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Foucault Essay

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Justin Hearn

Ms. A Nixon

ENC 1101.444

October 31, 2002

Paper Three

On Agency: Foucault

To most people, power is desired over youth, beauty, love, and even money. Power can indeed be called the most sought after principle in western society. When one speaks of "the most powerful man in the world," virtually everyone would know of whom they are talking about. Most people float through life in apathetical laziness, wishing for power, but a select few try to understand it, manipulate it, use it. For those who dare to do these things, an intellectual by the name of Michel Foucault has laid out the blueprints. Somewhere between a philosopher and a historian, the late Foucault stood as one of the twentieth century's leading minds. He concerned himself with many ideas in many works, but the ones that stand out include essays on prisons and the tracing of ideas across the timeline of European history (Bartholomae 223). Foucault has influenced virtually all of academia, and after many years students of his work are still finding new things to extrapolate from his text.

One of these ideas is his concept of Panopticism. In an essay entitled this, Foucault opens up many revolutionary ideas about power. He discusses how power came about, how it evolved, and how humanity uses power to govern and regulate itself. More specifically, he relates power to Bentham's panopticon, a penal device originating hundreds of years ago in Europe. In the panopticon, prisoner's cells are constructed in a

circular pattern around a central guard tower. This makes the prisoners afraid of constantly being watched, as they cannot quite see who's inside the tower. The very idea of this panopticon has mammoth implications on the principle of power. Up until this point, dungeon-like prisons in Europe were completely inefficient. One of Foucault's main points is that this panopticon took the prison world out of the dark ages, and made it into a "marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power" (Foucault 233). Indeed, the more uniform and efficient power is, the greater chance it has of actually governing or even reforming an individual. Foucault takes an almost-obscure historical prison layout and transforms it into a contemporary thesis on power in front of the reader's eyes.

Foucault would not merely stop at the penal system, however. In the latter part of his essay Foucault convinces the reader that panopticism has spread, much like a virus, throughout our society. It can be seen in the factory, where managers survey laborers. It is in the office buildings, where workers toil in small cubicles, fearful of missing deadlines and being punished by superiors. Even the very idea of Santa Clause, where an omnipotent being is watching over children, ready to punish them if they're bad, is a panoptic concept. Foucault's panoptic power is efficient, emotionless, and tightly-knit. It does even not need special skills to be put to use, as he states: "Any individual, taken at random, can operate the machine: in the absence of the director, his family, his friends, his visitors,



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