Michel Foucault’s Theory Of The Panopticon

Power and its control and management are elements constantly present in society and institutions.

The management of the behavior of citizens and acting according to rules of coexistence that are more or less agreed upon and accepted by society as a whole is carried out by various agents throughout our lives. Said surveillance and control would be analyzed in the Michel Foucault’s panopticon theory

Understanding the term: what is panopticon?

Although the theory of the panopticon has been popularized thanks to Michel Foucault, the panopticon concept was devised by Jeremy Bentham as a mechanism applicable to controlling the behavior of prisoners in prisons.

The panopticon itself is a form of architectural structure designed for jails and prisons This structure involved a circular arrangement of the cells around a central point, without communication between them and the inmate could be observed from the outside. In the center of the structure there would be a surveillance tower where a single person could view all the cells, being able to control the behavior of all the inmates.

These, however, could never be aware of whether they were being watched or not, given that said tower was built in such a way that from the outside it was seen as opaque, not knowing where the watchman was or what he was doing. Thus, the inmate could be watched at all times, having to control his behavior in order not to be punished.

Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon

The idea of ​​the panopticon would be picked up by Michel Foucault, who would see in today’s society a reflection of said system. For this author, The passage of time has caused us to immerse ourselves in a disciplinary society, which controls the behavior of its members by imposing surveillance. Thus, power seeks to act through surveillance, control and correction of citizens’ behavior.

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Panopticism is based, according to Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon, on being able to impose behaviors on the entire population based on the idea that we are being watched. The aim is to generalize typical behavior within ranges considered normal, punishing deviations or rewarding good behavior.

Self-management and self-censorship

This social model makes the individual self-manage their behavior, making coordination and fusion with the group difficult in order to maintain behavior within a range established as correct by power. The formation and action of groups that diverge from the established order is difficult.

The use of mechanisms based on the same principle of the panopticon allows power not to have to be exercised and manifested continuously, since although in ancient times there was a person who exercised power and monitored whether it was obeyed, now any person or even object can be a representative of said power.

The fact that surveillance is invisible, meaning that observed people cannot determine whether they are being watched or not, means that individual behavior is controlled even when it is not monitored. The subject under possible observation will try to obey the imposed rules in order not to be punished.

Foucault says that the panopticon expresses very well the type of dominance that occurs in the contemporary age: Surveillance mechanisms are introduced into bodies, they are part of a type of violence that is articulated through the expectations and meanings transmitted by spaces and institutions.

The panopticon in society

For Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon, the panopticon-type structure in which some agents enjoy the power to monitor and sanction the behavior of the rest without them being able to discern whether or not they are being monitored is not limited only to the prison environment. in which Bentham imagined it.

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In fact, According to Foucault, all current institutions have this type of organization in one way or another Although it is not necessary that it be carried out physically, and even without real surveillance being carried out at some point, the fact of knowing or believing that we are being monitored and evaluated will modify our behavior in different environments.

For example, Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon is applicable in the business world, where employees control their behavior in the knowledge that their superiors can visualize their actions. Such control improves productivity and reduces dispersion. The same thing happens at school, with students self-monitoring their behavior when they believe they are being watched by teachers and even with teachers when they consider that they are being watched by governing bodies. The idea is to make the domain blurred in the dynamics of power and social relations.

For Foucault, everything today is linked through surveillance, from participation in different institutions to our daily lives. Even in areas such as sex, the control mechanisms of today’s society are visible, seeking control of our drives through the normalization of sexuality This has been reinforced with the birth of information technologies, in which cameras and surveillance systems have been implemented and improved in order to control the behavior of others.

Some aspects linked to Psychology

Both the structure designed by Bentham and Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon have an important consequence on a psychological level: the emergence of self-control of subjects due to the presence of surveillance

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This fact corresponds to operant conditioning according to which the emission or inhibition of a behavior will be given by the consequences of said action. Thus, knowing that we are being watched implies, depending on the case, the expectation of possible reinforcement or punishment if we perform certain behaviors. This will cause the responses to be carried out that seek to carry out the behavior that causes positive consequences or that avoids the imposition of a punishment, while all behavior that entails aversive consequences will be avoided.

Although it can improve work performance and behavior in certain areas, such constant surveillance can in many cases lead to the birth of stress reactions and even episodes of anxiety in people who end up becoming excessively inhibited, thus excessive control promoting behavioral rigidities. and psychological discomfort.

Likewise, the imposition of power will generate a high level of reactance in many other people s, inducing behaviors opposite to those initially intended to be achieved.

Such control can also be conducted in a positive manner. Knowing that they are being watched can encourage subjects to make behavioral modifications that in the long run may provide an adaptive advantage. For example, it can help improve adherence and monitoring of treatment or therapy or even prevent acts such as assault, harassment or abuse. The problem is that many of these modifications will be merely superficial and facing the public, not causing attitudinal changes or taking place in the private sphere. Behavioral change is basically carried out because of the possible consequences and not because of the conviction of the need for a change.