Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault was a famous and influential French philosopher. He was the leading individual who changed the idea of human body being a biological or physiological figure to a concept of sociology. He managed to change people’s mentality in the sense that the society normal or ordinary state of thinking and people’s perceptions changed significantly.

Foucault was also thought of as the greatest and most intellectual scholar and philosopher who lived until the time of his death in 1984(Fenves 369). He came up with very important theories that are still used today and have changed the outlook of society in many ways (Adomo 470). For example, he observed that criminal justice system was not working or performing well as per the expectations of society. As a result, he came up with the Panopticon principle that transformed the way jails and discipline for offenders was being perceived by society.

Interestingly, this principle has remained firm in place bearing in mind that the entire face of criminal justice system was gradually reshaped with the adoption of this principle. Foucault focused more on human sexuality as well as the concept of power and human discipline. He was also very much involved in the gay community in San Francisco.

Michel Foucault was born in Poitiers, France on October 15, 1926. His father and grandfather were physicians and although he was a brilliant student, he resisted his family and native country and traveled overseas when he fully came of age.

When he was 20 years old, he was accepted into the EcoleNormaleSuperieure (ENS) in Paris (Adomo 470). He was a student of philosophy and psychology. For a while he was a follower of communism, but later in life he changed his views. He graduated from ENS in 1952, and started his career immediately.

His career was known to be both intellectual and professional. He performed his roles with consistency and purpose. Foucault started his career as a teacher at University of Lille in France. From 1955 to 1960, he served as a cultural attache in Uppsala, Sweden; Warsaw, Poland; and Hamburg, Germany. Later on in 1960 to 1966, he served as a professor at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France, (Bouchard 117). While he was there, he wrote his early monograms, which received attention, but only from a small audience.

In 1966 however, things turned around for him when he published Les Motset les chosestranslated in English to The Order of Things. After the publication of the latter, he attracted a much larger audience. As a result, he was considered an original and controversial thinker of his time. At this point, Foucault decided to become a professor at the University of Tunis in Tunisia from 1966 to 1968(James 340). He then went on to become the director of the philosophy department at the University of Paris, Vincennes for two years.

In 1970, he was given a seat in the history of systems of thought at the College de France (Adomo 470). It is imperative to note that this is one of France’s most prestigious institutions. This opened up the door to Foucault for conducting intensive research which lead to writings of his later works. Over the next thirteen years, he wrote quite a number of works, including his volumes on sexuality and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,as well as various essays.

He continued to travel throughout the rest of his life and managed to extend his reputation to places like Italy, Canada, Japan, Brazil, and the United States, where he spent relatively long periods of time. He also became a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley for several years, before his death in 1984. It was alleged that he died of HIV/AIDS which was then an emerging infection (Fenves 377).

The fourth volume of his history on sexuality was never completed. Foucault focused most of his research on finding out how to create some methodology on discipline that would be effective in society for purposes of controlling and regulating behavior that needs disciplining the body. He used the term disciplinary practices to describe institutions such as schools, churches as well as prisons which, to a large extent, assist in controlling and regulating any given society (Adomo 470).

These institutions are strategically placed in society to teach people how they are supposed to act or think, or when someone goes against societal rules, these rules and regulations are supposed keep them out of society by being locked behind bars. They are changing constantly to come up with new ways to make sure they can keep control and regulate how people act in society.

One of the easiest and most common ways to do this is by using surveillance (Bouchard 113). The constant monitoring of bodies and disciplining if necessary by these social institutions make people stay in line and behave how they are supposed to for fear of being disciplined. When people know or feel like they are being monitored, they act differently than they would if they were in their home or somewhere where there is no threat of punishment (Bertaux 366).

This has lead to what Foucault refers to as docile bodies which are produced through improvement of individuals’ behaviors through discipline, use, subjugate, discipline by various procedures and techniques of discipline (Adomo 470). A good example of this would be the way teachers and parents expect children to sit quietly and do their work or pay attention for long periods of time. We are always telling children to be quiet and listen or to keep their hands to themselves.

Eventually, they learn that they are supposed to be quiet when a teacher or fellow student is speaking, and that hitting is not appropriate (Adomo 470). I work at a children’s fitness center, and although the main focus of our classes are to help these children work on fitness, we also stress the ability to stay in line and wait for their turn, or listen when the teacher is explaining the game they are going to play.

I have noticed that many children come into the program without ever having been in a structured setting before, and they have a hard time listening and doing what the rest of the class is doing, but after a few weeks, they sit nicely on their line and listen when they are supposed to (Bouchard 123).

This proves that institutions really do use techniques to control and improve the way people act, and to show children the appropriate social norms they will need for the rest of their lives.
One of Foucault’s most influential theories is the Panopticon principle.

This theory is focused around the way prisons are run and how they keep control of inmates. The Panopticon is a large area with a tower in the center with rows of buildings surrounding it (Adomo 470). With this set up, each inmate can be monitored constantly, so they are under surveillance twenty-four hours a day. The inmate knows that he might be under watch, but he never knows if at any given moment he is being supervised, because they cannot see inside the supervisor’s room.

Knowing that they could possibly be under watch makes them maintain some form of control and act appropriately largely due to the fact that they fear going through a disciplinary action g should they get caught breaking some of the clearly set rules and regualtions (Bertaux 360).

Another example of this would be the way someone acts in a super market if they know that there are cameras in the store. Many store owners put cameras up that do not really work, but the sight of them makes shoppers believe that they are being taped. As a result, they are less likely to shoplift because they fear they will get caught (Adomo 470). A good real life example would also be the installation of cameras on school buses.

When I was young, my fellow school mates would sometimes run out of control while riding in school bus and as such, they could not listen to the bus driver. She got a camera installed in the front of the bus, and told us that the principal could see the feed. These made all the children in the bus to sit nicely and quietly in their seats. From that time onwards, the problem never persisted. The children were afraid since they developed some fear that someone in authority was keenly watching them, and therefore, they acted appropriately.

An explanation of his ideas in panoptical principles

In a bid to fully understand and embrace modern forms of regulation in social field, many scholars have adopted the conceptual examples and principles of Michael Foucault’s panopticon theory. His ideas in the theory have compelled readers and analysts to contemplate that there is a possibility that panoptical theory has an explanatory frame that is useful, especially on contemporary practices of surveillance (Faubion 165).

In the panopticon theory, Foucault focuses on vital factors that include disciplinary actions via systems of social control and the concept of power-knowledge. In his ideas, he strongly believed that through observing others, individuals were able to gain control, power and become knowledgeable (Adomo 470).

Through it, all events that are taking place would be recorded, and every form of movement supervised. His theory has been lauded as a one that brought transition and transformation in disciplinary power seen from threats of discipline that creates a normalization of sorts (Hitchcock 124). Furthermore, from his ideas on panoptic discipline, an understanding that internalization of fear that an individual is being watched and the need to conform is created, and this achieves a positive response in behavior change that would not fully be achieved by total surveillance (Bertaux 354).

The question that begs is how this works. By building on Foucault’s principle, power comes from observation. The behavior and actions of an observer are based upon what he sees exhibited on a monitor (Bouchard 113). This knowledge combined with observation ensures that individuals are fabricated in social order. However, some analysts argue that this is one way that Foucault’s principle in limiting the freedom of others and oppressing them.

They further argue that this oppression comes from the threats and fact that a few individuals or groups manipulate others through control knowledge. While defending his principle, Foucault does not see the danger and oppression analysts are seeing (Adomo 470). Conversely, Foucault argues that through control knowledge, the repressions in social order created by individuals are minimized or reduced as panopticon fabricates individuals into social order.

On the issue of power, who does not have it and who has it, Foucault’s idea was not to create a situation where others dominate or rule subjects, but he intended to create a system that will ensure that leaders or those who wish to create order find a ;suitable way of solving conflicts and resistance. Additionally, in his wisdom, Foucault did not give physical weapons that individuals could use to create order. Instead, his idea provided a powerful instrument of analysis.

His idea has been adopted by many in urban public spaces, schools and offices where individual are induced to transform and conform to social order through surveillance. This has aided inn reducing pervasiveness and resistance to change in the society.

His ideas have not received full support especially from a cross section of opposers of Foucault’s principles who think this is a violation of individuals’ right by use of intrusive electronics to control and modify behavior. The issue of freedom and security has plagued Foucault’s theories since his ideas are being seen as ways of incarcerating individuals who are in workplaces, public places and those going about their businesses (Faubion 158).

It is imperative to underscore the fact that Foucault’s ideas make sense. This can be supported by the fact that unlike the former society that preceded contemporary one, resistance to change and conformity has tremendously increased( Fenves 369). The structure of the contemporary society has grown worse and become different since it lacks power to transform, instead, as Foucault puts it, relies on enlightenment reforms that bear inherent dangers inasmuch as they are made for and intended to correct barbarity (Bouchard 114).

The latter, is intended to be corrected via enlightenment reforms that seeks to create order in the society via constructing learning institutions, modernizing medicine and elimination of dungeons (Adomo 470). In his ideas, Foucault claims that even with reforms, the issue of power and surveillance will be included since changes cause disturbance and the latter calls for order exercised through control and power.
Moreover, the idea fronted by Foucault is based on carceral culture rather that the normal culture of spectacle.

In it, he argues that formerly, and this is true in some societies today, the forms of discipline included obliteration, dismemberment and body torture. Other forms of discipline, especially in the aforementioned obliteration, rehabilitation occurs as well as internalization through a constitution. In his idea, creating reforms requires adoption of panopticon theory (Bertaux 354). For instance, in a prison set up, ensuring that there is order in the cells, creation of a surveillance tower would effectively control and monitor every movement.

Creating on at the centre of a prison facility makes prisoners to feel that an individual is watching them inasmuch as they can not determine whether a person is in the tower (Bouchard 119). Adopting the prison example, Foucault claims that this can be used in both capitalist and democratic societies to maintain order. He believes that to create order, the populace must at all times know that someone somewhere is watching them.

The advantage of this would be that the populace will police themselves through internalizing their own panoptic surveillance towers (Adomo 470) . The knowledge of being watched and the power of constraint aid individuals in taking responsibility in their actions. As such they play both the roles of subjection to internalized surveillance and power over their behavior.

Today, governments and federal agencies have adopted the idea of Foucault and modernized it through modern technology whereby they track the behavior .and movements of the populace with systems of control such as surveillance cameras in public places, credit cards, ATM’s, the census, social security numbers, cell phones, telephones and the internet.

The use of Panopticon is a carceral culture and idea that has been diffused to affect urban planning through discouraging concealment and monitoring movements. Additionally, it is used in learning institutions, factory architecture and hospitals.

The idea of ponopticon schema and its application is polyvalent. Foucalt argued that it has been used to induce idlers and beggars to work, supervise workers, confine the insane, instruct school children, and treat patients and reform prisons (Bouchard 113). Through it, intervention and instruments of power are defined, power is channeled and disposed to its powers, and hierarchical organizations as well as distribution of individual are tracked and located.

His idea was to have a society in which its functions are generalized. This is evident today in the manner in which the contemporary society has become a part of the panoptic mechanism. As a matter of fact, Foucault’s idea has been used today to internalize regulations and rules to bring conformity.

Societies such as the American society that is fond of committing violence to innocent subjects just for the sake of following authorities (Adomo 470). Internalizing rules aids in contesting unjust rules through naturalizing them. Additionally, rather than the crude, old-fashioned, unusual and cruel punishment that many societies in the nineteenth century and even today apply to rehabilitate law breakers, the use of ponopticon would be a normal way of creating reforms.

Early reform methods have been considered to be inhumane to the insane and prisoners. For instance, Foucault argues that the use of torture affects the private aspects of individuals’ lives. The idea of using ponopticon in effect acts as a judge everywhere such that social workers, educators, teachers and every other individual will feel that someone is watching them and ready to judge them for their actions(Faubion 148).

Other important aspects of the theory are that through the ponopticon, specialization of workforce in an organization increases, efficiency is built and value placed in organizing individuals and data to effect dissemination of information and goods as wel as to effect mass production despite injustices or exploitations.

An analysis of his theories

To understand social regulation and its modern forms, it is imperative to adopt the conceptual exemplar of the panopticon metaphor created by Michel Foucault. In the field of surveillance and in a post-panoptic world, the use of panopticon has drawn critical reactions and questions on its relevance. During the practice of contemporary surveillance, determining the usefulness of panopticon requires analyzing its course using an explanatory frame (Fenves 369).

Readers and analysts of Foucault’s ideas and who seek to determine the possibility of a panopticon to work effectively in light of complex situations have been compelled to contemplate on how they can go beyond the conceptual boundaries of this multifaceted and rich concept to the implications of its manifold functions (Adomo 470). Critiques have blamed the idea of surveillance technology to interference with individuals’ freedoms and security.

Monitoring and tracking individual who are not incarcerated doing their normal daily activities through surveillance cameras claiming to modify or control their behavior is a violation of their rights. They further argue that the intrusive electronic society formed by the panoptic mechanism is in itself pervasive and hence cannot manage the information that it is collecting and tracking.

In analyzing his theories, it is important to find answers to a number of issues that includes the possibility of mobilizing a counter- power to manage the power systems in the society, create a power that resists existing powers or surrender and allow individuals to be controlled and be manipulated by forces endeavoring to manage people from afar(Bertaux 354).

Some of the core themes that are instructive and solid found in the study of surveillance includes visibility, subjectivity, resistance, normativity and power. His idea has been adopted by many in urban public spaces, schools and offices where individual are induced to transform and conform to social order through surveillance.

This has aided inn reducing pervasiveness and resistance to change in the society (Adomo 470). His ideas have not received full support especially from a cross section of opposers of Foucault’s principles who think this is a violation of individuals’ right by use of intrusive electronics to control and modify behavior. The issue of freedom and security has plagued Foucault’s theories since his ideas are being seen as ways of incarcerating individuals who are in workplaces, public places and those going about their businesses.

It is imperative to note that Foucault’s theories such as that of governmentality and panopticon have raised controversies among analysts. This has been observed in the manner at which individuals have felt that like in the former society that preceded this contemporary one, resistance to change and conformity has tremendously increased (Faubion 149).

As already mentioned, the structure of the contemporary society has grown worse and become different since it lacks power to transform, instead, as Foucault puts it, relies on enlightenment reforms that bear inherent dangers inasmuch as they are made for and intended to correct barbarity (Adomo 470).

The latter, is intended to be corrected via enlightenment reforms that seeks to create order in the society via constructing learning institutions, modernizing medicine and elimination of dungeons. In his ideas, Foucault claims that even with reforms, the issue of power and surveillance will be included since changes cause disturbance and the latter calls for order exercised through control and power (Fenves 369).

These themes and their key problematics are nuanced by Foucauldian interpretations or by alternative theoretical frameworks. On the other hand, since most studies have focused on the negative aspects of surveillance, it is imperative to critically focus on the epistemological way forward. Looking at it in a determistic and dystopian way, sociologists argue that surveillance offers moral governance through monitoring programs.

The ideas of Michel Foucault have over the years led to significant developments of the surveillance systems (Faubion 357). However, research studies have indicated the various limitations in the foundational concepts of panopticon claiming that the explanations that Foucault has given in his ideas on surveillance are insufficient. This is observed in how it functions.

By building on Foucault’s principle, power comes from observation. The behavior and actions of an observer are based upon what he sees exhibited on a monitor. This knowledge combined with observation ensures that individuals are fabricated in social order (Bertaux 354). However, some analysts argue that this is one way that Foucault’s principle in limiting the freedom of others and oppressing them.

They further argue that the oppression comes from the threats and the fact that a few individuals or groups manipulate others through control knowledge. While defending his principle, Foucault does not see the danger and oppression analysts are seeing. Conversely, Foucault argues that through control knowledge, the repressions in social order created by individuals are minimized or reduced as panopticon fabricates individuals into social order (Adomo 470).

On the issue of power, who does not have it and who has it, Foucault’s idea was not to create a situation where others dominate or rule subjects, but he intended to create a system that will ensure that leaders or those who wish to create order find a ;suitable way of solving conflicts and resistance. Additionally, in his wisdom, Foucault did not give physical weapons that individuals could use to create order. Instead, his idea provided a powerful instrument of analysis.

The ideas of Michel Foucault have over the years led to significant developments of the surveillance systems. However, research studies have indicated the various limitations in the foundational concepts of panopticon claiming that the explanations that Foucault has given in his ideas on surveillance are insufficient (Fenves 369). Analysts observe that the argument on Foucault’s principle that power comes from observation betrays the suitability of panopticon the best in contemporary surveillance dynamics.

Inasmuch as the behavior and actions of an observer are based upon what he sees exhibited on a monitor, it alters the metaphor of panopticon with complex perspectives beyond panopticon such as seen in foucault’s governmentality theory such as models of assemblage, social sorting and concepts of hyper-control. This knowledge combined with observation critics depicts his ideas induces and fabricates individuals into social order (Bertaux 354).

Additionally, some analysts argue that this is one way that Foucault’s principle in limiting the freedom of others and oppressing them. They further argue that the oppression comes from the threats and the fact that a few individuals or groups manipulate others through control knowledge. Moreover, other analysts are of the opinion that through control knowledge, the repressions in social order created by individuals are minimized or reduced as panopticon fabricates individuals into social order (Faubion 148).

On the issue of power, who does not have it and who has it, Foucault’s idea was not to create a situation where others dominate or rule subjects, but he intended to create a system that will ensure that leaders or those who wish to create order find a ;suitable way of solving conflicts and resistance. Additionally, in his wisdom, Foucault did not give physical weapons that individuals could use to create order. Instead, his idea provided a powerful instrument of analysis.

The growth of panoptic surveillance has been regarded as a form of oppression that is spread by Foucault’s theory of governmentality. The knowledge of being watched and the power of constraint threaten the security of a populace.

As such they play both the roles of subjection to internalized surveillance and power over their behavior (Bertaux 353). Today, governments and federal agencies have adopted the idea of Foucault and modernized it through modern technology whereby they track the behavior .and movements of the populace with systems of control such as surveillance cameras in public places, credit cards, ATM’s, the census, social security numbers, cell phones, telephones and the internet (Adomo 470).

The use of Panopticon is a carceral culture and idea that has been diffused to affect urban planning through discouraging concealment and monitoring movements. Additionally, it is used in learning institutions, factory architecture and hospitals.

Works Cited

Adomo, Theodor. Parataxis: Zur spaten Lyrik Holderlins.Noten zur Literatur. 1(2005) :447-494.
Bertaux, Pierre. Was Holderlin mentally Ill? Philosophy Today 37.4 (2007): 353-368.

Bouchard, Donald. 2009. Language Counter-Memory–Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, translated by Donald Bouchard & Sherry Simon. Philosophy Today (2007): 113-138.

Faubion, James. Aesthetics: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. Social Indicators Research. 2, (2000): 147-170.

Fenves, Peter. Measure for Measure: Holderlin and the Place of Philosophy. Philosophy Today 37(4/4), (1993): 369-382.
Hitchcock, Louise. Theory for Classics. New York: Routledge, 2008.