Foucault on Panopticism

Putting in isolation certain individuals in the society because their actions or behaviour is considered normal is something that has been there since time immemorial. In his book discipline and punish Foucault clearly brings out the concept of panopticism.  Here prisoners are locked in a cell known as ‘panopticon’ where they are constantly watched. With the idea that they are constantly watched over, prisoners are forced to abide by rules as prescribed by the society.  Based on the arguments by Foucault in his theory, I certainly endorse panopticon as a way in which punishment and discipline should operate in prisons in our modern society. In this theory of panopticism it comes out that a society that is more sophisticated present a greater opportunity for control and observation in reference to liberty and observations.

Employing the system of panopticism in prisons can be a very indispensable process of reforming prisoners and making sure that they go back to the society as changed people. This is because this system allows prisoners to undergo reform through forced habit as opposed to seeing revenge on them. I think this happens so because as prisoners get used to the fact that they are constantly watched, they are compelled to adjust their behaviours in line with the standards set by the society.

According to Foucault the idea of panopticism is effective in reforming prisoners through forcing self discipline into play through ones’ own mentality of fear and paranoia. This creates a situation where criminals are broken down mentally and not physically thus redeeming them back to the society again as reformed individuals. This system instils a strong sense of paranoia thus making sure that when the prisoners are released from the panopticon, they will always rethink the idea of breaking the rules again.  This theory also makes sure that power is not centralised in the hands of prison guards because in this system power is not given to individuals but instead lies within the architecture of the panopticon. I think this type of system can be very effective in ensuring that those who are imprisoned and separated from the rest of the society have a chance to reform and blend back to the community. This theory also can stand as an effective tool in transforming prisoners  than the current system where individual are just locked behind the bars without being given an opportunity to prove that they have reformed.  Panopticism condemns any form of cruel and unusual punishment for instance whipping and instead emphasizes reconstruction of the mentality of the inmates. This is something I think can be effective in transforming prisoners in our modern society without having to subject them to physical torture.


The theory of panopticism can be a very effective tool in ensuring that the inmates undergo appropriate reforms and making sure that they do not break laws prescribed by the society. This is possible because this system moulds the mentality of the inmates through forced habit as opposed to physical torture thus making sure that the inmates are compelled to adjust their behaviours in line with the standards and norms set by the society. 

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