This paper will analyze the chapter titled “Panopticism” from Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish:The Birth of Prison (1975) and chapter two of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) by Paulo Freire. Both readings share a common thread: the recognition by the authors of the methods of oppression in the institutions of society. One author does not share the optimism of the other, however. I will start with a brief biography of each author and then explain the terms panopticon and panopticism. Next, I will summarize the two authors’ works and explore their views on schooling and systems of control.
In the summary of Freire’s work, he imagines that his students will free themselves from the tyranny that has subjugated them and then revolutionize society. I will define the what he means by the term “free. ” Finally, I will question if it is possible to become free in the way that Freire imagines. Foucault sees a much wider use of these techniques throughout society. He has outlined a history of how we became a surveillance society and why. Michel Foucault (1926-1984) Michel Foucault was born in Poitiers, France in 1926. He was recognized as a gifted intellectual from a young age.
He is an important figure in 20th century philosophy, but he had a degree in psychology and made significant contributions to several of the fields of the social sciences. He wrote several books such as The Archeology of Knowledge (1969) and The Order of Things (1970). The chapter titled “Panopticism” from his book Discipline and Punish:The Birth of the Prison (1975) gives a history of how power and control is exerted over the population. Paulo Freire Paulo Freire was a well known educator born in Brazil in 1921. He was born into a relatively well off middle class family (Roberts, 4).
When his father died during the Great Depression, his family was forced to move to a poorer neighborhood (Roberts, 4). The poverty he experienced and interaction with the poor played a large part in the development of his philosophy of education. He graduated from college with a degree in law, but he abandoned the legal profession after his first case (Roberts, 4). He was more interested in transforming society through the transformation of individuals. He believed that teaching was a way to free the individual from the constraints of an oppressive society.
Panopticon The definition of the panopticon and its origin are critical in understanding the systems of control that Freire and Foucault have written about. The concept underpinning the methods of oppression is unbelievably simple. The panopticon is the most ingenious concept for exerting the most power over the greatest number of people with great efficiency. Foucault traces the evolution of the panopticon since the 17th century. Plagues were frequent visitors to Europe at this time. When the illness reared its ugly head in a town, that town was quarantined.
They divided it into four sections, each with a warden accountable to the king or one of the king’s magistrates. Every street was overseen by a syndic that answered to the warden. Nobody could leave their house under pain of death. This hierarchy carried out the crown’s orders was the ideal situation in the eyes of the monarchy because it exerted a lot of power over a large section in an economical way. That was a primitive precursor to the panopticon. The panopticon was first proposed as a design for a prison by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham.
The model of the panopticon is “easy once you’ve thought of it” (Foucault). The layout of the panopticon designed by Bentham was a round central tower with windows all around to allow a 360 degree view. Surrounding the central tower is a ring shaped building with many individual cells, each big enough for one man. This arrangement allows the person in the central tower to be able to view any cell. One person in the central tower could oversee dozens or even hundreds of individuals. It would also be arranged so that the person in the central tower could not be seen by anyone outside of the tower.
The inmates would never know when they were being watched. Bentham saw its potential not only as a design for a penal institution, but for factories, schools, and any institution that involved many people could easily be supervised by just a few people in the panopticon. Bentham pointed out that it would force inmates or workers to conform to the standards of the institution it functioned within. As the panopticon or the concept of the panopticon was adopted by prisons and factories, the concept began to propagate throughout society. Schools could be used as a tool of control.
In 19th century France, a student that was misbehaving at school was excuse enough for school officials to investigate the student’s family. They would talk to neighbors of the student’s family in an attempt to determine the moral character of the parents. Interviews with the parents served as a reminder of the watchfulness of the school and further extend the range of the state. This was the start of the idea of the panopticon expanding into society. Gradually, the concept of the panopticon has penetrated every aspect and institution of society. One of the key elements of the panopticon is the separation of individuals.
The unity of the crowd is unruly, uncontrollable, and unpredictable. The separation can be a concrete wall or an office cubicle. The higher the partition, the better. Separation will stop collaboration and conspiracies to undermine authority. A single human is much easier to control than a group of them. People can be separated by more than walls. This is one way that manipulation of the masses can go unnoticed. Fear is an excellent divider. Fear of the neighbor being a terrorist or strangers in the street being rapists or murderers helps to divide the population into ever smaller divisions.
Psychological methods to isolate one person from the other can be as effective as a steel cage. Divide and conquer. The other critical component is continual, unverified observation. In other words, you can never know when you are being watched or if you are being watched. Everyone is watched or under the threat that they could be watched in the panopticon. The knowledge that one can be scrutinized at any time has an interesting effect. People under constant observation or the threat of constant observation begin to monitor themselves and sometimes those in their immediate proximity.
In this way, the panopticon is self sustaining. It is an automatic system of self regulation. The gradual increase of surveillance through the use of CCTV is an example of the diffusion of the panopticon throughout society, but not a dilution of the power it represents. Its psychological effect, however, is where its strength lies as a tool for control. The flexibility of the panopticon meant it could be adapted to work in other sectors of society. It is the abstract elements of the panopticon that has pervaded society and not so much the architectural design.
The desired effects of the panopticon can be achieved in an unlimited number of ways. It does not have to manifest itself as a building like Bentham’s prison design. The defining characteristics of the panopticon can be realized without steel and concrete. The awareness of being on display and being compartmentalized are powerful instruments when they can be achieved without much structure. The fewer physical components is has, the more it can diffuse through society. As it disperses, it becomes less and less visible, but its power does not fade.
To the contrary, it seems to grow more powerful the less visible it becomes. Ironically, the intangible aspects of panopticism are its most potent. This is how it is the ultimate tool for a handful of people to rule a vast population. Freire and the Banking System Freire recognized a subtle form of oppression in what he called the banking system of education. Freire has made an astute observation in his identification and assessment of the banking system.. He used this name because in the banking system, the teacher made deposits of facts into the perceived empty minds of the students.
They become containers for the teacher to deposit the facts and figures of the curriculum into. Freire’s banking system is a perfect example of panopticism. The teacher is the only holder of knowledge in the banking system of education. The students are considered to have no knowledge and should be grateful that they are getting an “education. ” The banking system of education undermines creativity and stifles meaningful learning. Students memorize the words of the teacher, but not the meaning of the subjects or objects behind the words. It is always a one-way flow of words from the teacher to the students.
The students are the passive repositories for the lessons to be deposited into. The banking system objectifies the students. The more passive the student, the better the they will conform with society and the better a teacher is rated. A real dialogue between teacher and students is unthinkable because the student is viewed as an empty vessel and has nothing to teach. In this system, people are to be adapted to society-the society the oppressors have created. Separation of the person from the world is an important tenet of the banking system. Here too, as in the panopticon, separation is essential.
Separation of the individual from the world. Separation from many of the facts of reality. Separation of consciousness from the individual. Like the panopticon, the mantra is divide and conquer. It serves to confuse students and creates the illusion that the teacher’s actions are their own (Freire,). The more time spent memorizing the teachers’ hollow words, the less time they have to reflect on themselves to discover who they are. The less one knows about themselves and what they want out of life, the easier it is for someone else to define it for them and tell them what they want.
Like These banking methods are used to mold people to fit into banking society. The banking system is just an one example of panopticism: it is an implementation of the key features of the panopticon, custom made for the educational system. Freire’s Freedom Freire believed that his approach to teaching has the potential for affecting great changes in an individual and the society they live in. Freire imagines students awakening to the realities of the banking system’s oppression and freeing themselves. What kind of freedom does Freire mean?
The freedom he imagines is just not physical freedom to go where one wishes. Obviously, it is much deeper than that. It is one that emerges from a student/teacher relationship in which learning is reciprocated and they are partners in learning. Both of the labels “teacher” and “student” apply to both persons because the teacher is open to learning and the student is allowed, even encouraged, to teach what they know. The teacher must be willing to be a student as well. This approach to education hopes to reveal to the student that they are conscious beings and not objects as the banking system views them.
They begin a voyage of self-discovery and see that they are connected to the world and the processes of life (Freire, ). When they are able to “critically consider reality,” they take control of the direction their life will take. To him, self realization was the first step in a lifelong process of becoming more human. Men and women become liberated in this way. This is the freedom Freire meant. Free to be human and transform society according to their vision and not be transformed by their oppressors to fit into their oppressive society.
What Happened To Our Dream of Freedom? Under the conditions of panopticism, is it possible to free oneself and then transform society as Freire envisions? Foucault’s reveals the unique form of control few have been able to articulate. He has thoughtfully laid out the evolution of an invisible system that recruits individuals to watch themselves unwittingly. Why is this a bad thing? It is malevolent because it is beyond regulation and public scrutiny. Something of this magnitude that has such influence over the public surely must have at least some oversight.
How could it ever be regulated when most cannot even recognize it? If tomorrow, every person recognized the system that has been quietly manipulating their lives, what could be their recourse? It is woven into the fabric of society. Invisibly intertwined with our schools, workplace, and homes. Unfortunately, Freire’s dream of emancipation then societal transformation is not realistic. Foucault demonstrates the continual progression of the state’s power. Technology has made it grow exponentially. Why would it stop expanding? It will not even slow down.
Like the expanding universe, it will only accelerate. The idea of the panopticon is as real as a panoptic structure made of concrete and iron. How could a student overthrow a banking teacher? Even if they could, they would not get far. The vast majority of people are unknowingly under the sway of the state. The usurper of the banking teacher would have little support from sympathetic collaborators. The most significant reason that panopticism is malignant is because it is dehumanizing. Humans cannot ever make decisions that are completely their own.
Humans can never be themselves in such a system. The panopticon is so integrated into society and has such a tight grip that it will last as long as our society does. Conclusion Comparing Foucault and Freire’s essays, It is evident that both recognize how power has learned to control and oppress through the institutions of society. Foucault sees the whole of society and the institutions in society (schools, industry, prisons) as being a vehicle for the exertion of power that unwittingly controls the masses. The banking system is one variation and a specific instance of Foucault’s panopticism.
Freire recognizes the tools of an oppressive government that are used in the classroom to create docile and easily manageable citizens. Their ideas diverge from here regarding the chances of the dominated having the ability to break holding them back from realizing their full human potential. Freire is confident that the individual can liberate themselves and, with the assistance of others who have freed themselves, transform society. Freire talks of students revolting and throwing off the yoke of the oppressors, but where could they go from there if the rest of society and its institutions have adopted the model of the panopticon?
Foucault has a different perspective, one that is less optimistic, but more realistic. Panopticism is so endemic and effective, that freedom will only come from the collapse and regeneration of society. The ruling class understands that the greatest threat to their hegemony is people and their subjugation assures their continuity in power. Works Cited Bentham, Jeremy The Panopticon Writings. Ed. Miran Bozovic (London: Verso, 1995). p. 29-95 Darder, Antonia Reinventing Paulo Freire MA: Westview, 2002 Gutting, Guy The Cambridge Companion To Foucault NY: Cambridge, 1994
O’Farrell, Clare Michel Foucault CA: Sage, 2005 Roberts, Peter Education, Literacy, and Humanization: Exploring the Work of Paulo Freire CT: Greenwood, 2000 Warschauer, M. , & Lepeintre, S. (1997). “Freire’s dream or Foucault’s nightmare: Teacher-student relations on an international computer network”. Ed: R. Debski, J. Gassin, & M. Smith, Language learning through social computing (pp. 67-89). Parkville, Australia: Applied Linguistics Association of Australia. Wood, David “Editorial. Foucault and Panopticism Revisited” Surveillance & Society: 2003: 234-