What is Foucault’s ‘Panopticism’?
One of the key pieces of the theory surrounding the question of social media influence
on surveillance culture is Foucault’s ‘Panopticism’. Panopticism stems from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a form of prison with a tower in the middle and tiers of prison cells in a circular design, which makes it possible to see every prisoner incarcerated within the prison. The key element of the prison is visibility, all the prisoners can be seen, but they cannot communicate with the guards or any of the other prisoners. The prisoners do not know if there is a guard within the tower meaning that they never know whether they are being observed. Foucault argued that punishment, as a public spectacle was a mechanism for restoring and reaffirming the power of the sovereign. Foucault noted that through the 19th century, punishment as a public spectacle was in decline. The tortured body avoided and the theatrical representation of pain excluded from punishment, and that discipline and rehabilitation methods were becoming more prominent. The idea of visibility within the Panopticon works two ways, as mentioned earlier, with prisoners not being able to know if they’re being watched meaning that the power of the Panopticon lies with its limitless capacity for watching, or as Bentham calls it ‘apparent omnipresence of the inspector. Foucault focused heavily on how the Panopticon used discipline as an apparatus of power and this was one of the main features of his ‘Panopticism’ theory. Foucault believed that the disciplinary measures exercised through the panoptic design could be used for any group in population needing to be kept observation or under control.