them to his ideas of panopticism. He describes the 'festival' aspect of the plague as "...suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the frenzy of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect, individuals unmasked, abandoning their statuary identity and the figure under which they had been recognised." Also, the 'political' view of the plague and it's dreams of ultimate control "The plague stricken town, transversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilised by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies - this is the utopia of the governed city." This idea can be linked with the threat of an apocalyptic world within religion, as Foucault writes "in order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague." It could be described as religious rulers imagining social disorder and wanting this disorder in order to set it right and control by creating new disciplinary measures.

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