Write an essay in which you follow the suggestion posed by Foucault’s conclusion and explain why it is not surprising that “prisons resemble factories
Foucault describes the “major effect of the Panopticon” in the following way:
to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. (201)
That mechanism of the Panopticon, Foucault explains, can be utilized in a variety of different “applications” outside the prison, and its effects are used for a variety of different ends. At the end of the chapter, he asks,
Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labor, its authorities of surveillance and registration, and its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penalty? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, and hospitals, which all resemble prisons? (227-28)
Here, Foucault is suggesting that we have become what he calls “a disciplinary society” (209), a “society . . . of surveillance” (217), and that the mechanism of the Panopticon is operating in many different social spaces—not only prisons, but schools, workplaces, and hospitals.
Write an essay in which you follow the suggestion posed by Foucault’s conclusion and explain why it is not surprising that “prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons.” To get to an answer for this question, you will need to explain Foucault’s understanding of how the Panopticon achieves its “major effect,” and how it operates as a mechanism of power. In addition, you will need to choose your own specific example of one of these social institutions (workplace, school, hospital) and demonstrate how you can use Foucault’s disciplinary mechanisms to re-see it and to analyze the workings of power in this institution. How would Foucault explain why so many of our social institutions resemble prisons? How does power work in these social institutions and what are the effects on the people who operate within them? What are some of the larger implications of living in a “society . . . of surveillance”?
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