Michael Foucault is a French philosopher who is well known for his magnificent contribution in sociology and philosophy. One of his famous works is a book "Discipline and power" where he developed a social theory called Panopticism. In his book Foucault elaborates changes in middle ages on how society dealt with issues of discipline, punishment and power. To illustrate the situation that prevailed in the society during this age, he explains how lepers were confined in an enclosed place in order to separate them from healthy people. According to Foucault, the society believed one got infected with these diseases after either wronging the society or gods. Therefore, this was a form of punishment or a disciplining mechanism to the victims (Foucault 45- 47).
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Foucault developed Panopticism theory to represent how the modern society deals with issues of discipline, punishment and power. He explains how the panoptic discipline mechanism was applied by societies through inversion mechanisms, teaming of subjects, and acquiring control over them. He also concluded his theory by illustrating the role of the panoptic mechanism in the society especially in economic, judicial, scientific, political and social processes. Panopticon is an architectural model of power and control that was developed by Jeremy Bentham. According to Foucault, Panopticon represents a central tower surrounded by buildings whereby each building can be observed by the person in it. Although towers can be used in places like schools, hospitals, workplaces and prisons, Foucault decided to use it in a prison to illustrate how inmates are observed by the person in the tower who is believed to be the person, in control. The prisoner is monitored but he/she cannot see the monitor. According to him, Panopticon is a diagram of power in action by looking at the plan of it one realizes how the process of examination and observation operate in the society (Foucault 68).
Panopticon is normally a circular building with a tower at the center where the observer is situated. The tower is raised above the building in an open space surrounded by outer wall for confinement of patients or convicts. To increase efficiency, the inmates are confined in cells separated with concrete walls within the building so that they cannot see one another. The cells are then flooded with light from the above to enable the observer in the central tower to monitor what the inmates are doing. The panopticon is designed in this manner to ensure security in prisons through effectiveness of surveillance. He wanted to bring into light the role of discipline as a tool of power in the modern society by using an example of a prison and how observation is used to maintain discipline (Foucault 81). However, Foucault has more functions of the central tower as he illustrates in his book 'Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison'.
He argues that in modern society anyone may exercise in the central tower the functions of surveillance and be in control at that specific moment. He believes that allowing of members of the society to take part in observation process has increased the efficacy of disciplinary mechanism. According to Foucault, the individual in the tower is never observed and it is not possible for those being observed to tell what he/she is doing in the tower. This is normally not good because every person in the society should be observed and his/her information known by the rest. Although this is not applicable in prisons, Foucault argues that in the society every person should be allowed to exercise the central tower in one way or another so that everyone can be an object of information and a subject of information at another time. He believed that this kind of approach in observation could create room for effective use of power in the society. This remains questionable since if this kind of observation is allowed among the society members there will be no role of power (Foucault 91).
In his theory Foucault argues that this kind of design can be used in all types of population that need to be kept under observation. This could constitute prisoners, medical patients, and school children, workers in a busy industry and huge crowds in political meetings among others. The design allows those in power to control behaviour of their subjects hence ensuring easy time for those in authority to exercise their powers. It also enables those in power to ensure, order, and efficiency among their subjects by putting them into constant visibility. The design guarantees the role of power even in situations where there is no one asserting it. According to Foucault, Panopticon functions automatically and it can also be applied in modern science in the laboratories to carry out experiments whereby a researcher is able to monitor several experiments simultaneously. Generally, the theory has enabled scholars to penetrate and study human behaviour in terms of ensuring discipline and power. Foucault used architectural creativity of a Panopticon to come up with a social theory that has played a major role in explaining how observation can be used as perfect tool to achieve discipline and power (Foucault 112).
To understand how this theory works, a drama film, 'The Woodsman', by Nicole Kassell is analyzed where Walter a convicted child molester struggles to adjust to life after prison. This film opens when Walter returns home in Philadelphia after 12 years in jail. The rest of the society is not ready to accept him except his brother in-law Carlos. He later gets a job at a lumber mill where he sleeps with his workmate who later becomes his girlfriend. Although a free man, Walter is frequently visited by police in order to ensure that he stays away from children. He is supposed to coup with the society norms and avoids molesting children which seems difficult to him especially with an elementary school situated across his home. Worst of all, he realizes that there is another man in his neighborhood who also molested small boys who he nicknames 'candy' since gives them candy before abducting them (Fechter 36).
Life becomes more difficult for Walter after his workmates are informed by a suspicious co-worker about his crimes. He then loses control and he goes to the park with intentions of molesting Robin. He is surprised to hear that Robin was previously abused by her own father. This changes his mind and he goes home only to find Candy in his usual behaviour of molesting small boys. This makes him feel bad for failing to succeed in molesting Robin. He then beats Candy so badly out of 'jealous' breaking his jaws. Later on Walter is visited by Lucas as he is parking to move with Vicki. Lucas is eager to know whether Walter was aware of a man who was beaten in his neighborhood the previous night. He goes farther to explain that the attacker was also a wanted man in Virginia for raping a small boy. This makes Walter less worried knowing that no one had realized that he was the one responsible for that crime. As the movie comes to an end, He meets with her sister whom he had not seen for long time. His sister is very angry with him and she leaves him (Fechter 44).
This movie elaborates how observation could be use to achieve discipline and efficiency in our societies. Nothing is told in the movie about Walter' behaviour while in jail since there he was keenly observed. During this period, Walter was under panoptic observation of the prison warden. It was possible to ensure that he was not involved in his unethical behavior of molesting children. Problems arise immediately after his release to a society that has less concern on sexual abuse. The fact that he is regularly monitored by a policeman does not prevent him from resuming to his life before prison. Walter is still possessed by his urge to molest small children. He even beats Candy one night after seeing him escorting a small boy out of self hatred.
Walter is able to mingle with his workmates freely since they are not aware of his crimes. When the secret is revealed, his life becomes miserable and he walks to the park with intentions to abuse Robin. However he changes his intentions after realizing that Robin was previously abused by his own father. Funny enough, Walters's wife is not aware of her husband's current behaviour. The small school boy with Candy during the night of attack is also unable to tell who had attacked them. It also remains questionable why no one is bothered by Candy's unethical behaviour. All that matters to the authority is finding Candy's attacker (Fechter 58).
This movie illustrates how failure by those in power to implement proper observation mechanism hinders their ability to control their subjects. Releasing Walter from prison frees him central tower surveillance and he is able to involve in unethical practices such as child molesting and fighting. Observation made by the policeman is no adequate since it offers Walter free time to carry out his evil deeds. Failure to use observation mechanism is also witnessed in the movie where the society and those in power are unable to realize the actual behaviour of Candy and Robin's father. The management of the mill where Walter is a worker is not keen enough to realize the behaviour of its employees (Fechter 72).
According to Foucault's social theory of panopticism, discipline and power can be achieved if the efficient observation mechanism is used in maintaining discipline and order. Similar to the panoptic tower in prisons, those in power should ensure that all their subjects are under surveillance all the time. Teachers and parents in the Movie were supposed to monitor every move made by their children. On the other hand, the administration had the responsibility of ensuring that none of the society members was involved in unlawful practices. Implementation of Foucault's social theory could have made it easier for those in power to prevent unethical behaviour such as that of Walter, Candy, Robin's father.
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